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50 years on with Dana

On Saturday 21 March 1970 eighteen-year-old schoolgirl Dana Brown perched on a stool in her embroidered white mini dress at the Amsterdam RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre to sing All Kinds of Everything before an audience of 200 million people, the last of twelve contestants to perform on the night.

She won, with 32 votes, the first time Ireland won the Eurovision and it was huge, bigger by far than its six subsequent victories.

Among those she beat were the UK’s Mary Hopkin (Those Were the Days) and Spain’s Julio Iglesias.

Now, as the fiftieth anniversary approaches, Dana Rosemary Scallon, former MEP for Connacht-Ulster and former Irish Presidential candidate, spoke to The Irish World’s Mags McGagh all about that time and what followed.

On taking part in Eurovision… and winning

“I can’t quite believe that in April it will be fifty years since I won Eurovision.

“When I flew out to Amsterdam with my mum, gran and the Irish team I wasn’t known at all in Ireland.

“I remember being waved off by two lovely cleaning ladies and a porter. It was all very different on my return.

“Aer Lingus had just got a new aeroplane and I was told there would be a surprise at Schiphol Airport. When we got there, I couldn’t believe my eyes, there was ‘Operation Dana’ across the side of the plane.

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“When we arrived home, I was greeted by 5,000 people hanging from the terminal building.

“I couldn’t take it all in, it was incredible.

“They were difficult days in Ireland in 1970. When we landed just outside Derry we were picked up in a big black car and taken to the Guild Hall.

“As we approached the hall the car came to a halt and was unable to move as we were surrounded by thousands of people.

“What was lovely about it was that they were from both sides of the community and they were all celebrating together which was just beautiful to see.

“In our city there were Feis competitions held on both sides of the community.

“One was the Londonderry Feis and the other the Irish Feis. Everyone would all compete in both, so we grew up together.

“It was a great training ground and kept our community very close. We didn’t have that sharp divide that perhaps existed in other towns.”

On becoming a politician and successful MEP

“I think I fell into politics by accident. Living in the North I saw the failure of politics and I switched off completely. I didn’t want to watch the news as there was no good news.

“People began to ask me to speak up for them as they felt no one was listening to them.

“I first ran to be nominated in the presidential elections in 1997.

“Ireland which is unique in Europe in that the people own the constitution and make decisions on it.

“You could only get nominated if a political party backed you. They held the keys, so I just challenged it. I went around Ireland to the local county councils.

“I have to say I have a lot of respect for county councils. They work very hard and take the flak for decisions made above them.

“The councils nominated me, and I was the first independent ever nominated to run so we broke the status quo.

“I never dreamt that we would get such a good vote, but we did. I was then asked by the same group if I would do the same thing in the European election.

“When I was elected, I walked into the European parliament thinking what I am doing here, I didn’t know anyone as I was the first independent.

“I walked into our first group meeting and there was a group of eight German women who asked if I was Dana. When I said yes, they started singing All Kinds of Everything to me which completely put me at ease.

“It’s strange the way life goes full circle.”

Dana returns home triumphantly

On going back into the recording studio 30 years later

“I have now completed my album. It’s probably almost thirty years since I made one like this.

“My nieces and nephew have a very successful band called The Rua, it was through them I came to record the album.

“Their producer had been asking me for about a year to make it and I eventually agreed. I am delighted to have written a song which is on it with my youngest son Robert.

“Four other songs written by The Rua are also included on the album. I was a little afraid going back into the studio it was so daunting after all these years.

“We had the most amazing musicians working with us including the drummer from Tears for Fears, the bass player from Blondie, the keyboard player from High Flying Birds, previously Oasis, and a beautiful string orchestra.

“I really felt quite intimidated but once we started working together, we were all just musicians working in a room. I loved them as people and respected them as musicians.

“I think it is one of the best things I have done in my career. I still have the passion, but I am aware that you don’t do these things on your own.”

On revisiting her Eurovision success 50 years on

“As we are approaching the 50th anniversary of my win RTE and the BBC are making a documentary about my life and career.

“We went back to Derry to film a few weeks ago and people were invited back to the Guild Hall to share their memories of that time.

“It was lovely to hear their stories and memories. So many people said to me that day, it really was a light in a dark time back then.

“That is a beautiful thing to know and have been part of. We will be finishing the documentary off in January and February.

“It is due to air just before Eurovision which is once again back in Holland.

“I have never been back to one since and would love to go, so maybe I will this year.”



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