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‘Nadia will save lives by telling her story — she’s a hero

A moving new film, Love Yourself Today, features Irish singer/songwriter Damien Dempsey and turns the lens to his fans, like Nadia Essalhi, who says his music helped her fight addiction. By Esther McCarthy

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Damien pictured with Nadia at the premiere of Love Yourself Today. Picture: Mark Condren

Damien pictured with Nadia at the premiere of Love Yourself Today. Picture: Mark Condren

Damien perfoming on the set of his new film. Picture: Ross McDonnell

Damien perfoming on the set of his new film. Picture: Ross McDonnell

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Damien pictured with Nadia at the premiere of Love Yourself Today. Picture: Mark Condren

As a young singer gigging in Dublin’s International Bar, Damien Dempsey looked up and saw a music icon standing in the crowd. There among the patrons was singer/songwriter Christy Moore — and when the legend came up after the gig and asked him for his contact details, it was an early boost in his dream of pursuing a music career.

It was probably the Christy love!” smiles the Dubliner at the memory. “When someone like that comes up and says: ‘That was deadly’, you realise then: ‘I can do something with this. I have something’.

It’s no surprise that Christy was taken with the young singer in front of him that night. Just like the veteran icon he met at Dave Murphy’s music nights, Damien has always brought a deep sense of empathy and humanity to his music.

Love Yourself Today centres around Damo’s now-legendary Christmas gigs at Dublin’s Vicar Street. The music is special, but this is more more than a concert film - it also focuses on some of his fans, who come to the gigs for what is a cathartic and emotional experience.

We meet three of them - Jonathan, Packy and Nadia - who have all come through various painful experiences in their lives, as they look forward to a hopeful future.

Long aware of Damo’s talent, Nadia Essalhi leaned into his music more as she faced one of the greatest challenges of her life - recovery from addiction. “I love music, I actually sing myself and I write music,” says the Dubliner. “I found a lot of healing in his music. I felt like he was singing the song about me, if that makes sense.”

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Damien perfoming on the set of his new film. Picture: Ross McDonnell

Damien perfoming on the set of his new film. Picture: Ross McDonnell

Damien perfoming on the set of his new film. Picture: Ross McDonnell

Following the murder of her brother in a brutally violent attack in 2011, Nadia and her family were left shattered. “He was actually innocent and murdered in horrific circumstances and events.

“I would have tried anything to take away all of the feelings that I didn’t want to feel anymore. I didn’t have to feel the reality. That was my journey to addiction then and I didn’t know how to stop.

“They didn’t only take away his life. I really believe that they took away a part of every single family member in my house’s life. Things will never be the same for us again, and I’m just lucky that I was strong enough to get up and try to beat the addiction. There’s many people out there that can’t.

“Through the years of hurt and pain I knew that wasn’t the life that was planned out for me. I got up and I fought. I tried to make the right decisions. And I knew that I had two children that were relying on me.”

She shares her in experience in Love Yourself Today in the hope of offering hope to others who are struggling. “It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in life but I always knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.”

From the first time he and Dempsey met, says director Ross Killeen, they had a simple aim.

“I got the opportunity to talk to him about the idea for the film, and what it would be. At the end he kind of looked at me and said: ‘Let’s make a film that helps people’. That was the intention of the film from the very beginning.”

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Dempsey has always understood the power of a song. As a child growing up sing-songs would form the backbone of family life. “I was raised on the sing-song at my grannies and my aunties and my house and my neighbours. I just remember from being knee high to a grasshopper being at these sing songs and they are magical.”

“You felt very safe at them. There was this lovely warm vibration, it was like being a child on Christmas Eve. I just translated that when I started getting on stage, I’d encourage people to sing. That’s basically it - it’s an old Irish singsong just on a bigger scale.

As for everyone, the last year or so brought challenges as live music ended.

“I just put it in perspective you know, that’s what I had to do,” he says of the closures. “I said: some people are getting a terminal diagnosis right now and they’d love to be in a lockdown, healthy.

“I just got my shoes and socks off and got on the sand. There’s a beach about ten minutes away from me, Sutton beach, I walked Howth Head, got into the sea and stuff like that. I just tried to be grateful for anything good I had in my life.”

He’s been writing too - expect plenty of new material from him in 2022.

The music star is deeply moved by what Nadia and the others have brought to the film.

“When Nadia is talking about what she’s been through, I always seem to cry when I’m watching the finished version of the movie. She’ll never realise how many people she’s going to save by what she’s done. She’s an Irish hero for me, a legend.”

  • Love Yourself Today is in cinemas now

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