On my sixth birthday (January 1964) the charts were topped by The Beatles with I Want To Hold Your Hand. But the song that catches my eye today is the song at No.10 that week.
The Singing Nun triggers all sorts of memories in my childhood brain. I probably heard her five or six years later on Ed Stewart’s radio show Junior Choice, which was syndicated on BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) when I was growing up in Germany.
“Stewpot” had a particular passion for novelty singles, which means my formative impressions of pop music were quite weird – Grandad and Ernie and Three Wheels On My Wagon and Lily The Pink… and this.
A Belgian, Jeannine Deckers was indeed a real Dominican nun called Sister Luc Gabriel. This was her one and only hit single, released to raise funds for the convent. But fame brought her nothing but misery and her life would come to a tragic and premature end. Which is nothing if not biblical.
Dominique made Jeannine an international celebrity, selling two million copies, and she went on the road performing as Sœur Sourire (or ”Sister Smile”). But a follow-up proved elusive and she found the pressure of living up to her saintly image too hard to handle.
It didn’t help that the song’s chorus “Dominique-nique-nique” was a source of huge amusement for the French – because “nique” is French slang for “fuck.”
Not that I knew that at the age of six. Nor did I know that the terms of her recording contract meant the only people to benefit from the success were the label and the convent.
Sister Luc went on to leave the order and was ostracised by her former sisters when she made a song called Glory Be To God For The Golden Pill, calling for the Catholic Church to support contraception.
Also denied permission to use her stage names of The Singing Nun or Sister Smile, her future music releases flopped and she was reduced to poverty – no vow necessary – when she got a vast tax bill for the royalties she had never seen.
Soon afterwards a school she had opened for autistic children ran out of funds. She ended up losing her faith and taking her own life in a suicide pact with her lifelong partner, Annie Pécher, in 1985.