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Article 2006: Rosanna Davison

Chris High
Chris de Burgh
Sunday Times 2006
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Rosanna Davison - article first published in the Sunday Times 2006

Chris de Burgh and his daughter, Rosanna Davison

<<back to Rosanna Davison

©The Sunday Times Magazine 2006
Interview by Danny Scott

Chris de Burgh, 57, is best known for his 1986 No 1 hit, Lady in Red. He has sold over 45m records, and his new album, The Storyman, is out tomorrow. He lives in Ireland with his wife, Diane, their sons, Hubie, 18, and Michael, 15, and their daughter, Rosanna Davison, 22. Crowned Miss Ireland and Miss World in 2003, Rosanna, who chose to go by her mother’s maiden name to avoid charges of nepotism, recently graduated from University College, Dublin

Rosanna at home with her Father, Chris de Burgh

Portrait by Tadhg Devlin

CHRIS: The fact that Rosanna was even born at all is a complete miracle because my wife, Diane, had some difficulties with pregnancy. First there were miscarriages and then, in 1982, she had an ectopic pregnancy that nearly killed her. She’d passed out, suffering from major bleeding, and was luckily found by a doctor who got her to the hospital with about half an hour left before she would have died. Another doctor performed microsurgery on her damaged fallopian tube and managed to save it. At the time, we didn’t know the other tube had been damaged by an infection and was useless. Even with the repaired tube, we were told our chances of having children were very low.



Watching all the happy families in the park on a Sunday, I could feel the sadness, the wrench, of maybe not being able to have children. But for Diane, that pain must have been unbearable. So you can understand how we felt on April 17, 1984, when Rosanna came into the world. I was there, right at the sharp end, and I have to say that it was the most overpowering feeling I have ever experienced. I really would recommend that all fathers try to attend the birth of their children. It was the first time I realised the floodgates of emotion could just burst open like that — the first time I realised I could actually kill another human being if they were to harm my baby. It just put everything else in the shade. There in the hospital I thought to myself: “Okay, now I get it. I understand why we’re on this planet.”

Chris de Burgh and Daughter

Father and Daughter

Of course, being the first-born, Rosanna was the apple of her father’s eye. I remember having to go on tour when she was about eight weeks old and I just didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave her. It was like having to leave behind a piece of myself. I was touring Canada at the time and I kept stopping people with prams as I was walking down the street. “Excuse me, I’m a new father. Would you mind if I gaze at your baby for a while?” They all understood.

Diane came out to see me with Rosanna a couple of weeks later and I rushed to meet them at the airport. Rosanna was lying on her back in this pink and blue carrycot, with her eyes wide open, and when she saw me, her face just lit up. Her smile — it was like dawn. I could have melted right there on the spot. It would have made a terrible mess for the airport staff.

As a child she was a complete bundle of energy. Always running, always jumping and always wanting to see what everyone else was doing. One of the first things I ever remember her saying was: “Zanna do self!” She wanted to do it herself — she wanted to get stuck in there. It also amused me that she had these long legs and was obviously going to be very tall. I am only 5ft 6in, but Rosanna was representing her school for long jump and hurdles.

When it came to education, I wanted the best for Rosanna, but there was no way I was going to have her sent off to some boarding school on the other side of the country. I was sent to boarding school at a young age because my parents were working in Africa, and it’s left me with some holes in my life. The sound of boys crying themselves to sleep at night is something I’ll never forget, and I don’t believe small children should be sent to boarding school. To be a family, and to be a father to that family, you need to be together. How could I be an authority figure for Rosanna if she only saw me three times a year?

I know I’m going to sound like the clichéd proud father here, but Rosanna really is an incredibly hard worker. I’ve only got to think about her last two years at school. Her attitude was that if she’s at school trying to get her qualifications, she might as well give it the full whack. What’s the point of half-measures? She was the same at university. But I hope people don’t get the idea that Diane and I were pushing her to succeed. All we’ve ever said to the kids is: “Do your best.”

Rosanna just seems to have a quite awesome sense of discipline and I think that comes from deep inside her. Look at what happened at Miss World. People started writing stories about how it had been fixed — as if I was able to just go and have a quick word with the judges and they would vote for my daughter! But she just got on with the job. In reality, the way she got involved in Miss World was much more mundane. She was at a cashpoint one day and this girl walked up to her and asked her if she wanted to be in a competition at a disco in Dun Laoghaire. Rosanna just thought it would be a bit of fun. It was only after she’d won that, and went on to win the national competition, that people started talking about her famous father.

Rosanna Miss World 2003


Miss World 2003

How is a father supposed to feel when his daughter’s been crowned Miss World? Delighted and so incredibly proud. Diane and I went out to see her in Beijing, and you could tell she was an instant hit with the photographers. Rosanna seems to have this spirit, this light, inside her. People immediately warm to her. That has nothing to do with who her father is. That’s who she is.

