Ireland, you may recall, kept winning the Eurovision Song Contest in the 1990s. Linda Martin started the ball rolling with Why Me? in 1992, which turned out to be rather apt – Ireland was doomed to win and claimed the Eurovision crown again the following year, and the year after that.
As fans of Eurovision will know, the winning nation is then obliged to host the competition, which meant Ireland had to stage the whole costly affair three years running. Four in a row would have been a catastrophe.
Luckily, the Irish entry in 1995 – the suspiciously mediocre Dreamin’ – could only manage 14th place. It was claimed at the time that the song had been chosen over far better ones to avoid an unwanted victory and that cheers were heard across the Emerald Isle every time the words “Irelande, nil points” were uttered. Rumours that hacked-off organisers had deliberately thrown the competition even spawned an episode of Father Ted. In A Song for Europe the hapless priests find themselves representing Ireland with a surreal self-penned number entitled My Lovely Horse. With tuneless lyrics including “Where are you going with your fetlocks blowing in the wind?” you can imagine what happens.
Sadly, Ireland’s real-life losing streak was short-lived – it won the competition again in 1996.
With that perhaps in mind, cash-strapped European countries are dropping out of the Eurovision Song Contest quicker than you can say London calling. The eurozone is boom-bang-a-bust, no-one is walking on sunshine and minds are made up – Eurovision is just too expensive. Last week Portugal and Poland pulled out, now Greece and Cyprus.
Portugal was given a £63 billion bailout by the European Union last year and only last month protesters clashed with riot police over new austerity measures. Portugal has never finished above sixth place in the entire history of the competition but isn’t taking any chances.
Poland, which didn’t take part last year either, and has also never won, has blamed the financial pressure of co-hosting the European football championships in the summer. And Greece, which has triumphed just once, feels that given the crippling austerity measures it’s trying to impose, participation would be inappropriate. Cyprus feels the same. It’s gone so far as to say that taking part would be “provocative”, which sounds rather dramatic, but then it is waiting for a bailout.
Eurovision may not mourn the loss of any of these countries, but every cloud has a silver lining. The never-ending show (schmaltz in four different languages) will be slightly shorter and best of all, the UK’s chances have now improved. We just need around a dozen or so other countries to quit.
Eurovision, of course, isn’t really a music contest anyway. Countries vote for their allies no matter how good or bad the entry. The singers and most of the songs are bizarre and the contest increasingly predictable. And while half a billion people tune in each year to watch 30-odd countries slug it out in sequins and dry ice, it is heavy with politics.
Voting next year should at least be interesting: will the rest of Europe reward or punish Germany? Will Russia ever vote for the UK again? And which countries will be at war over almost everything? Perhaps Eurovision really has lost its wide-eyed sparkle.
So, as Europe shivers and countries fearful of winning pull out of the competition we love to hate, there are low rumblings about the future of Eurovision and whether it can survive in its current format.
Europe, it seems, is no longer at the heart of the contest and only former Soviet countries are ready to invest. Moscow spent more than £25 million hosting Eurovision after winning it for the first time, and this year Azerbaijan spent a staggering £500m according to some estimates. Putting its human rights record to one side, it even built a concert hall especially for the occasion.
Next year’s host nation, Sweden, is expected to spend only a fraction of that amount.
Ireland meanwhile, which could easily justify pulling out of Eurovision, might want to consider entering My Lovely Horse. Now, frankly, would not be the best time to win.