VALENCIA'S city hall square will become permanently pedestrianised from the day after its massive Fallas festival next year, mayor Joan Ribó has announced. Spain's third-largest metropolitan area – home to...
Camilo Sesto and Blanca Fernández Ochoa: Two decorated legends
By thinkSPAIN Team Sun, Sep 15, 2019
SEPTEMBER has seen Spain bid farewell to two of its most memorable celebrities – and both have now been given top merit awards posthumously.
A fitting tribute to the first-ever Spanish female to win a Winter Olympic medal and to a singer who shook up the music scene in the 1970s, the national government has awarded Blanca Fernández Ochoa the Royal Cross of the Order for Sporting Merit, and Camilo Sesto the Gold Medal for Fine Arts, respectively.
These are Spain's equivalent of an OBE, or a George Cross, and are among the highest honours that can be conferred on any person, living or dead, who has contributed to Spanish society.
Neither will know they have been decorated – Blanca Fernández Ochoa went on a hiking trip in late August in the mountains of Madrid and suffered a fatal accident, leading to her body being found on Wednesday, September 4, and Camilo Sesto passed away from a chronic heart condition on Sunday, September 8, just eight days before his 73rd birthday. But their incredible and well-documented achievements and fame will long outlive them.
Camilo Sesto: Melodic pioneer and stage Messiah
Born Camilo Blanes Cortés in the beautiful Alicante province town of Alcoy, in the rural heart of the Comunidad Valenciana, the singer-songwriter who sold 180 million albums around the globe and was still active at the time of his death was probably one of Spain's earliest reality TV stars: some 40 or 50 years before the invention of The X-Factor and The Voice, Camilo and his band Los Dayson came first on Salto a la Fama ('Leap to Fame') in 1965, and two years later, appeared in the film Los Chicos del Preu with his second band, Los Botines.
At the time, with The Beatles all the rage even thousands of kilometres away from their native Liverpool, Camilo and his band based their musical style on the unique sounds of the 'Fab Four' – a wise decision that would almost guarantee reaching the ears and hearts of potential fans in and out of Spain, and which enabled Camilo to take the brave jump into the sphere of solo performance at the turn of the decade; a move largely helped by his winning the Best New Artist prize at the Olés de la Canción Festival in 1970.
Camilo's musical style mostly focused on romantic, often wistful, ballads – a genre that, in Spain, evolved from traditional Bolero tunes, with slow-paced flamenco guitar notes and soul-searching lyrics, best known to non-Spaniards through the early works of crooner Julio Iglesias. To a lesser extent, and more so through the 1980s and 1990s, Camilo Sesto's works branched out to include the trademark '80s-style synthesiser pop and rock, and the brand of Latin pop which normally garners success across the pond before it reaches the European continent north of the Pyrénées.
And it took off swiftly in Spain, too. Within months, Camilo had shot to number one in the Spanish charts and in much of Latin America with Algo de Mi ('Something of Me') soon after performing it on national TV, and stayed put at the top of the billboard on the other side of the Atlantic for up to a year. He represented his country in 1973 with Algo Más at the second OTI Festival – the Latin American and Spanish television organisation song contest, which started out life in México as the World Latin Song Contest – which, that year, was hosted by Brazil and held in the land-locked city of Belo Horizonte, in the State of Minas Gerais. Rocketing album sales, prolific hit production, world tours, going platinum numerous times, and a Best Latin Recording Grammy nomination in 1976 quickly sealed Camilo's place as one of the biggest Spanish names on the music scene, although fame beyond his native country and the Americas largely came through his leading role in Jesus Christ Superstar in 1975.
Playing the Messiah himself in the Spanish-language version rock-pop opera at Madrid's Alcalá Palace Theatre, Camilo attracted the attention of some of the world's biggest names in stage production and direction. No expense was spared in the mise en scène of director Jaime Azpilicueta's Jesucristo Superstar – largely because Camilo dug into his own pocket to cover the costs, a decision that turned out to be a huge investment in his career for the next 44 years: British musical genius Andrew Lloyd-Webber said the show starring Camilo as Jesus was the only adaptation on earth that could give the original a run for its money.
It was worth it: Camilo was hurled into world renown, and his fame never diminished even as music styles and tastes evolved; a number one on the USA's Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart, nominations for Pop Song of the Year in the Lo Nuestro Awards and American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Latin Award followed in the early 1990s, and 20 years later, the city of Las Vegas (USA) gave him the Highest Hispanic Pride medal and made May 28 officially Camilo Sesto's Day across the State of Nevada.
