IRELAND – Dana the Original Derry Girl on BBC One Northern Ireland is a look back at that young schoolgirl’s incredible life story, retracing her steps to the stage of the RAI theatre in Amsterdam, where against the odds she became Ireland’s first Eurovision winner.
At a time when the violent conflict of the Troubles was dominating the news and peoples’ lives back home, Rosemary Scallon, better known as Dana and often referred to as ‘The girl from the Bogside,’ literally became a national hero overnight.
In the documentary, Dana relives that overwhelming moment on stage when she won, before travelling back to Derry to call at her old family home and visit her former school.
She recalls the whirlwind of sudden success left her feeling lonely and isolated and how she tried to run away from it all one night.
The programme also looks at the fascinating story of what happened afterwards, including her successful pop and TV career in the 1970s; her marriage to Newry hotelier Damien Scallon; her move to Alabama and into religious music; performing for the Pope and entering the spotlight of Irish politics.
The highs and lows of her career are laid bare including Dana’s reflection on how, at the height of her career, a medical scare meant she couldn’t sing, and how the scary times which followed ultimately led to her marrying Damien when she realised “her work didn’t hug her at night.”
The film, made by Waddell Media, includes archive footage of their marriage being celebrated on the streets of Derry.
“We didn’t realise it was the tenth anniversary of civil rights so there were international crews in Derry as well waiting for something terrible to happen and what they experienced was a party for the whole city, it was absolutely wonderful.”
It also looks at the most surprising chapter in Dana’s career – her decision to enter the race for the 1997 Irish Presidency and later becoming an MEP for Connaught Ulster.
Dana – The Original Derry Girl also touches on allegations of historical sexual abuse made against her brother John and the profound effect the media coverage of these allegations had on the whole family.
A trial in 2014 found her brother not guilty, but Dana reveals she is still coming to terms with this “worst of times”.
“Like everybody’s life there are the really hard things that happen, they either crush you completely or they make you stronger and I’m working on that,” she says.
The documentary features contributions from the co-writer of All Kinds of Everything, Derry Lindsay, Senator David Norris, Dave Fanning and many others. The programme ends with Dana joining local choirs on stage in The Guildhall, where she performed as a young girl, to take part in a moving version of ‘All Kinds of Everything’.
Dana – The Original Derry Girl airs on Monday, May 11 BBC One Northern Ireland at 10:45 pm.