Dana experiences all kinds of everything in Moroccan TV adventure
Jenny Lee chats to former politician and Eurovision winner Dana about her celebrity globetrotting adventure in Morocco and her plans to release a new album
SHE HAS conquered Europe as a singer and member of the European Parliament, had her own series on US television and now Dana Rosemary Scallon is travelling to north Africa in search of adventure, in a new RTÉ travel series.
Celebrity Globetrotters, made by Belfast-based production company Waddell Media, takes six very different Irish personalities out of their comfort zone as they experience the sights, smells and tastes of Morocco.
Born Rosemary Brown in 1951, Dana grew up on the Creggan estate in Derry. She was given her nickname Dana (meaning bold or mischievous in Irish) by children in school, after her habit of practising judo moves on them.
But it was her singing talent that catapulted Dana into the limelight, when as a schoolgirl she won the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest in Amsterdam, with All Kinds of Everything. It launched a successful musical career, than took her all over the world.
She entered politics in 1997, running as an independent candidate for the Irish presidency that year, when she came in third, losing out to fellow northerner Mary McAleese. In 1999 she was elected as an MEP for Connacht-Ulster, serving for five years. She again contested the Irish 2011 presidential election, but was eliminated on the first count, alongside now Senator David Norris.
Fast forward to January 2019 and the pair are reunited for a new travel programme. In Morocco they are joined by writer Victoria Mary Clarke (who is also known as being the wife of Pogues singer Shane MacGowan), country singer Derek Burke, comedian Alison Spittle and Olympian and MasterChef winner David Gillick.
The six-part series sees each celebrity take on the role of tour guide and bring their fellow travellers on their chosen itinerary. First up, it’s David Norris whose natural enthusiasm for Marrakesh shines through as they embark on a walking tour of the city starting at the Koutobia Mosque, before stopping off to see the Yves Saint Laurent Majorelle Gardens and shopping for carpets. In the evening it all changes as they enjoy a horse-drawn-carriage ride, meet snake charmers and eat sheep’s brains.
"That left a deep psychological scar. I don't think any of the others enjoyed that either," recalls Dana, who preferred to stay safe and eat olives and bread.
Despite their political differences – most notably on the subjects of abortion and same-sex marriage – as viewers will see, Dana got on tremendously well with Norris.
"We always got on well actually. We clicked from the first time we met on the campaign trail and I've been to lunch at the Dáil with him in the past. He was a real character in Morroco and seemed to know more than the native guides."
From the lofty Atlas Mountains to coastal Casablanca, with stops in Rabat, the 'blue city' of Chefchaouen, Fez and Berber villages along the way, the celebrities haggle in souks, enjoy traditional Moroccan cuisine, go dune buggying and camel riding, and take part in local entertainment as they make their way through Morocco.
"The hot air balloon over the Atlas Mountains was an incredible experience. It's was a very early and cold start, but once you were up in the balloon it felt literally like we were floating in air. Looking down on the little villages, with people out herding sheep, was like being transported back to biblical times," says Dana.
Her other highlights include the authentic experiences of staying in a traditional riad – a north African house built around a courtyard – in old-town Marrakech and sharing tea in the homes of Berber people.
"The handmade carpets from the Berber people are the most expensive you will buy. Yet here I was sitting in this little 500-year-old house with no windows or electricity that is perched on the side of the mountain, watching a woman weaving the carpet from wool from her own sheep, that she had dyed and spun. It was just a privilege to be there."
In episode four of Celebrity Globetrotters, Dana takes the group to Rick’s Café in Casablanca, which is designed to recreate the bar made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the movie classic.
"That was like stepping back in time and being part of the Casablanca movie. I love 1940s-era films and Casablanca is one of the top 10 films of all time," says Dana, who took to the stage in the cafe to give a special rendition of her Eurovision winning song All Kinds of Everything.
"It's such a lovely little song. It's amazing how it has so many memories for so many people. It's like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers," adds Dana, who still enjoys watching Eurovision, especially for the performances and fashion.
Currently living in Galway, Dana has remained out of the public gaze in recent years, although in November she accepted a six-figure sum to settle a newspaper libel action. She says she is delighted she accepted the invitation to take part in Celebrity Globetrotters and she is also back to her first love, music.
"I just felt I needed to get out and be part of it. They were long filming days but it was an amazing adventure. The charm of the series is the mixture of personalities. We got on so well and I think I've made friends for life."
Dana is currently recording a new album in Italy, which she hopes to release before the end of the year. It will be her first release since her 2012 album Ave Maria. "I can't hide away for good and need to get back to what I love doing. I've always loved being in the studio – the hard part is going out and promoting it," she says.
And what can we expect to hear?
"It's very contemporary – a mixture of new songs and some covers," the quietly spoken singer says, revealing that she wrote one of the songs with her youngest son Robert.
What she has left firmly behind is her political life and she admits she is thankful that she's not currently an MEP. And her views on Brexit?
"It's a very interesting phase. I think I'll leave Brexit to the politicians who are fighting their way through it," she laughs.
:: Celebrity Globetrotters starts on RTÉ One on Thursday March 14 at 8.30pm.