Sunday 20 August 2017

Behind the seemingly serene Dana is a fraught family dispute that threatens to derail her campaign

Greg Harkin

WHEN Dana Rosemary Brown sang in the choir of St Mary's Chapel in Tamnaherin in Co Derry on a Sunday morning, everyone took notice.

It was 1968 and the small parish eight miles from Derry city was a haven from the hell that was engulfing the North's second city as the advocates of civil rights clashed with the dying dinosaur of the Unionist-run state.

"She was gifted, there's no doubt about the fact she was a fine singer," said one parishioner who remembers her well.

"Her family was living in the city in the Bogside but Dana was always here, away from any trouble."

Dana was, in fact, living at the home of school principal Tony Johnston, where she was treated "like a daughter". Johnston had spotted her talent at a singing competition he had run a couple of years earlier.

Dana's father played the trumpet and her mum played the piano but it was Master Johnston who guided her through countless hours of musical classes and helped her study for her O-Levels.

One of seven children of Sheila and Robert Brown, Rosemary was musically gifted. She won her first talent competition when she was just six.

She cut her first record in 1967 aged 16 -- the song written by Master Johnston was 'Sixteen'.

In February 1969 she entered the Irish National Song Contest, coming second -- but a year later her life changed forever when she won it; and then won the Eurovision with her song 'All Kinds of Everything', a single which went on to sell two million copies worldwide.

"Neither Master Johnston nor anyone around here saw Dana after that," said the parishioner.

For the next decade she had varying degrees of chart success without ever landing another number one.

When the Pope visited Ireland in 1979 however, Dana went back to her Christian choir roots and her lucrative career as a gospel singer began.

She and her new husband, co-writer and manager Damien Scallon, penned a tribute to John Paul II 'Totus Tuus' -- Latin for 'Totally Yours' -- and the song went to number one in the charts in January 1980.

Within months she was signing a record contract with World Records at the National Religious Broadcasters' conference in Washington DC.

When the Pope visited New Orleans in 1987, he asked Dana to sing 'Totus Tuus' at a Mass in front of 85,000 people.

With her ever-growing popularity across the American Bible-belt, she moved with her husband and daughters Grace, Susanna Ruth and sons John-James and Robert, to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1991.

Over the next six years she appeared regularly on Christian TV and radio channels, singing again for the Pope during his 1993 visit to Denver.

Dana loved the religious fervour of Alabama and the Christian values of family life.

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"We were living in the south, where there were very established rules of behaviour for children, so we didn't actually have to enforce a whole lot," she would recall later.

Why she decided to move with her family to Claregalway, Co Galway, in 1997 isn't clear.

But Dana soon brought her strident Catholic views into the presidential race after making history as the first candidate to get the nomination of local councils. She came third.

She had more success two years later, being elected MEP for Connacht-Ulster campaigning on a 'family values' ticket but had a miserable general election in Galway West in 2002, when she secured less than 4pc of first preference votes.

When she lost her European seat in 2004, she turned her attention to the Aras again, but she failed to secure a nomination to take on President McAleese.

Her political career seemingly over, she returned again to Christian music. After a bitter dispute with her sister Susan over the ownership of HeartBeat records, Dana and husband Damien established DS Records in 2007.

For one of her first new albums, she went back in time again, calling it 'Totus Tuus' -- and releasing it on the anniversary of Pope John Paul II's death.

A series of RTE shows including 'The All-Ireland Talent Show' has given Dana a much higher profile.

But behind the seemingly serene image of Dana lies an increasingly fraught family dispute that threatens to finish her latest campaign, which was already struggling to gain traction.

Irish Independent

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