Profile of the Eurovision singer turned public representative
The lure of a new house on the newly built Creggan Estate was enough to bring Dana back to her spiritual home, the setting for all of the stories and tales that she had heard as a toddler. Her father, a barber by day and trumpeter by night, opened a barber’s shop in Creggan and Dana was enrolled at, before moving onto St. Eugene’s Primary.
As a child, Dana was immersed in a very musical environment, with both parents playing instruments and Derry revelling in the Showband era. The love of music in the Brown family was firmly embraced by young Rosemary and Derry offered ample opportunities for it to develop.
By the age of six, within a year of the family’s return to Derry, Dana was entering her first Feis (a competition with different categories for Irish singing, dancing, and instrumental performances) at St. Columb’s Hall and taking lessons in piano, violin and ballet.
The conflict between the demands of Ballet dancing and the local Irish folk and dance traditions did not effect Dana’s enthusiasm and soon she and her older sister, Susan, began to . Having achieved a degree of local fame, the duo were approached to produce a record, but Susan was set to marry an American and leave Ireland so the deal fell through. Dana was not yet fifteen years old.
At about the same time Dana was offered the opportunity to leave Ireland and become a ballerina, based in London. Such a huge decision would have had an immense impact on her life and almost certainly changed her destiny. As it was, Dana’s parents decided that their talented daughter was too young to move away from home and insisted that she kept up with her studies at Derry’s.
Winning this competition attracted the interest of Tony Johnston, a local teacher who acted as a music promoter in his spare time. Johnston soon secured a recording contract for Dana with, much to her own amazement! Despite these apparent omens of success, Dana remained resolutely determined to continue with her studies and lived a kind of double life as a schoolgirl by day and aspiring singing star by night.
With the catchy name assured, Dana’s star began to rise. An appearance on ’The Late Late Show’, then Ireland’s most popular TV Programme, led to selection for the 1969 Irish National Song Contest - the competition to select the Country’s Eurovision entrant. However, this was not to be Dana’s year, singing Mike Read’s ’Look Around’, she came second - a performance which lead to an invitation for the following years competition.
1970 was Dana’s year. The song ’All Kinds Of Everything' by Derry Lindsay and Jackie Smith was chosen for her to sing in the Irish National contest. Its simple innocence was the perfect choice for the fresh faced Derry girl, who was still studying for her A’levels, and was a popular choice for Ireland, winning the competition.
Dana was now established as Ireland’s entry for the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest , the biggest song competition in Europe. The City of Derry was delighted that one of its own daughters was representing Ireland on such an international stage and Dana was given a Civic send off from the Guildhall. Brian Martin, from the City Development Commission sent her on her way with the words, We in Derry feel very proud that Dana has been such a wonderful ambassadress for the City. We wish Dana every success and we know that she will uphold the cultural and musical traditions of the City.'
On March 21, 1970 in the Dutch capital, Amsterdam, Dana took to the stage as the last singer in the Eurovision final. Apparently free from nerves, she gave a captivating performance of power and innocence and won the competition, beating the Favourite - England’s Mary Hopkin - into second place. Dana was stunned, an audience of 75 million people around Europe had witnessed, and been charmed by, her victory. The young girl from Derry was suddenly an international superstar.
The response in Derry and Ireland was immense. Dana flew home on Aer Lingus jet emblazoned with the legend ’OPERATION DANA - EUROVISION 1970’ and was greeted at Dublin airport by thousands of well-wishers. Flying on to Derry, a similar crowd turned out to welcome home their winner. Dana charmed them all by giving a rendition of the song from the steps of the plane.
As Dana’s convoy approached the Guildhall it was clear that there were many thousands of people to greet her. Bonfires were lit around the City and an air of celebration hung over Derry’ streets with a real carnival atmosphere. When she finally made her way home to Rossville Street in the Bogside, where the Brown’s were now living, the street outside their flat was mobbed.
Dana famously led in the Bogside in a midnight rendition of ’All Kinds Of Everything’ before they would go home. It was clear that Dana’s life would never really return to ’normal’ from this point. She had intended to continue with her studies when she returned from Eurovision, never expecting to win it. Instead she found herself being invited to meet , the Irish President, and fulfilling a hectic programme of engagements.
As she developed a high media profile as a singer and presenter, Dana was also falling in love. She married Damien Scallon, a hotelier from Newry, in St. Eugene’s Cathedral - next to her old primary school and two minutes from Rossville Street. Again Derry turned out in force for its favourite daughter, the day was an unofficial holiday in the City and the parties went on through the night.
As well as being her husband, Damien was also an inspiration to Dana - strengthening her Christian faith and bringing her closer to God. In the later days of her singing career Dana’s faith played an increasingly important role. Several of her subsequent records were released on the ’Word’ label for Christian music and proved highly popular, particularly in the USA.
A mark of the enduring love in Ireland for Dana’s voice saw her return to the Number One position in the charts with ’Tutus Tuus’ (Totally Yours), a religious anthem, in 1979 when the Pope visited Ireland. Through the 1980’s and 1990’s Dana built a career for herself in the USA, largely as a Christian Broadcaster, and many in Ireland felt that that she would remain in America.
Although a surprise candidate Dana came third in the election, behind Mary McAleese and Mary Banotti. It seemed that she had not lost her affinity with the Irish public, offering reassurance to those unhappy with the pace and direction of change in modern Ireland. Boosted by this success, and the response to her ideas, Dana stood in the European elections in 1999. On June 14th of that year she was elected by the people of Connaught-Ulster as their representative in the with over 70,000 votes.
As a new chapter in Dana’s life unfolds, she is returning closer to her Derry roots. In Ireland and beyond the name Dana was and is synonymous with Derry, its music and its people. At a troubled time in the City’s history Dana helped to remind people of a different Derry and, for a time, captured the world’s imagination.