Eurovision: From nul points to Number One

It’s Eurovision time again, and David Elder has the lowdown on the cheesiest show on TV
The Eurovision Song Contest trophy. Picture: Andres PuttingThe Eurovision Song Contest trophy. Picture: Andres Putting
The Eurovision Song Contest trophy. Picture: Andres Putting

1: Once described by the French as “a monument to drivel and mediocrity”, this week sees the staging of the 58th Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden.

2: Although we pretend to turn our noses up at it, us Brits love to have a sneaky peek at the camp annual cheese-fest, with about nine million of us tuning in at some point during last year’s show (putting it in perspective, that’s around a third more viewers than this year’s Brit Awards attracted).

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3: The UK has a strong record in Eurovision, having won it five times (most recently in 1997 with Katrina & the Waves), and come second no less than 15 times. Ireland holds the most victories with seven.

Bonnie Tyler. Picture: Glen DearingBonnie Tyler. Picture: Glen Dearing
Bonnie Tyler. Picture: Glen Dearing

4: Next time someone tells you that “the UK will never win, ’cos it’s all political and everyone hates us in Europe” you can dispel the myth by reminding them that Germany, another country supposedly with few “friends”, scored a landslide victory in 2010 – by the cunning technique of sending a great song that appealed to everyone.

5: Switzerland selected a Salvation Army act to represent them (featuring a 94-year-old double bass player – the contest’s oldest ever contestant). When the contest organisers asked them to change the name of their act (religious and political connections are not allowed) they went for TAKASA. Someone later pointed out that this was an acronym for The Act Known As Salvation Army.

6: Recent years have seen costs of staging the event spiral, as host nations from the East of Europe pulled out all the stops to impress their Western guests. Russia spent an alleged ¤45 million, whilst last year’s hosts, Azerbaijan, are believed to have spent around ¤35m. This year the conscientious Swedes are hoping to deliver the first ever cost-neutral contest by taking the contest to a smaller city, using a smaller venue and making clever use of technology to deliver a show that looks just as flashy, but uses far fewer resources.

7: A host of famous names have taken part in the contest over the years. Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988. We sent Engelbert Humperdinck last year. Nana Mouskouri, Julio Iglesias and Olivia Newton-John 
all participated and, of course, Eurovision was the international launching pad for Abba, the most successful of all the winners. Cliff Richard represented the UK twice, coming third in 1973 and missing out on victory by one point to Spain in 1968 with Congratulations.

Gina G performing her song, Just A Little Bit, during the show held in Olso, Norway in 1996. Picture: PAGina G performing her song, Just A Little Bit, during the show held in Olso, Norway in 1996. Picture: PA
Gina G performing her song, Just A Little Bit, during the show held in Olso, Norway in 1996. Picture: PA

8: Some songs lost Eurovision but went on to become huge international hits anyway. Volare was originally a Euro entry. In 1996 the UK’s Gina G could only manage ninth place in the contest, but Ooh Ahh, Just A Little Bit went to Number 1 in the UK and around the world.

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9: Lyrics play a huge part in Eurovision history. With winning songs songs such as Boom-Bang-A-Bang, Ding-A-Dong and Diggi-loo Diggi-ley it’s understandable that the credibility of the contest is sometimes questioned. The lyrical content of past entries include: “your breasts are like swallows a-nesting” (Sweden 1973); “when you walk along with your ding-dang-dong” (Netherlands 1975); “let your hip go hippety pump-pump” (Finland 1976); and the slightly more disturbing “do you wanna play cyber sex, come over to my house and click me with your mouse” (San Marino 2012).

10: Eurovision has a huge gay following. Possibly drawn by the dramatic divas, high-camp outfits, hilarious dance routines and throwaway pop tunes, it was once described as the “gay man’s World Cup”.

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11: Eligibility to enter the contest isn’t determined by geographical location but by membership of the European Broadcasting Union, which explains the presence of countries like Israel and Azerbaijan. Technically we could have entries from the Vatican City and Australia.

12: This year Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia have all pulled out, claiming financial hardship. Turkey also withdrew, leaving us with 39 nations competing in Malmö.

13: Denmark are currently the favourites but opinion during rehearsals suggests that Georgia, Norway or Azerbaijan are more likely to win.

14: UK hopes lie with 61 year old Bonnie Tyler, best known for 80s hits Total Eclipse Of The Heart and Holding Out For A Hero. Her soft-rock, country-inspired song is called Believe In Me and the verdict of the international press is that she might do well.

15: German act Cascada have had a string of dance hits (including a UK Number 1) throughout Europe in recent years, and are fancied to be in the running.

16: This year’s Finnish entrant, Krista, sings a song called Marry Me, which is claimed to be a coded message to her government to recognise same-sex marriage.

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17: The infamous votingsequence always delivers some classic moments. One presenter noticed a mistake on the scoreboard and asked if we could have “three points on the Turkey”!

18: Of course, we have the usual range of curiosities ranging from the strange (Greek men in kilts singing a ska song proclaiming Alcohol Is Free), the freakish (an 8∫ft Ukranian giant who stomps on stage, plonks their singer on a podium and stomps off again) and the downright bizarre (Montenegrin astronauts and a falsetto singing rhinestone-clad Disco Vampire from Romania).

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19: This year the interval act to be shown after the songs and before the voting has been written by Benny and Björn from Abba.

20: Lyrics remain as challenging as ever this year: “His name is Jeremy, working in IT, risk assessment is his investment” (Malta), “I don’t think there are no ladies who will give you cuter babies” (Finland), “perhaps they got a whiff of us” (Greece), “she will build a carriage out of rosemarys while crickets sing songs for me” (Hungary) and finally “you’re crying out for help and just a seagull’s listening” (UK). «

• The Eurovsion Song Contest is on BBC1 at 8pm on Saturday