On a rainy Friday evening I see people rushing home, while I got caught in a traffic jam on my way to a special appointment. I just arrived in time to see a blonde, petite woman walk in, shaking off the raindrops from her coat. She greets us with her typical warm smile and sparkling eyes. I was way stressed out realising I was going to interview a Belgian icon: the one and only Sandra Kim.
On May 3rd, 1986 she won the Eurovision Song Contest for Belgium. A 13 year old girl conquered the hearts of millions of people with her catchy song “J’aime la vie”. Since it’s that time of the year again, we had the perfect excuse to sit down with her for an exclusive talk.
The only Belgian win of the Eurovision Song Contest came 31 years ago. After all these years you must have told almost everything we need to know to the press. Is there however one particular moment or encounter you still cherish?
I will never forget the night that we won the Eurovision Song Contest. The emotions running through my body and veins and everything that followed that night are written in my heart forever. I’ve met so many people over the past years: royals, politicians or talented musicians. It’s difficult to just pick out one. Someone who really amazed me was Eros Ramazzotti. I had the opportunity to go on tour with him in Japan. Being around him as a fan but also as a friend was a real blessing.
Throughout your career, this victory has been following you. Besides being the one and only winner for Belgium you also were the youngest winner in history of the Eurovision Song Contest. A record that can never be broken as the new age rules require participants to be at least 16 years old. How do you feel about this?
I’ve never wondered if it was a good idea to let people under the age of 16 participate. At that time it didn’t bother me to perform as a little girl and I wouldn’t change a thing about the entire experience. I was naïve, spontaneous and I ‘m quite sure this was what people loved the most about the entire performance: a little girl coming on stage wearing her pink bow tie, enjoying the performance with her little dance moves and singing about loving life. I would not change a thing. OK, maybe one thing, I would choose a different name, something else than Sandra Kim. My official name Sandra Caldarone was too long and didn’t sound good enough at that time. Of course there are also things I wish I didn’t sing or didn’t say.
It may be quite surprising, but I never had the intention to be famous. For sure, I loved singing, but only by myself with no one around to hear me. Building a career in show business never came into my mind. The entertainment industry is tough, very tough. Today you’re a star, tomorrow people forget who you are and I have mixed feelings about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love singing and I adore music with all of my heart, but this industry is unbelievably despicable. Working in a different area was quite impossible for me as I didn’t graduate from college.
Maybe if I could have chosen my professional life like anyone else, I might have been working as an air hostess. Ever since I first took a plane -the very first time was when I went to Norway for The Eurovision Song Contest- I had such an admiration for those lovely air hostesses taking care of everyone on the plane, serving them at their needs. I’ve always enjoyed helping people and the aspect of travelling and escaping from your normal environment while working really fascinated me. I’m very adventurous and I think I would have been a great air hostess.
Do you feel nostalgic about the 80’s?
The eighties are definitely my favourite period of all time. There were so many different things happening regarding fashion, music and politics. We had our growing pains and our pleasures. It was musically a very interesting period. When I go shopping nowadays or see the youth walking in the street, I see them wearing clothes that I used to wear back in the eighties. The youth has also discovered the rock music of the eighties and I get why it’s coming back. The eighties were wonderful.
How did you manage being a celebrity during adolescence? Were you a rebel or an angel?
I’ve never been either a rebel or an angel. Since I didn’t go to school and had private home tuition, I was quite often at home. I had a very stable but also very protected childhood. Jealousy can transform people into very mean characters, that’s why I was isolated from the outside world to be protected of this. In my head I just kept on telling myself that I had to endure it and that it would pass. Once I left home, I started rebelling against a lot of things, and decided to go my own way, I did whatever I wanted to do. It made me the person I am today. People know me as a strong woman who stands up for what she thinks. After all those years I really learned to never let people walk over me.
Who were your idols or your musical influences?
Barbra Streisand has always been my favourite singer. George Michael, who sadly passed away and Madonna are artists I still listen to. I know their repertoire by heart and when I’m driving my car I love singing those songs, forgetting the world around me.
When performing, you are obliged to bring “J’aime la vie”. How do you feel about this song today?
I’m not in conflict with the song but indeed I can’t do a concert without singing it. I understand why people like to hear it. The song has become an important and symbolic part of our Belgian patrimony and it reminds us of that one time we won the Eurovison Song Contest.
You’re a busy bee, still singing, performing, you were recently on stage during the “Iris celebrations” in Brussels. You’ve been spending quite some time in Italy recording a new album. What may we expect from this new album?
Indeed, I’ve been to Florence in Italy at the beginning of the year with an entire team to work on a new album. We covered some Italian songs and recorded a few French songs bringing an Italian touch, sound to it. I don’t write the actual lyrics of the songs but I compose my own melodies and afterwards I ask people to put the idea of a story I have in my head into words that fit the song.
Let’s finish this talk with some dilemma’s:
Best song ever of the Eurovision Song Contest?
* laughs * I have to be honest, I’m not that into Eurovision but I’ve always liked What’s Another Year by Johnny Logan, I was so in love with him! Oh god and I absolutely adored Conchita Wurst with her Rise Like A Phoenix!
Singing in French or Dutch?
Definitely in French.
The 80’s or the year 2000?
I will always pick the 80’s.
Italian lover or Belgian?
My husband is Belgian, so I better choose the Belgian.
Amore or love?
Amore, Italian is so much more powerful.
Singing a duet with Céline Dion or Barbra Streisand?
Barbra. She’s so iconic and I would never say no to a duet with her.
Sandra Kim or Sandra Caldarone?
Depends which day it is.
J’aime la vie or Meraviglioso?
It would be a remix of both, because je n’aime pas toujours la vie and everything isn’t always wonderful so it would be a remix of both.
Photo credits: Flo Windey