Expelled from the Athens Conservatoire for singing jazz, Nana Mouskouri was heartened by kindly words from Maria Callas: "It's better to be a great popular entertainer than an unknown opera singer. The important thing is not what you do but how well you do it."
Mouskouri had been terrified at the sight of her idol, at a table in an Athens nightclub, but had shyly obliged with requests. Callas came back several times with Aristotle Onnasis, eventually summoning the teenager for a chat.
The great soprano's advice was prescient. Mouskouri probably wouldn't have made it to the Met but, for 50 years, she has provided great entertainment, a crossover artist before the term was invented, singing in a dozen languages and selling 400 million records.
She soon acquired a reputation in Athens' burgeoning circle of musicians, among them Manos Hadjidakis. He summoned her at four in the morning to assist at the birth of "Never on Sunday", a song that came to exemplify the new Greece; and he wrote her passport to international success, "White Rose of Athens".
Mouskouri has recently said farewell to the British stage with a series of emotional concerts. At 73, she has also published a memoir which tells us something of her remarkable life. She grew up in Athens, a witness to the horrors of German occupation and civil war. Her father gambled away what little he earned and made it clear he'd wanted a son.
Nana was 12 when glasses enabled her to see herself clearly for the first time, and she felt all was "hopeless". Music was her solace and she studied for eight years. The story of these formative years is well told, painfully honest and without self-pity. But what a shame that, instead of the details of endless tours, she doesn't tell us more about her work for Unicef and her five years as an MEP, engaged with a range of issues including copyright and the Ariane Programme that supports small publishers and "minority" languages.
A passionate European, she stood down in 1999 with a voting record of 70 per cent and the conviction that life would be better if morality and culture occasionally prevailed over economics and expediency. Mock her if you must – but you can't argue with the ideals that drive her. If only she'd told us more about them.
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