Eurovision: Rules, facts and controversies

AS the countdown to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest begins - which Sweden will host - breaks down the contest’s strict rules on vocals and live animals, controversies surrounding transsexuals and human rights, and the UK’s Eurovision history.

Bizarre rules

Hosting Eurovision

The country whose act wins the Eurovision is obliged to host the next contest in the following year. The global recession of recent years has made this rule rather troublesome for debt-ridden nations like Greece and Ireland, due to the vast expense of hosting the contest. Not so for Russia though, who lavished €31 million on the pop extravaganza in 2009.

Three minute songs and animals

According to Eurovision rules, no more than six performers are permitted on stage at a time. Songs must not exceed three minutes in length (Pink Floyd covers are pretty much out of the question). and live animals are not permitted on stage. Ireland could have tested the parameters of Eurovision’s strict animal rules as Dustin The Turkey had a crack at representing the Emerald Isle, but the TV puppet failed to progress beyond the semi-finals.


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All Eurovision entries must have lyrics or discernable vocals as strictly instrumental songs are not permitted. Norway’s Nocturne (Secret Garden song) bears the distinction of having the fewest lyrics of all Eurovision winners, with only 24 words. It won the contest in 1995.

Age restrictions

Entrants to the competition must be 16 or over. This means that the youngest ever Eurovision winner, 13-year-old Belgian Sandra Kim, is likely to retain her record for the forseeable future. She won in 1986 with J’aime la vie.


Belgium played fast and loose with Eurovision’s recently liberalised restrictions on permitted languages. After a period where countries could only enter songs in their native tongue, Belgium’s Urban Trad unleashed Sanomi in 2003 - a song with lyrics from a made-up language.

Eurovision controversies

1969 - And the winner is...

1969’s contest was going well until the votes started coming in, and things quickly degenerated into a shambles. Spain, the UK, the Netherlands and France finished tied for first, and there was no system in place to separate them. The organisers ran out of winners’ medals for the singers and songwriters, and five countries boycotted 1970’s contest over the debacle.

1998 - Dana International wins - and receives complaints

Israel’s Dana International was the first transsexual to win Eurovision, but caused tensions at home with some Orthodox Jews saying she had misrepresented the country. Dana didn’t mince her words in her reply: “My victory proves God is on my side. I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness and say to them: try to accept me and the kind of life I lead.”

2007 - ‘Russia goodbye’?

Seasoned Eurovision viewers might struggle to put a face to Andriy Mykhailovych Danylko, but his alter-ego Verka Serduchka in his shiny silver trenchcoat, is hard to forget. However it was Verka’s words that caused the real commotion - many prominent Ukrainians felt that his song’s refrain of ‘Lasha Tumbai’ was actually a dig at the Russians.

2012 - Loreen’s awkward meeting

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Last year’s winner sparked controversy by meeting groups of human rights activists in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku days before the contest. Loreen’s perceived support of the group didn’t go down well, but at a post-contest press conference she assured the Azerbaijani people that she wasn’t plotting a revolution, saying: “I will support the Azerbaijan people from my heart.”

2013 - Macedonia ‘borrows’ Alexander the Great

This year’s contest is still months away, and yet the controversy is well underway. The video for the Macedonian entry - ‘Empire - has had to be remade after complaints over the use of historical images that the Greeks and Bulgarians claim as their own. An enormous statue called ‘warrior on a horse’ in Skopje, looking suspiciously like Alexander the Great, is one of the offending images.

Eurovision and the UK

1967 - UK’s maiden win

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Sandie Shaw handed the UK its maiden victory in 1967, with her rendition of ‘Puppet on a String’, which garnered nearly twice as many votes as the second-placed country. The presenter got muddled during the awarding of points, declaring the UK the winner before Ireland had been read their points. Shaw strongly disliked the composition, but ended up recording a new version in 2007.

1968 - First Colour Broadcast

The 1968 Eurovision Song Contest was the first to be broadcast in colour, and was also the first Eurovision held on UK soil, at London’s Royal Albert Hall - the first of eight to date.

However, hopes of a ‘home win’ were dashed when Cliff Richard’s entry - ‘Congratulations’ - was beaten to the top spot by the Spanish entry ‘La, La, La,’ sung by Massiel, containing no less than 138 ‘La’s.’

1972 - MacEurovision

Five years since first winning it, the UK again hosted the contest, this time at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. The late ballet dancer Moira Shearer presented the show, which saw the ‘home’ entry by The New Seekers, ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’ finish up in second, just 14 points behind winners Luxembourg. Edinburgh’s gain was Monaco’s loss - the principality had been scheduled to host the contest but was unable to provide the resources necessary, after winning the 1971 contest.

2003 - 10 forgettable years

Despite the UK’s relatively successful period including three wins between the late 60s and mid 70s, victories became few and far between in the following years, with Bucks Fizz in 1981 and Katrina and the Waves in 1997 notching up the fourth and fifth victories with their respective entries ‘Making your mind up’ and ‘Love Shine a Light’. 2003 saw the UK end up last, with Jemini’s ‘Cry Baby’ receiving the dreaded ‘nul point’. Andy Abrahams with his forgettable number ‘Even If’ propped up the final standings in 2008 whilst Josh Dubovie’s ‘That Sounds Good to Me’ clearly didn’t to most voters, as it languished in last place in 2010.

2013 - Points aplenty

Since 1975, the UK and Ireland have shared a tit-for-tat points system, with the UK giving its highest total number of points to Ireland (216), and receiving the most points from the Emerald Isle (180). The UK has also traditionally been rather kind in terms of points (148) to Sweden. There is also a rather amicable agreement in terms of points between Germany and the UK.