When Irish superstar Daniel O’Donnell was first approached by the Romanian Challenge Appeal to help the orphans in Romania, he offered the proceeds from his then new single ‘Give a little love’ and thought that would be the end of it. But then it was suggested he go to Siret on the Ukrainian border and see the situation for himself and what he witnessed there horrified him so much it changed his outlook on life.

Arriving at the Spital de Copii Neuropsihici – once an army barracks and then a prison for hardened criminals, it is now Romania’s biggest orphanage located in the small town of Siret – where children are rarely allowed out of what is little more than a mental institution, and are forced to sleep in the most squalid and basic dormitories. ‘Many of them’ O’Donnell said at the time ‘see the outside world as infrequently as every four months.’ He was to explain later ‘Having been over there, trying to help these children is now the biggest challenge of my life’. He committed himself to raising £1,000,000, to build homes for these 550 forgotten children of the notorious Ceausescu regime.

That was eighteen months ago. Since then he has collected more than £700,000 and the first of the halfway homes was opened last August when he performed the opening ceremony of Kincasslagh House, named in his honour after the village of his birth in Donegal. It is to be home to twelve young girls. ‘You know’ he told me in his soft Donegal brogue, ‘When I first saw these children I could not tell who were girls and who were boys. They all looked the same. But this time when I went back, I met twelve pretty young girls. They will be taught skills to prepare them to live conventional, independent lives’. The second house, opened in time for Christmas, houses a further 29 children.’It’s a start’, he says ‘but I hope that all 550 will be eventually saved’. The halfway houses will give these children their first taste of home life. ‘I cannot think of these places as anything other than homes. They are the first real homes the children have ever known. There are no mothers and fathers but there is everything else that a real home requires’.

He is like a man possessed. ‘I could talk to you for hours, for days, but I would never be able to describe the smell in that terrible place. It was just putrid and I will never be able to forget it. No child should have to endure what these little ones endure’

Before leaving for Siret to open the second home, he confided with quiet enthusiasm that there are also plans afoot to purchase a farm in the area which the older children will work, growing their own produce and hopefully even selling some. The future is looking up for these forgotten children – thanks to the commitment of Daniel O’Donnell who chose to devote so much time and energy to their miserable plight. But O’Donnell insists he could not have achieved such success without the help of so many including his devoted and obliging fans who pitched in with fund-raising events across the country. ‘My fans have been marvellous. I knew they would rally round and support my efforts when I told them what I had seen and I could not have achieved any of this without their support. They have been magnificent and I can’t thank them enough’

Recently Daniel admitted ‘To raise £1,000,000 is not as easy as you might think. Raising the first half million is no problem at all, but now it’s going to get very tough. It is very hard to keep it fresh and to keep it newsworthy and we must if we are to keep the money coming in. These children were written off but with love and care and guidance hopefully they will be able to forget the horrors of their childhood’

He continues to do his share, maintaining his promise to the children of Siret for as well as donating royalties from his single Give a Little Love and from his new autobiography: My Story, O’Donnell has also given freely of his own money to the cause .A crystal glass company in Ireland recently commissioned a Daniel O’Donnell Millennium Collection and a share of those royalties will also go to the Romanian Challenge Appeal. The fact of the matter is the man is giving up a great deal of his time and money to help these children.

There was even a time when he had seriously considered adopting one himself. ‘I have since realised that it would not be a good idea. My work schedule makes it impossible. Even if I was to get over all the legalities and the fact that I am single, I think now that it would be very unfair on the child. Sure I could give that child love and a comfortable home, but for most of the time I live out of a suitcase. A child needs a real father not a voice at the end of a telephone’

This is no publicity stunt. Daniel O’Donnell is very sincere and believes God intended him to help these children. ‘When I first saw the horrific scenes in that orphanage in Siret, I knew I had to do something. It was as though I had been sent there just for that purpose’

But although the Romanian project takes up much of his time, he is first and foremost an entertainer and for the first time had a Christmas record, Christmas Kiss, on the market, competing with his idol Cliff Richard and the Millennium Prayer for the number one spot. ‘I would love to appear on Top of the Pops’ he confides ‘so will you please buy a copy and then buy another copy for a friend’. He is laughing but behind that laughter lurks a deadly seriousness. The first time he appeared on Top of the Pops was back in l992 with ‘I only want to dance with you’. His ambition is to appear again.

With all his charm, wealth and success, Daniel O’Donnell is clearly a great catch and yet he still lacks what many of us yearn for – a loving relationship. Why has he never found the right girl? Smiling patiently one can almost hear his thoughts: ‘Here we go again’. But he remains polite. ‘I suppose as I get older I get more set in my ways and maybe I’d be a little bit hard to get on with in a close relationship. I do believe that now and I would consider very strongly before committing to a relationship or marriage. You know if the toothpaste tube was pressed from the bottom or the top … You know the silly things that can really annoy’ He settles into the discussion, relaxing…’Or if you’re going home and decide ‘I wont bother to go home tonight. I’ll go somewhere else’ and then when you finally get home she’ll be there waiting like a picture with no sound’ and he laughs at his own joke.’I don’t know if I’d like that picture with no sound’. Then with disarming candour admits ‘Sometimes I think that maybe I’ll never marry but then who knows what is around the next corner’

Despite his incredible popularity, there is an endearing insecurity about him, which is part of his appeal. He is blessed with a unique gift: he can reach out and touch people. He is genuinely concerned and interested in them, connecting to their lives in an intimate way few other top performers can do and it is this gift which took him to Romania and the Forgotten Children – and it is that same gift which is changing the lives of those children for the better.

If you would like to help Daniel O’Donnell help those unfortunate children, you can send donations to:

The Romanian Challenge Appeal
PO Box 2610,
West Midlands B20 2TH


This interview appeared in the Irish Post, March 14, 1999

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