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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April, 2005, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
Danes parade fairy tale king
By Thomas Buch-Andersen
BBC News, Copenhagen

Denmark has kicked off a year-long celebration of fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen with a television spectacular, helped by the magic charms of celebrities.

Jean-Michel Jarre performing at HC Andersen show
Jean-Michel Jarre staged a dazzling laser display

Saturday's event in the capital Copenhagen marked 200 years since the birth of Andersen, who created such memorable tales as The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor's New Clothes and The Little Mermaid.

The Danish Queen, Margrethe II, was joined by other European royals, plus film star Sir Roger Moore, Chilean writer Isabella Allende, Danish football star Peter Schmeichel, Irish politician John Hume and many others.

The biggest Danish cultural event ever was broadcast to millions of TV viewers worldwide.


In the spotlight was a stage built on four massive icicles, imitating the tale of The Snow Queen.

US soul singer Tina Turner
US soul singer Tina Turner wowed the audience
The show called "Once Upon A Time" was hosted by Gladiator-actress Connie Nielsen.

It began with French musician Jean-Michel Jarre's interpretation of "The Shadow" - a 10-metre shadow projected onto a Chinese translation of the tale.

It danced its way through a sea of coloured laser-light and computerised music.

The spectacular two-hour programme celebrated 12 of Andersen's most famous tales, featuring ballet, acrobatics, children's choirs and tap dance.

Then US soul legend Tina Turner dedicated her song "Simply the Best" to the famous story-teller.


Amid all the razzmatazz some critics asked what stars of the 1980s, such as Olivia Newton-John and Tina Turner, had to do with Denmark's literary icon.

"No good. Try again!" wrote Hans Flemming Kragh, a commentator for the Ekstra-Bladet daily.

Queen Margrethe arriving in Copenhagen for Andersen event
Queen Margrethe: Andersen "was exceptional... and Danes rarely are"
Others argued that Madonna - a pop star who has written children's books herself - should have been invited. But she was never asked.

Isabella Allende highlighted Andersen's timeless appeal by comparing his stories to a Chilean dream-catcher.

"Dreams help shape the soul and the dream-catcher filters away the bad dreams, so only the good ones are left. So do Andersen's tales," she said.

Singer Harry Belafonte took the opportunity to turn Andersen's art into a weapon against global illiteracy among children.

According to the UN cultural agency Unesco, more than 150 million children worldwide cannot read or write.

The newly established HCA-abc Foundation aims to combat illiteracy through the promotion and use of Andersen's stories.

Global promotion

He wrote 157 fairy tales, which have been translated into more than 150 languages, ranging from Zulu to Chinese.

Statue of Hans Christian Andersen in Copenhagen
The writer was born in the Danish town of Odense on 2 April 1805
During Andersen Year more than 40 "HC Andersen ambassadors" will promote the adventurous and imaginative world of the author's tales.

They include football legend Pele, Sir Roger Moore and Danish super-model Helena Christensen.

But many Danes are looking forward to the end of the Andersen extravaganza.

"I am fed up with Andersen. We have heard about him every day for God knows how long," said Klaus Noerskov, a student at Copenhagen University.

For nearly a year the Danish media have been exploring every aspect of Andersen's life.

They have looking into his alleged homosexuality and whether he was the son of the Danish King Christian VIII.

Schoolchildren have performed his stories and an endless number of companies are using the HC Andersen brand to promote anything from jam to perfume.

"The commercialisation of Andersen isn't a new phenomenon, but it has escalated recently," said Johan de Mylius, head of the HC Andersen Centre in Odense, the writer's birthplace.

"A lot of people want a piece of the cake. Not only private businesses want to exploit his name - Denmark itself is supposed to make money from it. HC Andersen has been turned into a big brand or trademark which we are encouraged to use."

While Danes might have had enough of the razzmatazz, few doubt that the writer himself - an attention-seeker par excellence - would have loved the worldwide celebration.

Enduring legacy of author Andersen
01 Apr 05 |  Entertainment
Stars become Andersen ambassadors
07 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
Jarre joins fairytale celebration
03 Feb 05 |  Entertainment

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