Those who have come into contact with Spanish pop and rock more recently may well have heard Camilo's works through the powerful and unmistakeable voice of prolific artist Miguel Bosè, whose Madonna-like ability for adapting and recycling his style has kept him churning out best-selling albums almost non-stop for the last 40 years.
Otherwise, Anglo-Saxon music fans may well have heard Camilo's works without realising it through some of the tracks performed by Aussie soft-rock duo Air Supply, whose sounds are now familiar territory to three generations.
Originally starting out with the show name of Camilo Sexto ('Camilo VI'), the pioneering singer and composer had just completed yet another album which was set for release five days after he died and was gearing up for a tour of the USA due to kick off in October, meaning he was still heavily engrossed in his career up to the last minute of his life.
But this is not the only Camilo Sesto tour that never happened. Eight years ago, adverts in local and national press and on the radio announcing his 'farewell tour', with dates confirmed and even tickets sold, turned out to be a massive hoax: even Sesto had known nothing about his supposed series of concerts and had to make a number of appearances on TV and radio to try to clear up the national outcry. He ended up having to settle a series of claims after duped fans sued for a refund of their tickets.
Caretaker president of Spain Pedro Sánchez remembers Camilo and his career very well, and tweeted his condolences to the family upon learning of his passing.
“His melodies will always be part of our memory,” Sánchez wrote.
Blanca Fernández Ochoa: A winter wonderwoman
Her brother remains the only Winter Olympic gold medal-winner from Spain, and she was the first Spanish female to net one – Blanca is widely considered to have been the best woman in skiing the country has ever produced. And all that before the age of 28, when she retired.
It was that year – 1992, Blanca's fourth Olympic Games – when she took the bronze in slalom in Albertville (France), exactly 20 years after her late elder brother Paco was crowned champion in the same discipline in Sapporo (Japan).
The whole family has represented their country in alpine ski racing in Olympic Games – sister Dolores and brothers Juan Manuel and Luis, too – although Blanca and Paco were the most successful.
Competing in giant slalom, combined, slalom, and Super-G, Blanca was heavily decorated in life, too: nine years before her historic Olympic bronze, she won the Queen Sofía Best Athlete Prize in the National Sports Awards, and repeated the feat five years later; two years after her final Olympics and her retirement, she was granted the Royal Order of Sporting Merit, another award similar in calibre to an OBE.
Although she never made it to world champion, Blanca won four stages at this level between 1980 – her first year in competitive skiing, aged just 16 – and 1991, was placed in the top 10 a total of 69 times, and made it to the podium on 20 occasions.
Blanca was placed third in individual disciplines in the World Cup three times – in Super-G in 1988 and in slalom in 1991 and 1992 – and came fourth overall in 1988, her best season in this competition, with a fourth place in slalom, fifth in giant slalom and ninth in combined.
She scooped up World Championship race victories in Vail, USA in giant slalom (1985) and in Sestriere, Italy (1987), Morzine, France (1990) and Lech, Austria (1991) in slalom.
Although she only gained one medal in four Olympic Games, Blanca came sixth in giant slalom in Sarajevo 1984, aged 20, and came fifth in Calgary 1988, taking home an Olympic diploma, aged 24.
Blanca married Italian national Daniel Fioretto in 1991, but her children David, 19 and Olivia, 20 were born to her second husband, David Fresneda.
She was divorced at the time of her death, and had plunged herself headfirst into Olivia's own sporting career as a member of the Spanish national rugby team.
Blanca was diagnosed with bipolar depression in childhood, meaning her life followed a permanently peaks-and-troughs pattern, her emotions rising and falling like tides on a choppy sea, although her family said she was in a good place psychologically at the time she left home on August 23 this year to go hiking in the Guadarrama mountain range just north of Madrid.
Blanca, 56, was found dead near the summit of La Peñota on September 4.
But it is believed she had passed away within 48 hours of leaving home, meaning she is likely to have died on August 24 or 25.
Until the post-mortem results are analysed and released, it is not clear whether her death was an accident or suicide, but detectives have already ruled out foul play and say she has no sign of physical injury.
Her funeral date cannot be confirmed as yet, although Camilo Sesto is due to be laid to rest on September 23 in Alcoy – a town he always dropped proudly into conversation wherever he went in the world – and it is expected that fans from all over the planet will travel there to pay their respects.
The main shopping precinct in Alcoy, La Alameda, was rebaptised La Alameda Camilo Sesto last year, meaning the artist got to see his namesake street before his passing, and he also held the town Gold Medal and the title of Adoptive Son of Alcoy.
A permanent exhibition is due to be set up in Alcoy with pictures and features from his entire career.
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