The UK can never be taken seriously at Eurovision until the country itself takes the contest seriously. When the biggest plea of Eurovision fans in 2011 is likely to be “please don’t choose Wagner for Düsseldorf” and the tabloid press are set to crucify anyone who hints of participating, what hope is there for a respectable UK entry?
Look at last weekend’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest. The Armenian victory, right at the end of the voting, was seen by a TV audience of close to 30 million. Except in neighbouring Azerbaijan, where it is reported that the transmission was cut as their international rival scored the douze points to hand them a single point victory. This is of course not the first time this has happened (Jordan stopped airing the 1978 contest as the Israeli victory became apparent), and these decisions show just how the serious the contest is regarded in many countries.
But not in the UK.
This lax attitude to the Contest, while shared by “The Big 4” countries that contribute a large share of the budget, is a huge problem. It has created a situation that the country that has given the world some of the greatest music (John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Kirsty MacColl, Mike Oldfield, Rick Wakeman, Chris Martin, the list is quite long and glorious), any musicians will be pilloried if they even hint at Eurovision involvement for the United Kingdom entry.
And it’s mostly down to this reaction from the media and how they would be portrayed towards the public that stops them doing so. The cut-throat nature of the British press means that Eurovision is a shorthand for many things – the crazy wacky foreigners who are not like us, the distrust of the European Union project, and a superiority complex that demands we should do better… just because.
In the press there is no pride in going into friendly competition with our neighbours on an almost level playing field. The Song Contest is pitied and pilloried in the same breath.
Forget that it’s one of the largest television shows on the planet; put aside the careers it has launched and enhanced around the continent; ignore the prestige and legitimacy that it confers on the newer countries in Europe. If someone wants to represent the United Kingdom at Eurovision “they must be mad.”
Contrast that with the support of the European involvement of our football teams. Why is there such a difference in attitudes? They’re both competitions of skill, with rules, and everyone can compete fairly.
I really thought that with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s involvement with the BBC in 2009 could have been a turning point. It cleared the way for more mainstream names to get involved with the Contest, using his reputation to protect whoever took on the management of the 2010 bid. That first year, 2009, provided a foot in the door. 2010 could have been a year to solidify the perception of the Contest and gain a decent result. Which would have cleared the way for a true superstar effort in 2011.
Instead of having a chance of the Olympics of Song being the prelude to the Summer Olympics, we got Pete Waterman.
Which leads back to the UK’s biggest issue with Eurovision. The media. Right now I think there’s only one way that the press would write about Eurovision.
“Wagner to lead the UK to Eurovision Glory”
Now I’ve nothing against Wagner. Truth be told handed the right song he’s… entertaining. His energetic showcase of Tom Jones’ “Help Yourself” (watch it on YouTube) shows that with the right guidance, he could easily be measured next to Andy Abrahams. But for the modern Eurovision Song Contest, he would fall far short.
Even if Eurovision was the strange time-capsule contest from the seventies that most journalists seem to think it is, Wagner would not be the sort of choice that would impress the rest of Europe.
I think every single UK Eurovision fan has one simple request. To be able to hold our heads high when we’re with friends; when we’re at the Euroclub and our song hits the dance floor; to not have that horrible feeling in the press room as we slide down the table and crash at the bottom.
The UK needs some tender loving care, or the decision is going to be taken out of our hands by the Eurovision organisers. We’ll be back in the semi-finals because the Big Four support is dropped for those who don’t take it seriously, and we’ll never grace the Saturday night stage again. Which pretty much means relegation to BBC3, dwindling TV audience figures, and a slow spiral to nul points.
The BBC need to start again, from scratch, and build back up to the point where the entry is not a joke in our own press. The Lloyd Webber card can’t be played again, but they need someone of equal stature to start the ball rolling again behind the scenes. They need someone to stand up, be proud, and start the march to the heart of Eurovision.
And that’s definitely not Wagner.