Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg: If you don’t have dreams you die

From a small town in Southern Sweden to the royal palaces of the world, Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg continues to live life to the fullest.

When I was growing up I dreamed of traveling to foreign countries and loved languages. I speak English, French, German, and Swedish fluently. I also speak Skånska – and a bit of Spanish.

I arrived in America in 1969 to attend Mt. Holyoke College. I hold a BA in International Relations – Phi Beta Kappa.

It was a small sheltered college town, so when the black girls on campus occupied the switchboard as a protest, it was very exciting!

I was just a town girl from Skåne. My academic adviser bacame my mentor and pushed me to stand on my own two feet and live life fully. I went to Washington with her where I met Barry Goldwater, Ted Kennedy, and many other politicians.

I planned to go to Geneva to be an interpreter after I got my degree.

On a visit to the United Nations in New York I was told that UN interpreters had the highest rate of suicide in the country. I also realized being an interpreter wasn’t very creative so I came home and began working at the Swedish Institute.

After the king married, Jan Mårtenson recruited me as a press assistant to the Swedish Royal Court. I worked with press and media relations at the Palace for 32 years. The most challenging aspect of my work was finding the right balance between the needs of the media and the needs of the Royal Family – making sure everyone was satisfied.

The last three years at the Palace were probably the most exciting. I was Marshal of the Court, building the office of the Crown Princess. Supporting a young woman as she prepared for this incredibly unique and demanding role, for which there are few role models, was immensely rewarding.

The Swedish Royal Family has always been very dedicated to seeing beyond the surface of countries we visited, so I’ve seen some amazing things, like the favelas of Rio with the Queen and the small villages of Bangladesh with the Crown Princess.

‘Many people thought I was crazy when I went to Qatar, but it was such an incredible experience’

I had a strong interest in the Middle East at college. My first paper in International Relations was on the Six Day War. When I worked for the Qatar Royal Family I took the opportunity to learn even more.

I’ve always been dedicated to my work but I have also always had my own life, with lots of friends and family, so leaving royal service was not that difficult for me. Now I am a senior public relations advisor, an expert commentator on Royal Affairs for TV4, and sit on a number of boards.

When I was a child there wasn’t mass travel like there is today. Moving to the US for college was my first big trip. I still remember waving goodbye to my parents at Kastrup in Copenhagen.

Photo: Magnus Glans

Photo: Magnus Glans

Now, I have visited too many countries to count. I still love traveling but I’m more picky these days.  When you travel professionally you don’t have a choice, but when I can choose, I love the south of France. I also love going to the US.I want to go back to Qatar and see if the explosion of development it underwent is sustainable. I would love to go back to Japan as well. It’s so far away, yet quite similar to Sweden in many ways.

I’m not the first person to say it but Hong Kong is the New York of Asia. I haven’t been there since the handover and would love to revisit the harbor, Stanley Market, the little alleyways, and the tall buildings.

I have written eleven books, and co-written two more. My 13th book, a handbook on how to cope with the media, will be published this fall. It’s really basic rules of communication – a guide of sorts.

If you don’t have dreams you die. Never stop being curious. Take a chance when you get it. Many people thought I was crazy when I went to Qatar but it was such an incredible experience, even though it turned out differently than I thought it would.

Every morning I take a few minutes to stretch, and think about what the day is going to bring me.  Appreciate even the small things and take joy in your life. Don’t make life a chore.

Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg

Born: 1950, Kristian­stad, Sweden
Family: Two daughters
Career: Press secretary to the Royal Court of Sweden, 1976–1995. Director of the Press and Information Department at the Royal Court, 1995–2008. The final three years:
Marshal of the Court supporting Crown Princess Victoria’s preparations for her future role. International Relations Advisor to Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar, 2008-2009
Today: A senior public relations advisor, expert commentator on Royal Affairs for Sweden’s TV4

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