Forget Angelina Jolie. Siem Reap had a new celebrity visitor last week in Norwegian star Hanne Sørvaag. Visiting her old friend, and local expat, Katrine Solhaug, she came to the Kingdom to help out with Katrine’s charitable efforts, in a week which saw her dangle off the back of a garbage truck in a cheerleader costume, paint stars and moons on a primary school wall and perform not one, but two concerts in town.
Known as “The Hit Machine” at home, Hanne is as famed for her ability to thrash out chart-toppers for other stars, as well as her own solo and collaborative endeavours.
The stunning blonde was the first woman ever to have two songs in one Eurovision Song Contest. Counting Simon Cowell among her fans, she penned the hit My Destiny for 2006 American Idol finalist Katherine McPhee, and has most recently collaborated with Barbados R&B star Shontelle.
After a summer of performing and promoting her latest album Cover Me (in which she covers the hits she scrawled for others), and having recently formed trio-group Dollhouse Special, she came to Cambodia for a well-earned break. Or so she may have thought.
“It’s so funny,” she chuckles, reflecting on her short visit, “People have been writing on my Facebook, ‘I thought you were going to relax? Are you working there now?’”
Hanne has been helping to raise awareness of the work at Babel Guesthouse both here and at home in Norway, having appeared in no less than seven newspapers in her homeland this week.
“It’s been a lot of extra help having her here this week,” gushes pal Katrine. “She’s known in Norway, so she’s been able to raise awareness, which is the most important thing. People have been following her blog. We’ve had an article in our home town, which is a rich oil city, about her time in Cambodia, with a picture of her hanging from the garbage truck in her Go Green cheerleader outfit. Hopefully that might bring in some donations.”
During her trip, Hanne also performed, accompanied by Babel’s other resident songstress, student supervisor Hilde Marie Kvalosoter. Along with a Friday-night performance at a packed Warehouse Bar, which saw the audience holler for an encore, the pair also performed a more intimate gig at Babel.
Despite having played all over the world, Hanne said she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “It was amazing. You go to different countries and some people don’t really listen when someone plays because that’s not in their culture. And both places had people from many countries and that’s typically when it becomes noisy, so it was really nice to have them listen and show their appreciation.”
The star returns to Norway to begin a hectic three months working the country’s version of hit TV talent show The Voice.
Despite her brief stint in town and packed do-gooding schedule, she did manage to fit in some sights, explaining how she got in as many temples as she could on her last day and fell asleep at the Butterfly Centre.
But the most lasting memory for the star from her time in Temple Town won’t be the rubbish she collected, the temples she visited or the songs she sang.
It will be the people she’s met, and the mark they’ve left with her.
“I think they’re brave,” she says. “Their challenges are many, but they look courageous and happy. I’ll go home and be grateful.”