Dana and her amazing grace
From worry in the aftermath of 9/11 to losing 15lbs on a television show for her daughter’s wedding, it’s all part of being a mother for Dana, says Andrea Smith
Singer and former politician Dana Rosemary Scallon is totally honest about the trials and tribulations of being a working mum. “Often, when I had to go and do something for work, I felt that my heart was just dragging out of my body back to my children,” she admits.
“I could cope for a certain amount of time, and then I'd get really down and would have to get home to be with them.
“I think all working mums feel torn on a regular basis, especially if your child is sick or a special event comes around that only happens once.”
Born Rosemary Brown in 1951, Dana grew up on the Creggan Estate and then the Rossville Flats, Londonderry. She was given her nickname Dana (meaning bold or mischievous in Irish) by children in school, after her habit of practising judo moves on them.
As a child, her talent won her kudos — and cups — across Northern Ireland. In fact, Dana won her first ever talent contest, open to all ages, at the tender age of six. She took St Columb’s Hall, Derry, by storm. Later on, Dana formed a successful singing trio with her sisters Eileen and Susan, but one left to be a hairdresser, another to get married, and the solo career beckoned.
Dana memorably won the Eurovision aged 18 with All Kinds of Everything in 1970 — Ireland's first win — and then met and married her husband, Newry hotelier Damien. They were married in the same church as her parents, St Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry and set up home in Rostrevor. Within a year of the wedding, Damien Scallon’s hotel had been destroyed by IRA bombs.
The couple have four children, Grace (named after Dana’s sister who died as a baby), Ruth, John James and Robert.
“I feel like I grew up in studios and theatres, because Mum did summer season and Christmas in panto for as long as I can remember,” says her eldest daughter Grace (28). Dana’s Snow White, in particular, was so popular it ran for 14 seasons, ending up in London’s West End.
Grace continues: “Ruth and I used to love putting on her make-up and dressing up in her shoes.”
“Grace was always a very girly girl,” says Dana.
“Ruth came along next, and then John James and Robert, and they're all very special in their own way.”
When Grace was 10, the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, in the US for eight years. Damien worked as the manager for retreats at the traditional Catholic broadcasting network EWTN, while Dana hosted TV and radio shows for them.
Like her mum, pretty Grace is gentle and warm, but she says that she was “a brat” at times during her teens.
“Ah yes, at times,” agrees her mum, “but that's all a part of growing up.
“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.
“Parents signed up to a list at school, so if your child was invited over to their house, you knew there would be no drinking and they wouldn't be left unsupervised. It was really a very helpful system for parents.”
“And the kids' worst nightmare,” laughs Grace. “If you went on a date, the boy would come and pick you up at your house and meet your parents first.”
When Grace was 18, the family moved back to Ireland, while she went to the Catholic University in Washington to do a degree in media studies, focusing on film and advertising.
“Grace is really strong and self-sufficient,” says Dana.
“I remember a particularly scathing piece being written about me when I first went into politics. I walked in and found Grace reading it, and held my breath, but she turned to me and said, ‘Mum, it's only words.' I thought that was very profound as she was only 16. She has been a great support to Damien and me, as have all of our children.”
The million-disc selling singer also has a serious side and in 1997, to the surprise of some, while still living in America, entered the Irish Presidential race on an independent ticket. She came a respectable third and within a couple of years was the first female member representing Connaught-Ulster in the European Parliament.
When the horror of 9/11 occurred Dana was just about to head off to Brussels on MEP duty when news came of the terrorist attacks.
One plane hit the Pentagon, mere minutes away from Catholic University, and most worrying of all was that the fourth plane was missing.
It was thought to have been heading to the US Capitol, home of the Congress, which had a dome similar to that of the nearby Catholic University.
“All the lines were jammed and it was petrifying,” recalls Dana. “When we finally got through to Grace, she and all her friends who couldn't go home were afraid to leave their building.
“I had to fly to Brussels, but I just wanted to be with my child. Damien got the first plane out, and he was like a dad to all of them.
“He took them out for dinner and on to the metro, all the very normal things they were afraid to do.”
It was at the Catholic University that Grace met her husband, Patrick Koucheravy, and after graduation, he went into the army. He and Grace were married in Galway in 2005.
Indeed, many people followed Dana's weight-loss regime prior to the wedding through RTE's The Afternoon Show, on which she lost 15lbs.
When Grace and Patrick were on the second day of their honeymoon in Malta, Patrick got called to Afghanistan, which meant the immediate abandonment of the holiday. He signed his new bride into camp, and went off immediately to war, leaving Grace to set up a home for them by herself.
After serving in Iraq and Baghdad, Patrick's military service came to an end, and he and Grace moved to Dublin.
“We were ready for a change of scene, and I was missing my family,” says Grace, who is working towards a career behind the scenes in the film and television industry.
“Patrick is working as a property economist, and he's learning Irish and playing Gaelic football. It's great being able to see so much of my family.
“What I admire about mum is that she's true to herself and has a lot of integrity,” Grace continues. “I really have a lot of time for people who don't compromise their beliefs for the sake of being popular. It's not always easy.”
Dana has set up a music business with Damien called DS Music, which produces a mixture of commercial and Christian music. Their link with religious songs goes right back to their 1978 honeymoon, when Dana and Damien composed their first faith number, Praise the Lord. She is also excited both about her new television series, Dana and Friends, on EWTN, and about embarking on her first UK tour in years this summer.
“Mum has a great sense of humour and she's very funny,” says Grace. “Now that I'm older it's great to have such a good friendship with my parents. They have been an amazing support to all of us, and were always so generous and kind, so it's lovely to be able to give a little of that support back now.”