Ireland, can we have your votes please?

She became Ireland's sweetheart when she won the Eurovision Song Contest. But thirty years on, can Dana adjust to a new life in politics?

The bruiser with the wrist-to-shoulder tattoos has been waiting for an hour. "Dana, remember me?" he bawls coarsely, as "Dana" Rosemary Scallon, the sweet 1970 Eurovision Song Contest winner, now an Irish Euro MP, finally emerges from a political meeting in the Sligo Park Hotel, setting off a frisson of excitement.

They look incongruous together, this tattooed toughie and the cute, gap- toothed Dana, who thrilled Europe with the unforgettable "All Kinds of Everything". But the hard man from Dana's native Derry persists. "I left you off [at home] after a dance when you were 16," he says. Dana slowly smiles. She is glad that is all he remembers, she says. The little crowd giggles; the honour of an icon, for ever young and innocent, is still intact.

Dana was just 18, waif-like in a white mini-dress, when she won the Eurovision. At 48, despite the black business suit, maturer shape and lines round her eyes, there are still traces of girlish prettiness. The brown eyes are still beautiful, the smile still warm. "Ah, how are you now Dana?" enquires a succession of middle-aged women in the foyer, cooing over her as if she were still a teenager and only they had aged.

The enduring affection owes everything to the timing of Dana's Eurovision win. As Northern Ireland spiralled into violence, Dana offered North and South a tiny ray of hope. Somehow she always managed to float, innocent, above politics. "I never heard her say a single political thing," remembers a former local reporter, Eddie McIlwaine. "Most of Ireland was in love with her." Reborn as a politician, the grown-up Dana - now firmly anti- divorce and anti-abortion - is proving to be a far more divisive figure.

Dana's metamorphosis from entertainer to MEP has stunned everyone. In three decades there had been no sign of politicisation. In the early post-Eurovision years, Dana was content to tour America and Europe and make records. Despite some chart success, there was no descent into the predictable drugs hell. Sheltered by her family - her mum and gran accompanied her to the Eurovision after a blessing from the Bishop of Derry - she retained the wholesomeness that was her chief selling-point.

Legend has it that when Dana's mother was auditioning showbusiness agents, she asked Michael Grade for guarantees that her treasure would not have to wear low-cut dresses. On television Dana was confined to Saturday-night and summertime specials, and children's and religious programmes.

The singer was always a serious Catholic, but her conviction grew after her marriage in 1978 to Damian Scallon, a hotelier involved in the charismatic Catholic renewal movement. By the mid-1980s, club and cabaret appearances had given way to gospel concerts. In 1991 the Scallons and their four children left Northern Ireland for Alabama, where Damian took a job with the Christian cable station Eternal Network TV and Dana fronted one of its programmes.

Even Dana's mother thought it was a joke when she announced, two years ago, that she was returning to run for the Irish presidency as an independent. Forecast to come last, the political novice came a respectable third, ahead of the official Labour candidate.

This summer, when she stood as a Euro candidate in the vast west of Ireland constituency of Connacht-Ulster, she was dismissed once again. Pundits from Dublin to Galway were floored when she won a Euro seat normally reserved for the ruling Fianna Fail. "It was the Catholic Church that got her in," complains a veteran journalist in Galway. The constituency's liberals despair at the election of an "arch Conservative", contrary to the progressive trend in other parts of the country. Dana, they warn, is just an attractive front for an ugly counter-attack by those who would drag Ireland back to the Dark Ages.

On the journey from the hotel to a nursery project in the village of Gurteen, south of Sligo, Dana is full of her legendary sweetness, despite being exhausted by four days in Brussels and the constituency's weekend demands. Every question is weighed up, each reply is slow, softly spoken and considered. The style is outlandishly gentle for the brutish political world, except for the occasional edge of steely determination.

Applying lipstick to a tired face, she raises the conspiracy theories herself. "I have been dismissed as everything from a mouthpiece for the Catholic Church to an evangelical Protestant parachuted in from Alabama," she says. She claims that no big organisation backed her, only a grass- roots movement that grew up during the 1997 campaign, and her four siblings and octogenarian mother, who canvassed with her.

She insists she was "bounced" into politics by false claims that she would enter the presidential race. "My greatest fear was that I would be a laughing-stock. But I had to ask myself whether I was more concerned about what people thought of me than standing up for what was right." Buoyed up by the support she received in the presidential fight, she decided to stand for the Euro seat. She won, she insists, because she shares the values of many people ignored by the opinion-formers of Dublin 4 (the Irish equivalent of Hampstead).

I was warned that a day with Dana is like an outing with Princess Diana. It is true. Part glamorous celebrity, part living saint, she elicits the same delirious response. "She has huge respect among the middle-aged and elderly," says a local journalist. "They turn out just to hover around and kiss her."

In Gurteen, they are waiting for Dana to lay a foundation stone for the BusyBees nursery. She is late and it is freezing. At the nursery building- site there are a dozen runny noses among a dozen under-fives, and the entire village is shivering in its Sunday best. But apart from little Gavin, pulling at the paper bee attached to his jumper, and practising a filthy scowl for Dana, no one seems to mind.

As her car speeds into the village behind two vehicle-loads of political volunteers, three little boys cheer from the roadside and then chase off towards the nursery site. As Dana steps out, two priests and a posse of locals walk down to meet her. She pats elbows, strikes up conversations and makes time for everyone. She is not a shake-hands, kiss-baby, move- on kind of politician, constantly scouring the room for more important people to talk to.

Instead she is all rural couthness, modest and ever concerned. "Will you step out of the mud now?" she asks a dignitary in high heels, squeezing up to make space on her platform. When a bouquet appears, Dana is so delighted you would think it was her first. Later she poses for souvenir snaps before retiring to the heaving village hall for tea and sausage rolls. Her style, one aide admits, can be nightmarish on a tight schedule. She is always running late. But, he adds, "She is a people person, and if you could sell and bottle that you'd make a fortune." A volunteer, Freddie Kennedy, 53, says that Dana has restored his faith in politicians: "When she talks to you she makes you feel the centre of the world."

Dana thanks Gurteen for inviting her "because of my views on the family". As a working mother (her four children are aged 10 to 18), she says she knows all about wanting the best care for children. But Catherine O'Dowd, 26, says that while most share Dana's "pro-family" opinions, her invite - like her election - owed more to public fondness for her: "I honestly think that many people who voted for her did not think she would get in."

Local priest Father John Doherty suggests that Dana was elected because locals feel that the established parties have forgotten an area untouched by the Celtic Tiger economy. Their marginalisation is exploited by Dana, who talks volubly about economic neglect and the "tyranny" of Dublin's "illiberal liberals".

She is less keen to discuss her views on abortion, an issue on which Ireland is bitterly divided. In both elections she struggled to prevent her campaign being reduced to that single issue. But how far has she taken her views? Did she stand outside American abortion clinics and shout at patients?

Like many pro-lifers, Dana insists that empirical evidence, not moral belief, dictates her position. She became pro-life because women told her that after their abortions "there was never a day they did not see their child in the face of another". I say I know women like that. I also know others who seem to have suffered little and would make the same choice again. She stares ahead and says nothing. But what about clinic protests? "I would sometimes go there and pray," she finally concedes.

If she shies away from the abortion issue, Dana absolutely refuses to sing. Her brother and political adviser, John, says she is asked to perform everywhere she goes, but Dana presumably wants to draw a line between the Seventies singer and the Nineties politician. Ironically, it is to her political advantage that her electorate never will. Speculation is rife that Dana will run for the Dail. This time, no one is underestimating her chances. The odds are that in this part of Ireland she would probably win.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?