Every spring, in an uncharacteristic display of unity, the nations of Europe gather around their TV sets and settle down with a veritable Smörgåsbord of drinks and snacks to watch the Eurovision Song Contest.
Camp as Christmas and with a large dollop of cheese on the side, Eurovision remains hugely popular here in the UK even though we haven’t won for donkey’s years (the last time was in 1997 – with Love Shine a Light by Katrina and the Waves – in case you’re interested). Indeed, the UK entry hit an all-time low in 2003 when boy-girl duo Jemini came last, having failed to even get a foothold on the scoreboard (the infamous ‘nul points’ for which we all blamed Tony Blair and the war in Iraq).
Following that double indignity, we’ve exploited all the tricks in the Eurovision book to try to grab back votes, from gimmicky dance routines (Scooch as trolley dollies in 2007) to scantily clad ladies (Javine in 2005) and acts with a “proven track record” in Europe (Blue in 2011, Engelbert Humperdinck in 2012 and Bonnie Tyler in 2013). But a return to the glory days of Bucks Fizz and Making Your Mind Up has yet to materialise.
Eurovision was held in Copenhagen this year and the UK made a radical U-turn in terms of strategy: acts beyond their sell-by date were dropped and the baton (or should that be poisoned chalice?) passed to raw untested talent. Singer-songwriter Molly Smitten-Downes was discovered through the BBC Introducing showcase for emerging musicians. Molly and her co-writer Anders Hansson (he’s from Sweden but let’s gloss over that) came up with the anthemic Children of the Universe, a thumping tune that turned out to be a real grower with an earworm of a hookline. We had high hopes for Molly but in the end she ranked 17th with a total of 40 points (a big shout out to our friends in San Marino, Denmark, Malta, Iceland, Norway, Ireland, Spain, Belgium and Georgia for their support!)
Even before the final vote was cast, Austria had been crowned the not-so-surprise winner, fielding bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst who performed the Bond theme-esque Rise Like a Phoenix with undeniable verve. Conchita naturally garnered the lion’s share of the press in the run-up to the competition thanks to her startling facial hair and a fondness for sparkly frocks. Some folk were outraged but most were happy to go with it (knitted beards even became a ‘thing’ for a while). My tip to win (other than Molly, natch) was The Netherlands, who gifted Europe a haunting little country number sung by The Common Linnets. They certainly gave Conchita a run for her money, eventually taking the runner-up spot, while bookies favourite Sweden finished third.
So, next year the circus moves to Austria, with the show marking the contest’s 60th anniversary. What televisual delights will be in store for us on the big night are anyone’s guess at this point. Nonetheless, it seems a fairly safe bet that regardless of anything else that might be happening politically, socially or economically in Europe, everyone will still manage to put their differences aside for a few hours and bask in the shared joy that is Eurovision.