Surviving the glory of Eurovision. A portrait of Sandra Kim…
by Dan Alexe
In 1986, she became the youngest singer ever to win the Eurovision song contest. She was a little girl of 14, dancing atrociously, Abba-style, with an Abba-like haircut, and singing with conviction “J’aime la vie!…” A quarter of century ago, at the finale in Norway, Sandra Kim embodied everything that Eurovision had been created for: friendship, trust, simple human feelings, and forget the kitsch and strass and faked enthusiasm. She was the little girl from Flanders singing in French, another symbol of that puzzling and complicated Belgium, from which she came.
“Actually I’m Italian”, she says with a smile. “I learned some Flemish only recently, because my husband is Flemish.”
Today she lives in Nosseghem, a typical horrible Flemish village with modern houses, stranded between the Brussels airport and a string of super- and mega-markets built around a giant IKEA.
The flat is tiny, on the second floor of an apartment block, right in front of the village church. Her husband is a modest car dealer. He is not at home, but the walls are covered with pictures of him, of them, in various hypostases. “I don’t frame and hang my trophies on the wall”, she explains. “I keep them in the cellar. I still prefer to see the real life around myself.”
Italian? The name on the bell: Caldarone is her real name. “From the Abruzzi”, she says with another note of pride. “Born in Belgium. I have always spoken French with my parents, but the dialect from the Abruzzi with my grand-parents.”
How did she survive the glory at only 14, projected into a world of adults and showbiz, and then why did she disappear for such a long time? Nowadays she’s making a timid come-back, singing at children’s events and trying to gather songs for a -finally- album. “I had a very bad manager”, she sighs. “The real story is even more complicated. Actually I was only 13 when I won the Eurovision with J’aime la Vie. The manager had to declare I was 14, going on 15, to have me accepted in the contest. I didn’t even have the right to sign a contract. Today, one cannot do that anymore. There’s a minimum age limit, 16 or 18 I think. And the contest itself is not what it used to be anymore. When I got the prize, the jury was made of professionals. Today, with all those people voting for countries and not for artists, I don’t think I would like to participate again.”
Kim? I ask her whether she heard about the famous literary character named Kim, the child trained to become a spy and versed in many languages, from Kipling’s novel with the same name: “Kim”. No, she hasn’t heard of that one.
Children? No, no children. She sighs again. “I can’t have children.” She stares across the window towards the IKEA mega-store. Behind it is the infamous “closed centre” of Steenokkerzeel, where illegal migrants, including children, are kept before being expelled from Belgium. “But on clear days, I can see the Brussels Atomium from my window”, she says with a twinge of pride. Clear days, alas, a rare event in Belgium.
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