AS excitement mounts for next month’s Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool, Derry singer Dana Rosemary Scallon, who won in 1970 with All Kinds of Everything, says she has “precious memories” of the event and encourages this year’s entries to “enjoy the experience”.
As an 18-year-old schoolgirl, up against musical greats such as Welsh singer Mary Hopkin and Spaniard Julio Iglesias, Dana enjoyed not being in the limelight.
“I had no ambitions to be a singer, so going on stage to sing I was not focusing on winning. I just gave it my best shot and tried to lock in my memories of what was happening and the people around me,” remembers the 71-year-old.
Dana was soaking up the atmosphere inside Amsterdam’s RAI theatre and watching everyone around her so much that she lost track of the results and had to be pulled onstage by officials in a state of shock as she was told she had won.
“I think not going in with the highest expectations was as good a way to approach the event as any.”
Of course, Dana became an overnight pop star and 53 years later, her achievements are still celebrated.
Just last month, a Eurovision themed Comic Relief sketch saw a judging panel of Graham Norton, Lulu and Sam Ryder audition a variety of famous faces to become the UK’s Eurovision entrant.
Belfast actor Jamie Dornan, Spandau Ballet star Tony Hadley and comic Miranda Hart were amongst the hopefuls, before Bono entered and started singing All Kinds of Everything.
“It was a hoot. Graham Norton says ‘what could be better than the Irish winner’? It’s nice to know that my song is still relevant,” laughs Dana.
The 67th Eurovision Song Contest is being held in Liverpool after security concerns meant Ukraine, who won the 2022 contest with the song Stefania by Kalush Orchestra, could not host the event.
Dana will be visiting the Liverpool Arena on the day of the first semi-final on May 9, where amongst her plans is an interview on Good Morning Britain.
“I'm delighted that they've asked me to come over and be a contributor on the programme that will focus on Eurovision. I didn't win for England, I won for Ireland, so it’s lovely to be asked,” says Dana, who will be having a chat the following morning with Eamonn Holmes on his GB News breakfast show, as well as filming a television quiz.
With 37 vastly different entries, I ask Dana for her prediction for this year’s winner.
“I really don’t know. Last year I thought it was a really good result. Musically, all the judges voted for Sam Ryder, which was deserved. And everybody's heart voted with Ukraine, which was the perfect outcome.”
Unfortunately, Dana will have to miss the grand final, as she will be in the air, bound for New York, where she will be performing her new song, Light The Fire, at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan at the Cardinal’s Mass on May 14.
Launched last month with a special performance at The Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Light The Fire tells the story of how St Patrick lit the flame on a hill in Slane in 433AD, defying the High King Laoire at Tara.
The spark for the song came from her brother-in-law, the late Vincentian Father Kevin Scallon, over 15 years ago.
"He said, ‘You know we need a new hymn to St Patrick for today'. But I had a lot of stuff going on in my life at that time and I never got a note or a word until Easter Sunday in 2013. Ninety per cent of the song came to me that day, but I knew something was missing,” she explains.
Aptly, it was after a visit to The Saint Patrick Centre – the world’s only permanent exhibition to Ireland’s patron saint – and located just yards from St Patrick’s grave, that Dana completed the song.
“It was the section ‘light the flame in my heart once again and the fire will burn in the darkness’,” says Dana, who admits it’s only in recent months she’s learnt so much about St Patrick.
“Kevin gave me The Confession of St. Patrick, but I’m ashamed to say I think I opened it once. St Patrick was, of course, my Patron Saint, but he was more about snakes and shamrocks to me. It’s been a fascinating journey completing this song and learning about him.”
Dana credits the insight of Poor Clares Martina Purdy and Elaine Kelly, pilgrim guides for St. Patricks' Way, at The Saint Patrick's Centre, for their help and guidance to help her understanding. With this renewed knowledge, she firmly believes that Light The Fire has a message of hope for today’s world.
“St Patrick was a victim of human trafficking, he was sold into slavery, lived in poverty and was treated harshly — yet he returned to the people who did this to him.
“People have asked me if he lit that fire in anger? But he lit a fire of faith, hope and love in the darkness of a pagan world, a world of human sacrifice and oppression. That fire brought the light of faith to Ireland and to the whole world. He’s still very much a Saint for today.”
On a local level, Dana, herself a former Irish Presidential candidate and MEP for Connacht-Ulster, believes Northern Irish politicians, 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement, could do with that fire today and follow the example of St Patrick.
“We saw through the years, and especially the most difficult years, that political agreements only work if the people's heart and mind goes with it. It takes more than a written agreement. Yes, it takes longer to get that kind of complete agreement – but that’s what makes it a lasting agreement.”
Looking backwards, but also moving forward, Dana has recently released Fairytale (Remix) on digital platforms.
Dana’s 1976 worldwide dance hit, Fairytale, spent a lengthy 16 weeks in the UK charts and topped the charts in many other countries, including eight weeks at number one in Mexico.
“It's a great song, but I couldn't have sung it in the same way as I sung it then. It was my brother, Gerry, who put together the different arrangement. It’s got a summer dance feel and it has got a great reaction from radio play."
Despite its original success, Dana reveals that she has never sung Fairytale live. “When I first released the song there were lots of promotional appearances lined up. At my first television publicity event for the song, when I went to sing I couldn’t.
“I mimed it, and back then you weren’t allowed to. I went straight down to London to see a specialist after and I was in the hospital that night.”
Dana required surgery to remove a non-malignant growth from her vocal cord.
“It took me almost five years to recover. I had to learn to talk again, then I had to learn to sing again. But the biggest problem was getting over the fear of it coming back.”
Thankful for a full recovery of her voice, Dana is also grateful for a close-knit and supportive family.
Dana has a son in Australia, a daughter in Africa, as well as two children in Ireland and they always try to get together every year or two. Covid meant that the timescale was extended, but she was delighted they all met in Kenya last Christmas.
“Family is a blessing. Thank God our kids are all very close and they just miss the fact, like so many other families, that they couldn't meet up. Some of the grandchildren had never met, so it was a wonderful time.”