Greek-born singer Vicky – later known as Vicky Leandros – settled in Germany as a child and became one of her adopted homeland’s biggest stars of the 1960s and 70s. She has sold more than 40 million records worldwide over the course of her career.
She was born Vassiliki Papathanassiou on 23 August 1952 on the Greek island of Corfu. She moved to the northern German port of Hamburg with her family at the age of six.
Her father, Leo Leandros, had just enjoyed his own chart success in Germany and encouraged his daughter in her musical leanings. She grew up learning to sing and play the guitar.
His contacts helped his daughter her secure her first record deal with his record label, Philips. She enjoyed a top 20 chart hit in July 1965 with her first release, the contemporary, beat-influenced Messer, Gabel, Schere, Licht.
However, the follow-up Deine Rosen vom ersten Rendezvous confused fans. Its flip, the superior Am Abend muss ich schlafen gehn, was more in keeping with what fans expected than the syrupy A-side. Nevertheless the song made the top 40 in late 1965.
The Seekers-esque Wenn du gehn willst, issued in April 1966, confirmed her popularity, reaching number 22 in the German charts.
Perhaps surprisingly, Dich mit Andern teilen kann ich nicht, issued later that year, raised little interest among record buyers despite recapturing some of the energy of her debut hit. An album, the multilingual Songs und folklore, also failed to sell.
The singer desperately needed a big hit to keep her career alive.
It came – well, almost – in the form of the 1967 Eurovision song contest. She was approached to sing for Luxembourg at the contest. Although L’amour est bleu, penned by renowened writers André Popp and Pierre Cour, gave her another top 30 hit in Germany, in its original French, it managed only to finish fourth, losing out to Britain’s Sandie Shaw.
Vicky’s disappointment was compounded when the song went on to top the US charts and sell millions of copies – but not in any of the seven different language versions she had recorded. (Her German translation of the song was known as Blau wie das Meer.) Instead Paul Mauriat and his Orchestra scored global success with an instrumental version.
Publicly, Vicky claimed that her Eurovision experience almost sent her scuttling for the relative safety of a job in interpreting. Privately, however, she vowed to return to the contest one day and win it. As it was, the contest opened up a career for the singer in neighbouring France, where she enjoyed some success.
Back in Germany, the uptempo Grünes Licht, issued in September that year, barely scraped into the top 40. (The B-side was an interesting version of The Bee Gees’ New York mining disaster 1941, retitled, Sagt mir, wo ist mein Boy.)
An album, the critically acclaimed A taste of... Vicky, another multilingual offering, also landed in the bargain bins all too quickly, though it now sets back fans a fair few euros.
Up until this point, Vicky had managed, for the most part, to avoid singing songs from the schlockier end of the market. However, lacklustre sales sent her in a new, and more saccharine, direction.
Morgen sehen wir uns wieder, issued in November 1967, saw the singer make a return to the top 20.
Heut’ war Premiere and Bunter Luftballon, both issued in 1968, and Karussell d’amour and Halt die Welt an, from 1969, maintained her success. By this time, she had also begun releasing records in Greek, enjoying success in her homeland with the results.
With the addition of a surname, Leandros, to signify her maturity, she enjoyed her biggest hit to date with Ich bin, in 1971. It was quickly followed by the almost-as-successful Wo ist er?, her take on George Harrison’s controversial My sweet lord.
But even greater things lay just round the corner for the singer. She approached the organisers of the German selection process for the 1972 Eurovision song contest, but they were determined to hold a national final. She didn’t want to run that risk – so instead she pimped herself out to neighbouring Luxembourg again. She also figured that singing in French would give her a greater chance of winning. She was proved right – the beautiful ballad Après toi, aided by a faultless performance, saw Vicky walk away with the grand prix.
The song was a huge success, selling over five million copies. It was a hit in France, and made number two in the UK in its translated version, Come what may. In Germany, the song was released in both French and German (Dann kamst du) and both versions reached number 11 in the charts.
Her follow up, Ich hab’ die Liebe gesehen, stalled just short of topping the German charts. Further big hits followed and in 1974 she scored her first and only German chart topper with the Schlager evergreen Theo, wir fahr’n nach Lodz.
Vicky’s success continued, although her career tailed off in the early 1980s. She made a triumphant chart comeback in 1998 with Weil mein Herz dich nie mehr vergißt, a version of Céline Dion’s My heart will go on from the film Titanic.
More recently, she has shown an interest in politics in both Germany and in Greece, unusually supporting both centre-right and centre-left parties.
An attempt to return to the Eurovision stage in 2006 – this time for Germany – proved unsuccessful, though her 2009 album Möge der Himmel sold well.
She remains a household name in Germany to this day.