“I respect all tastes”, declares 30-year-old Björk (pronounced “b’yerk”), striding into a shop noisily in her billowing, bright orange synthetic trousers, the kind you normally see on men fixing the road in the middle of a typhoon, “but, I’m sorry, give me what shines”. We’ve lost her. Björk isn’t tall, and right now she’s buried under 10 thousand million metres of fluorescent Indian silk—saris, wraps, lengths of material— holding them up to the light, letting threads of gold and pink and silver shine across the face of pop’s most enthusiastic magpie. She buys three sari wraps, $40 each. At home she already has “thousands. They’re so feminine in a very powerful way ; just full of pleasure.” Then it’s the shoe shop : “Look ! Shoes with piano keyboards on them ! And Cinderella shoes.. .Oooh, look at these gold one...” And then it’s the video shop, with well-informed queries culminating in the purchase of wailing Indian legends called Nusrat Fateh Ah Khan and Latake Geet. Delighted, she bundles them into her teddy-bear backpack, buys a Magnum ice-cream and strides purposefully, because she always strides, along London’s High Street, ice-cream aloft, towards the “wicked” Indian temple. There, she won’t pray because that would be “sacrilegious”. Hundreds and hundreds of years of culture and people think they can be part of it by spending five minutes on their knees. That’s rude.”
We’re pottering around Southall, Björk’s favourite place in all of London, the township devoted to the capital’s Indian community where you can purchase things that shine in shops called Jolly Fabrics and Modern Footwear For comfort And Value. Björk has lived full-time in London for three years now ; three years in elevation from one-time Icelandic punk obscurity to charismatic creator of sublime, sensual pop music and million-selling albums like Debut and Post which have secured her a place as a global pop-icon. These days she co-writes tunes for Madonna (“Bedtime Story”) and drinks with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Björk was 16 when she first came to London with her “pop punk group” Tappi Tikarrass. She stayed at the home of her hippie mum’s mate, a psychotherapist. “We were four punks from Iceland,” reflects Björk, “and after two days I think we did her head in. I walked out of the house and was walking and walking, trying to walk out of the city because you do that in Iceland. You say ‘I’m just going out for a walk,’ and walk straight out of the city. I ended up finding some dreadful cemetery, very depressing. Kept washing, like, three time a day, because I could feel the dirt on my skin. It sounds funny now, but it wasn’t at the time. I completely couldn’t handle it. The whole city felt so grey. We went to the studio to record every day and I cried myself to sleep every night for two weeks.” Funny what you get used to. Every six months from then on, Björk returned to London with whatever band she was in at the time. She “slowly got to know it” when Einar Örn from The Sugarcubes moved to London, but today she has a confession.
“I’m sorry !” she says, “but I’d be lying if I said I like London. I moved here because I had to do the record : it was like a mission. I thought I’d come here, do the record and then go home. And it all took off and took me totally by surprise..” When she first moved, she deliberately caused trouble. “I hated it,” she says, “and drove my boyfriend mad saying ‘Why are the taps on the bathtub that shape ?’ Terrible. The only way I could bear it was if I had a view. There’s something really nice about being able to see over somewhere, like putting your head out of the water once in a while : ‘So that’s where I am OK,’ and then going back to where you were. Now, and its a cliché and this is gonna sound really pukey, you’re gonna be sick now : there’s so many people here I truly love, people who’ve gone out of their way to be there for me in the unbelievable pressures. That’s what makes you feel good in the city. But I can see that the beauty of the city is that people go so much out of their way to survive here and have a good time. You try a lot harder and that sort of energy you don’t get any other place.
“When I was a teenager in Iceland”, she says, “I had the ocean and the scenery and the little cafes and fishermen. Then I go to Manhattan and never sleep and become this totally extrovert character, then I go home and don’t talk for a month. It can still be like that.” It’s going to get even more like that later this year because she’s buying her own island. “I am !” she shouts, belting me in the chest with excitement. “In Tunisia ! You know you can buy an island for 50 grand ? I’m going to buy one, with a house and everything— cheaper than a flat in London.” She points out, belting me again. “I’m doing that next summer. That’ll be my base. I started thinking about it two years ago and when I decide something, that’s it. That’s a decision. Actually, I decided when I was a kid I was going to move to an island. The ocean makes my head function better. I’ll be going there on my own but you know what it’s going to be like, don’t you ? A fucking health farm for all my friends. They’ll come to me just before they have a nervous breakdown. I’m thinking about this one tiny island with one gorgeous building, a Greek chateau from the 13th century. That one’s 40 grand. I don’t know whether I want one with a little village with shops and people to talk to or one with nothing at all. Then I’ll come to London for little trips and go completely bonkers and then go back home.
Her son, Sindri, 10, will go there with her. Not that much about his mother could surprise him : he was on tour with her from the age of one through to six. And she’s not worried by his supposed Tarzanesque education option on a desert island, either. “He gets most of his education through the Internet anyway,” she says. “He’s a bit of a professor ; he reads the encyclopaedia while other people play football.” She giggles. “He’s wicked. I’ll be chatting with my friends and talking about different countries, say Madagascar, and I’ll say ‘What the religion in Madagascar again, Sindri ? and he’ll know it right off. he knows more about Bosnia than I do.” What will he do with these brains ? “A teacher, a poet, a librarian. School was always just for social reasons, to be able to get along with people you don’t actually like. You get along your friends because you hand-pick them, but you need to get along with everybody else.’ Logically put.
