A Romford-born German pop star, who has rubbed shoulders with ABBA and performed at Eurovision song contests, has described her early days in the town.

Ireen Sheer, who has an illustrious singing career spanning more than 50 years, represented Luxembourg in the 1974 show - the year ABBA won - and came fourth for her French rendition of Bye Bye, I Love You.

In conversation with the Recorder, Ireen reveals she was born in Victoria Hospital in Romford - the same place as another legendary English-German singer-songwriter, Chris Andrews.

She lived on Havering Road in a house built by her grandfather who also ran a confectionery and general store on the same road.

Romford Recorder: Ireen Sheer with her familyIreen Sheer with her family (Image: Ireen Sheer)Her infant and primary school were also on the same road, with her cousins and other family members spread across the town.

Romford is where her journey to be a singer began.

“I always had the strongest voice in the school. When we had the singing practice, I was always the loudest and I was always the one who would be called to the front of the class," she says.

“So back from the beginning I loved music. I remember I would put on records and perform by the window and make out that the audience was behind me even at the age of five to six years old."

Her first stage performance as a singer came at the age of 12 in Margate when Ireen was on a holiday with her aunt and uncle.

Ireen recalls: “There was this talent competition happening there, and my uncle was like ‘Oh, Ireen can sing’ and suddenly I found myself being a part of this contest and I was very shy and I didn’t want to do it, but I thought oh well… let's go."

Romford Recorder: A young Ireen at the finale of Junior Talent Contest A young Ireen at the finale of Junior Talent Contest (Image: Ireen Sheer)

She sang Now or Never and ended up winning the contest that was organised by the BBC, much to her pleasure.

“That was when I decided what I wanted to do with my life at the age of 12," says Ireen. 

"And it was very sweet because we had to go in this little room before we went on stage and do our performance in front of a long mirror. It was so exciting for me as a kid."

Read More: Five Star singer Deniece Pearson on growing up in Romford

When Ireen announced to her parents that she wanted to be a singer, she recollects them being very supportive and enrolling her at the Bush Davies School of Theatre Arts in Romford.

She says: “I had a wonderful singing teacher there and she wanted me to go into opera but when I sang now or never, I thought this is more sort of my thing… going on the stage, performing and being there for my public and not sort of being in a straitjacket, but I did a lot of practice of classical and opera."

Romford Recorder: Ireen Sheer trained at the Bush Davies Theatre School in Romford at a young ageIreen Sheer trained at the Bush Davies Theatre School in Romford at a young age (Image: Ireen Sheer)Among her favourite memories of Romford at the time, Ireen remembers going into the cinema with a friend from Bush Davies school to see Cliff Richards on screen.

“We loved Cliff Richards, and it was so wonderful," she says.

"I think I was around 15 then… and all the girls were screaming in the theatre, but we said we are not going to scream, and we didn’t scream but it was very difficult not to."

Ireen performed with Cliff Richards years later in 1974 on a BBC TV show.

Her first TV appearance in the UK, however, happened months after the Margate talent contest when she was spotted by the BBC to feature in an episode of Candid Camera.

Her mother being of German descent, Ireen said they visited Germany often, but her mother loved England and their home in Romford.

But her links with the country also meant Ireen had opportunities to flourish as a star in both the UK and Germany. Her first semi-professional singing break was in Basildon, after which she went on to perform with a band at Tiffany’s in London.

That is where she was discovered by the leader of Family Dogg - a popular British vocal group which Albert Hammond OBE was part of.

Romford Recorder: Ireen Sheer with the members of the Family DoggIreen Sheer with the members of the Family Dogg (Image: Ireen Sheer)Ireen began working with the band at the time, while also establishing herself as a solo artist whose version of The Big Yellow Taxi became a huge hit around the world in 1970.

“It was played at parties everywhere. And I remember a producer in Germany who asked me if I would like to sing German songs in Germany," she adds.

What followed was a whirlwind of success for the singer, who had by this time left Romford, but was splitting her time between England and Germany.

In 1974, she received a “pleasant surprise” when her producer told her Luxembourg wanted her to sing a song for them at the Eurovision song contest - in French.

“I said, oh that sounds nice… but then he said they want you to sing it in French and I virtually said no, but that was it and that’s how that started," adds Ireen.

This was the year ABBA hit the Eurovision stage, but Ireen said she wasn’t aware of the band at the time.

She adds: “I was on a train and I sat next to a Swedish couple and we were chatting about the Eurovision Song contest, and I said ‘yes I am singing for Luxembourg’ and they said  ‘ABBA is singing for Sweden’ and I said ‘I have never heard of them’… and they said ‘oh they are so good, you will love them and very sorry but they are going to win’ and they were right."

Ireen finished fourth and met up with the rest of the contestants after the show, including ABBA.

But she said she ran into Bjorn again during a German TV show when he offered to collaborate with her for a song.

“Bjorn, I think he liked me. He was very sweet… he was what you call cute. And he said I will write a song for you but unfortunately in those days we didn’t have mobiles. So, I gave him my parents’ number and when he called, I wasn’t there," Ireen recalls.

She went to perform at Eurovision again in 1978 representing Germany and in 1985 representing Luxembourg one more time.

Romford Recorder: Irene Sheer on stage during one of her showsIrene Sheer on stage during one of her shows (Image: Irene Sheer)Her upwards climb continued all the way through till her retirement last year with her last German album, Auf Wiedersehn – Goodbye released in 2022.

Ireen said she hasn’t visited Romford since she moved out, but has family and friends who live close by.

“I liked Romford, I had a lot of friends there. I remember going into town and getting fish and chips that I loved… wrapped up in a newspaper. They were all such sweet memories”, she adds.