Britain, obviously, is great. We even have “Great” in our name – show me one other country that has that and I’ll call you a liar. We’re brilliant at lots of things; sport, acting, inventing things, conquering countries, nay continents. We’re also (Geri Halliwell notwithstanding) amazing at making music. So why – and this is the big question – are we so rubbish at winning the Eurovision Song Contest?
The short answer is that much of Europe hates us, and if they don’t hate us they feel a bit sorry for us because we pasteurise everything. But it’s slightly more complicated than that.
Eurovision is a particularly tough nut to crack. We Brits may be able to broker a fabulous peace treaty, but in 57 years we’ve only managed to win five times, and frankly it’s not looking good for the 58th. In days of yore we took choosing our entry quite seriously. First by a jury of respected industry movers and shakers, and latterly by throwing open the process to the nation. This is where we first got into trouble really, as in a battle for telephone votes between Middle England and gay men you are never going to get a result that’s likely to succeed. When the gays win we get Scooch, when Middle England wins we get Andy Abraham.
To this day, the rest of Europe tries a lot harder. Most countries still hold exciting sub-contests called exciting names like “Melodifestivalen” and send their top talent to the front, much as a general sends his best troops into battle. It’s almost as if they actually care about the result. Nowadays, our entrant appears to be selected from a pile of CDs in a BBC executive’s glove compartment. Luckily for Bonnie Tyler, hers must have been at the top of the pile this year when said executive was rummaging about for a wine gum. One quick phone call later: “Hello, has Bonnie got anything knocking about that might do for Malmo?” and the matter is decided. Now, Bonnie is obviously amazing, but no-one would seriously argue that she’s still culturally relevant or has quite the same set of lungs she had on her in her 1980s heyday. Supposedly she’s still huge in Europe, but this was the same defence put forward to justify Englebert Humperdinck last year, and he came 25th. The truth is: Bonnie is available, Bonnie is cheap, Bonnie is willing to film the video on a cold beach in East Sussex, and Bonnie doesn’t stand a chance of winning. She satisfies the BBC’s new mantra of “putting quality first,” by which they clearly mean low quality.
All this is completely transparent to the rest of the members of the European Broadcasting Union. Anyone with the slightest investment in the outcome of Eurovision knows that the UK treats it like a joke, so they’re not about to vote for us even if we sent a supergroup comprising half of Girls Aloud, a Saturday and Pippa Middleton. What they fail to understand is that it’s the BBC who has fostered this perception. The people in Britain who love Eurovision really really want us to win, to the point where we find ourselves actively rooting for the spectacularly awful Jemini in 2003, even though their nul points were richly deserved. Perhaps it’s time we gave Eurovision to a commerical broadcaster who might actually make a decent fist of it and begin the process of regaining our position at the top of that immensely complicated leaderboard.
In the meantime, we will do what British people do best. We will root for Bonnie Tyler, we will be outraged when she comes next to last, vow to boycott the contest for the rest of time and then do it all again next year when we wheel out Lulu for another stab at it. Plus ça change.