Björk likes sex. To rid herself of sexual frustration, she does karate and swims. She masturbates every day and sometimes she a boyfriend. Sexually, she calls herself “outrageously greedy”. She throws herself into love, too. You can hear it on “It’s Oh So Quiet”, her stunning single from Post, a cover of an old, big-band classic. “People think my version is over-the-top,’ she surmises, “but hers makes mine the ambient version. I guess the song describes pretty well what being in love feels like because it’s in and out, innit ? Wahahah ! So, what about right now. Is it in or is it out ?
That’s a secret,” she splutters. It’s one of those things what is so delicate. I could come out with a bag of lies and tell you I sleep with three transvestites every single night. But I’m not going to lie ; I’m not going to say anything. Heeheehee. Everything’s.. .OK.” Björk, incidentally, is a double Scorpio, which, if you’re interested, means a formidable, double dose of sex and secrecy and passion.
And like all the world’s passionate people, Björk lives in the sensory world ; a world where even the garbage collector’s upward swing could be construed as an act of eroticism. Despite her bargain-hunting knowhow, she will allow herself expensive whims. Oysters and champagne, for example. She knows there’s a link between sexual and gastronomic appetite, that you can tell things about people sexually by the way they eat. “It’s that way with all things,” she says. “It’s the way you talk, how you move, what words you pick, how you touch things, what colours you like, what material you wear, everything. I’ve always preferred looking at the word erotic in that way ; it’s not about literally shagging. You can drive a car in a an erotic way. You can quite simply lead your life in a turned-on way. And if you lead your life in turned-on way it doesn’t really matter whether you eat three oysters a day or not. Mere details.” Björk eats raw meat. Whole raw steaks, for God’s sake. “I really like eating a lot of it but I could eat a raw steak. And have done. I think it’s more honest because that’s what it really is. Most food is sensual, I think.”
Right now, she’s making sensual bread and cheese in the kitchen of her west London home even though she’d rather have sensual lemon squid from the Thai down the road. She’s “starving” though, so she must eat now. Her brother’s here (blonde, skinhead, handsome devil) ; so’s Sindri (blondish, fine-haired, handsome devil) and she’s clattering around the CD-littered kitch wielding gold and silver mugs of tea to which the assembled must “help yourselves !’
Björk’s house, naturally, is beautiful and strange. Down a stone stairway, through a sunken garden affair strewn with bicycles, round the back and we’re in the bottom floor of an open-plan, three-storey house which looks like the inside of a ship. Everything here screams “traveller”. Upstairs is the airy, floorboarded living room with a white-beamed, triangular-shaped ceiling a mile high. There’s collection of handcrafted sailing ships. A sea chest crusted all over in shells. A white, triangular, slatted chair which looks like a yacht. Her TV is a projector screen, the exact same ones you find on aeroplanes. The projector hangs from the ceiling like a side-on traffic light, beaming the images onto the adjacent wall. She notes, proudly, “It costs the same as a normal TV. Wicked.” She puts on a film called Hard Boiled, featuring her favourite actor, “Beat” Takeshi, and coos and blithers about how “Robert De Niro-handsome” he is. Videos abound, as do CD’s tapes, bottles and brightly coloured cardboard tubes with the usual essential rubbish spilling forth. Look up and right and there’s a balcony on high, beyond which lie the beds of Björk and Sindri. Look left to the wall and there’s huge sculpture of what looks like the inside of a shell. It’s made from concrete and flecks of blue glass. “A friend in Iceland makes them,” explains Björk. “It’s modelled on a shell but, I’m sorry, you can see it’s actually a disco cunt”. She’s right.
Relaxing at home, after returning from Iceland where she spends each Christmas, with the video, popcorn, Sindri and her brother, she is completely contented. “I love Christmas,” she says. “The presents, everything about it. Me and Sindri always get a really tall Christmas tree and decorate it ourselves. The snow’s incredible there (in Iceland)—two, three metres high and you have to walk through little tunnels with lighters and scarves. You go into shops and they give you hot chocolate with cognac in it. It’s the best. Everyone wears those overalls really thick, woolly inside, like the ones people wear to fix the road. With bikinis inside. Heeheehee. And did you know that Iceland has the world record in fireworks on New Year’s ? It’s not like in England where special people have to do it. In Iceland, everybody just goes to the shop, buys a big plastic bag. You get them out and go, “Psheu ! Sheu !’ All the houses are lit up and on New Year’s they’re all open. You just go in any of them. There’s no real robberies or anything ; the whole city is just like ‘Yeeeaaaah !’ Björk couldn’t come from anywhere other than Iceland, the long-independent island which invented the first democracy in history through sheer bloody-minded Viking self-preservation, romanticism and passion for life.
“There was this survey done around the world,” says Björk, munching on a hunk of cheese, “where all the people were asked 100 standard questions and one of them was ‘What do you believe in ? The people of Iceland stood out because they all said ‘Myself’. That’s very deep on our character : in history we were the biggest rebels on the planet. It’s always said that the reason we don’t have an army is because it would be impossible for everyone to walk in rhythm—everyone would have to walk differently.” Björk’s friends walk differently too, and these singular characters can often be found cluttering up her home. “In Iceland, people would just walk over to my house and start looking for everyone.” she says. “That sounds really hippie but I love it. Surviving like that doesn’t just happen, though. It’s cultivated. You have to trust people. So I’ll always have a house full with me cooking and looking after everyone going, ‘Have you eaten Yet ?’ “God !” she shrieks, flying upstairs to answer the phone, trousers still billowing, stride still purposeful, magical aura still intact, “you know what that means.. I’m going to be such a granny !”