A long way from Eurovision stage to Europolitical stage

 

From shy Derry schoolgirl to pop diva to promoter of Christian val ues, from would-be presi dent to could-be MEP . . . Dana's story is as gripping as one of the slides in the centre parting of her Seventies hair.

The young singer who took Europe by storm, and almost 30 years later aimed for a comeback on the political stage, will not be underestimated when she officially announces her intention to contest the European election in June.

Commentators and politicos who made that mistake at the last presidential election were left red-faced when she achieved a respectable third place.

People apparently voted for her out of solidarity with her deep-rooted Catholic values and anti-abortion, anti-divorce stance, but anecdotal evidence suggests that she also secured the votes of many who may not have shared all these beliefs.

Throughout the campaign she radiated an honesty, integrity, humour and warmth which proved irresistibly refreshing to some. Even the most hard-bitten cynics left her company impressed but not quite knowing why or by what. "She exudes leadership, not salesmanship, which is unusual in politicians," one fan said. "I am for real," she told us herself.

Although surrounded by the Troubles from an early age, Rosemary Brown could have been voted the student at Thornhill College in Derry least likely to get involved with politics.

The Browns lived in the Bogside. As a little girl, Dana's life consisted of homework, ballet, the piano and singing. There was always music in the house. Her father Robert was in a band, as was her mother, Sheila, and most of her five siblings. At times in their council house, there was a band practising in every room.

She is described as having been quiet and reserved, never getting involved in everyday family arguments, never playing out on the street, never getting into trouble. Interesting then that when Rosemary began gigging seriously, with her guitar and a repertoire which consisted mainly of folk songs, her manager picked the professional name Dana, said to mean mischievous.

By the time RTE asked her to sing in the National Song Contest with All Kinds of Everything - she had come second the year before - she had a recording contract and was well on her way to becoming the Cilla Black of Irish pop. She received a blessing from the Bishop of Derry before travelling to Amsterdam with her mother and grandmother to the Eurovision Song Contest.

When the 18-year-old won, life became an endless round of personal appearances, photo calls, interviews and variety shows. Throughout it all her close-knit family never left her side.

There was a traumatic breakup with her manager, after which her mother visited the biggest 12 showbusiness agents in Britain - "You won't make her wear low-cut dresses?" she asked a young Michael Grade - before settling on Dick Katz.

The early Seventies spawned hits such as It's Gonna Be a Cold, Cold Christmas, Somethin's Cookin' in the Kitchen, Every- thing is Beautiful and (at the time of a national power strike in Britain) Who Put All The Lights Out?.

Two developments during this time are said to have changed the direction in which Dana's career moved. The first was meeting her husband-to-be, Newry hotelier Damian Scallon, who was deeply involved in the charismatic renewal movement in the Catholic Church.

He gave Dana an insight into a spiritual dimension around which she had already skirted as a friend of born-again Christian pop star, Cliff Richard. The second was a benign growth which was found on her vocal cords in 1973, which forced her into a two-year break from singing, a time when she took stock of what was important in her life - namely her faith.

Record sales, an adoring public and money in the bank were all very well, but without God in her life these things were pointless, she reasoned. One person close to her at this time recalls how she never got involved in the after-show antics integral to Seventies pop life.

"I often think she could have been a much bigger star than she was if she had stayed around and mingled with the top entertainment people at these things. But she never did, it was always straight home," he said.

Dana began making appearances on Christian TV shows and speaking publicly about her faith. After her marriage to Damian in 1978, the couple began writing songs together. One of the first - Totus Tuus, written for the Pope for whom she has sung four times - spent weeks at No 1 in 1980.

The Eighties never hit the dizzy heights of the Seventies for her, but she continued recording and became a crowd-pulling cabaret act. The move to the US came when Damian received an offer of a job from the Christian TV station, the Eternal Word Television Network.

Dana also got a job with the station, presenting a programme called Say Yes where she sang Christian ditties and became a kind of Bible-toting Oprah Winfrey. Hard work and astute business decisions mean she is now close to being a millionaire.

The couple - who are both active supporters of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child - have four children, two girls and two boys, and live on the buckle of America's Bible belt.

They will move within months to Co Cork, from where she will start her campaign. While her detractors interpret her political ambitions as some kind of religious crusade, one of those closest to her said that if that were true "I would have nothing to do with it".

The worst mistake that could be made by the sitting MEPs in Munster, where the singer intends to stand, would be to underestimate her. Dana from Birmingham, Alabama, started out being perceived as some kind of political joke. Could it be a case of she who laughs last laughs longest, from a comfortable office in Strasbourg?