Maybe you have seen these ridiculous photos of the rich Serbian bachelor? It seems each year the meme resurfaces like an old rash, and they have been making the rounds again. But now we learn the story behind them may be weirder than they seem. According to Animal New York, the rich Serbian Bachelor is actually an Icelandic cult leader who works at a fastfood restaurant. Update: No, it's not: Animal now says it's got the wrong guy.
The popular Legend of Rich Serbian Bachelor goes: a 39-year-old Serbian millionaire posted these pictures of himself on a Russian dating site, puffy-looking, posing awkwardly in silk PJs and an all-white suit amidst the absurdly lavish rooms of his mansion. They were accompanied by an ad explaining that he is seeking a viriginal woman, aged 16-24, to marry because "my kingdom is getting larger, but no worthy Cinderella yet." Just another hilarious online dating oddity! (Also, creepy!)
However, the story is not so clear-cut. Rich Serbian Bachelor began as a popular meme on Russia's active Livejournal community in 2009. And each time it resurfaces, the story behind has changed slightly. When the pictures first circulated in 2009, the man in the picture was reported to be named Igor and lived in St. Petersburg, Russia. But last week, the Daily Mail posted the photos again, and said the guy was a Serbian named Don Milisav Juan Gonzales Brzi. (I'm told Brzi means "speedy" in Serbian.Get it?) I also used this Serbian version when I posted the pictures on Gawker last year. But another story about the pictures from earlier this year in The New Republic linked to a 2009 LiveJournal post that used the original St. Petersburg story. So which is the true identity of our lonely Russian dater: Serbian Speedy Gonazles or Igor the Russian?
Neither, according to a new post by Animal New York: He's actually Icelandic, according to Animal. Animal's Marina Galperina says the bachelor is an Icelandic man named Vilhelm Ulfar Vihelmsson. And he is strange: According to his website, Vihelmsson believes he is a descendent of Anastasia Romanov, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II—which is very unlikely because Anastasia had no children and was executed along with her family at age 17. Vihelmsson also says he's the leader of a cult called Ulfarism which has something to do with wolves.
Ulfarism (or Úlfarism in Icelandic) is the religion of Úlfar which he created at a very young age but didn't write until he found out which families he belonged to, which he discovered in Russia, or rather in Latvia, in the year of 2000
One problem: It's not clear from her post how Galperina connected Vihelmsson to the pictures. She says a link to a now defunct website where Vihelmsson was soliciting money was passed around Russian LiveJournal at the same time as the pictures in 2009. I called Galperina and she offered a few more details: Vihelmsson lived in Latvia when the pictures went viral (discovering Ulfarism, no doubt) and someone Galperina knows called him and he confirmed that he was the guy in the photos. Far from definitive, although the resemblance betweenn Vihelmsson and Russian Bachelor is pretty strong.
Even assuming Galperina is right and Vihelmsson is the man in the photos: How did Vihelmsson end up turning into the Serbian bachelor meme? The website Balkinist says the most recent wave of the meme started on a Serbian Anime forum, so it's likely some user picked up the old Igor the Russian pics and relabeled them as Brzi the Serbian.But this doesn't explain how Vihelmsson became Igor the Russian back in 2009. Why did he take the pictures? Did he even post them to a dating site? And what's the deal with the sweet digs?
Judging from his Facebook profile, Vihelmsson lives a much different life than he did when the bachelor photos were taken, if it is indeed him: He's lost a lot of weight and has grown out his hair, which he sometimes wears in a strange ponytail. He's moved back to Iceland and certainly does not live in the splendor of the bachelor pictures: His Facebook profile reports that he works at a Reykjavik fast food chain that is roughly the equivalent of Subway. According an Icelandic associate of mine, the location of the "office" he lists on the Ulfarism website is "a grim Soviet apartment block on a hill on the outskirts of Reykjavík."
So, there are still a many questions to be answered this meme. I've asked my Icelandic contact to try to meet up with Vihelmsson, confirm that it is him, and get the story behind the pictures that have apparently erroneously delighted millions since 2009.
Update: The Swedish branch of Metro got in touch with Vehelmsson's aunt who says it is not her nephew in the photo. Apparently he had a dating ad that became an online joke in Iceland, but it was a different dating ad. He also is not well, according to the aunt. From Metro:
"That is not him. He has been in a hospital for a few weeks, and will stay there for at least another week, but when he gets out his mother will probably take action against the paper who says it's him, because this is like a joke. The papers who are using the pictures from his Facebook are not doing very nice work.
He did once post some dating advertisement about needing a woman, and he put his number under it. That became an online joke here, but the police took it down. He's a sick man, he needs medicine, and that's why people joke about him."
Update II: Animal's Marina Galperina says she was wrong.