May 4, 2017

Twenty years of hurt: Can the UK ever win Eurovision again?!


Twenty years ago yesterday, an event that now seems unimaginable took place — the UK won the Eurovision Song Contest. When it was her turn up on stage, Katrina Leskanich, of Katrina and the Waves, broke into a broad smile and began singing “Love Shine a Light”: an hour later, she was holding the trophy.

Since then, well, things haven’t gone so well. What have been the best and worst UK entries post-Katrina? The answer, of course, is that it’s a matter of taste, but try these…


1) Imaani, Where are you? (1998): Remember those days when the UK used to come second in Eurovision? We’ve done it more than any other nation. At the time, we felt miffed at not winning. Now we’d give anything—well, a lot—to hit such heights. The Nottingham-born jazz/soul singer Imaani was beaten only by the iconic Dana International.

2) Jade Ewen “It’s my Time”
 (2005): We pulled out the stops that year, with Andrew Lloyd Weber and Diane Warren collaborating on an entry that (not surprisingly) sounded much more like something from a musical than a pop song. But so what? Britain’s approach to Eurovision has often been very “musical theatre.” Great performance from Jade, and we came in fifth.

3) Molly, “Children of the Universe”
 (2014): Nice to see a singer-songwriter representing the UK. We’re rather good at producing these — maybe some others, a little better known, could follow in Mollie’s footsteps. The song was among the favourites before the show, but got swamped by the competition. Good try, though.



Sadly, there’s more to choose from here.

1) Jemini, “Cry Baby” (2003): Remember that couple who sang totally out of tune? To be fair to them, the onstage sound system went wrong, so they couldn’t hear themselves. And we’d made ourselves unpopular with the rest of Europe by going to war in Iraq. We ended the evening with no points at all, the first (and so far, only) time we have done this.

2) Scooch, “Flying the Flag for you”
 (2007): Oops, time to make a cup of tea, or pretend someone’s at the door, or take a loo break — anything to escape this one. Comedy rarely works in Eurovision, and this proved no exception.

3) Electro Velvet, “Still in Love with You”
 (2015): Actually, the song is quite jolly, but it showed how out of touch we had become with a changing Eurovision. By 2015, the contest was featuring strong and interesting songs (from most participants, anyway). We got five points for this one; winner Måns Zelmerlöw from Sweden got 365.


How will we fare in 2017? We’re taking the musical theatre route again, but that is Lucy Jones’s speciality. And why not play to our strengths? Will Brexit mean another nul points from European voters? Or will Europeans who don’t like the EU (there are plenty) suddenly all vote for us? Who knows? Personally, I don’t see another 1997, though our entries have started getting better. Good luck at the final on the 13th, Lucy!




Eurovision! is on sale now. Buy it at a bookstore in the UK. If you can’t,
consider moving. And don’t miss Chris West on BBC Radio 2’s Fact Not Fiction Book Club a week from today, May 11.




Chris West is an author, ghostwriter, and marketer. His most recent book is Eurovision!: A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contest, from Melville House. He lives in England.