Everything Rosanna achieved at the Miss World competition is down to her own talent and the hard work she put in. Well, it certainly isn’t down to my looks, is it? I must admit, I had a little chuckle when she was crowned Miss World. There’s my daughter — this tall, gorgeous creature. And here’s me — the little guy with the funny eyebrows.

ROSANNA: I think the fact that I still choose to live at home with my dad and my family says a lot about our relationship. I’m at an age where a lot of my friends have left home, and I could afford to have my own place. But I prefer to be here, knowing that I’ve got the support and love of my family close by.

When I was at university, I studied sociology and we covered a lot about how the family has evolved and changed over the last few years. Those changes have been very dramatic. I’m sure that some people look at our family — mother, father, two teenage boys and me living under the same roof — as a bit old-fashioned, but personally I think it would be quite nice if there were a few more like us.

For me, it’s the perfect balance. I see Mum and Dad in the morning, then I go off and do my own thing, and we come together in the evening for dinner. There have been times when I’ve had to be away from home for a few weeks and I’ve really missed my family. Even when I’ve been away on holiday with my boyfriend, James, I always enjoy coming home.

I miss being here in this house. I miss the laughs and the closeness. My boyfriend still lives with his family too. He understands what I mean.

There’s no doubt that Dad missed out on a lot of affection when he was a kid. His mother, my grandmother, is still an inspirational woman and we all love her, but Dad’s relationship with his own father — who died a while back — was certainly fraught at times. Dad has talked to me about this quite a lot, and I think he feels that they just didn’t provide him with the affection that he wanted. And needed.

Because Dad missed out on all that, he compensates for it with his own family. He is a very emotional man, full of hugs and affection. He’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, and I feel lucky I’ve got a father who’s like that. He doesn’t go by the book.

Rosanna Davison and Chris de Burgh

Out and about

He doesn’t care about the stereotypical gruff, aloof macho image of what a man’s supposed to be. Yes, he gets annoyed with me and my brothers, but
I don’t think I’ve seen him get angry. To be honest, I don’t think he’s got any anger in his body at all.

Probably the worst I’ve ever known him is one time when I was playing football with my brothers when we were younger. I was a bit bigger than them, and I was kind of pushing and shoving them off the ball. Dad really hates bullying — and he definitely had a go at me for that. It didn’t last long, though. Sometimes I think he tries to get annoyed with us but he just can’t do it. It must be quite difficult to be terrifying when you’re as short as my dad.

It does piss me off when I see the press having a go at him, whether it’s for his music or for the kind of person he is. But what can you do? I’ve grown up seeing how the media has treated him, and I have nothing but pride and admiration for the way he’s dealt with it. He never gets down about it or cynical. He just pulls himself through, and I find that uplifting. It doesn’t matter what happens — my dad will always look for the good in people.

Mind you, I did worry when my dad first met James, who I started seeing four years ago. I’m pretty sure Dad has always been quite anxious about the whole relationship thing because he doesn’t want me to get hurt. He used to joke that he wasn’t going to let any boys in the house! Luckily, when he did meet James, who’s the same age as me, he really warmed to him. Dad said to me: “He’s a lovely guy. He’s got a dry sense of humour. I like that.”

Dad and James are best mates. The other day I came in and they were play-fighting in front of the TV while watching football. Dad plans things with him before he even tells me. James will say: “Oh, I’m coming on holiday with you next month.” I’m like: “Thanks for telling me, Dad.” I don’t mind, really. I’m just happy they’ve got such a brilliant relationship.

I can definitely remember situations where I’ve been embarrassed by Dad. God, I can remember this pair of leather trousers that he bought about six or seven years ago. The whole family said to him: “Please, Dad, don’t wear the leather trousers.” There are only certain people who can get away with leather trousers and, unfortunately, my dad hasn’t been blessed with the legs. I found those trousers the other day, neatly folded up in a cupboard. He told me he was finally going to throw them away because nobody liked them. He’d kept them for six years, though.

When people find out that I’m Chris de Burgh’s daughter, there will always be someone who brings up Lady in Red. In fact, there have been quite a few times when I’ve been in the pub with my friends and the whole room has started singing it. But it’s usually just people having a laugh. That sort of thing doesn’t really embarrass me as such.

Talking about embarrassment, I’m not even sure if I should tell you this story. It must have been about five years ago, when we were living in Dalkey. The town is full of great pubs and bars, and one Christmas Eve I went into town with my dad and uncle. We went into this one bar and it was packed. Everybody was really drunk and this rather portly man with a bald head came up to me and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. He was just being friendly, but I could see my dad was really put out by this, so he took hold of this man’s face with both hands and gave him a huge kiss full on the lips!

I didn’t know where to look, I was so embarrassed. My dad just said to him: “You kiss my daughter and you have to kiss me, too.” As we walked away, I could hear this man saying to his mates: “My God, Chris de Burgh just kissed me!”

©The Sunday Times Magazine 2006
Interview by Danny Scott


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We would be very interested to know your thoughts about Rosanna Davison or her role as Miss World 2003 - FEEDBACK

“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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