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Eurovision 2009: The night before the night

May 15, 2009

As yet another dress rehearsal in Moscow draws to a close ahead of the Eurovision final tomorrow, I can’t help indulging in a bittersweet feeling about tomorrow.

Tomorrow marks the final point in a long path which for some fans started in October when countries across Europe first started selecting their songs. It also marks the end of a process for us Brits in the UK, a process which began shortly after New Years Day with a programme which set out to select an artist to sing a song written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Diane Warren to represent the UK at Eurovision.

I remember feeling nervous the day the BBC’s Your Country Needs You programme kicked off. I have had exactly the same feeling of intense an sometimes unmanageable anxiety this week.

I’m reminded of something an online pal pointed out to me earlier in the week. When I explained how I’d felt this familiar sense of anxiety before, during and after the first semi-final, she was quick with a response. “We all worry. It’s an important time for us,” she said, “It’s because it matters to us.”

She’s absolutely right. There is an undeniable sense of ownership of the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s a feeling I imagine hardcore fans of the likes of Doctor Who feel or women who’ve been members of a Women’s Institute for years on end. The longer they’ve pledged allegiance to the cause, the more they feel as though the club they’re members of is theirs.

It’s the same with Eurovision. Those who understand it, those who embrace its many foibles and immerse themselves in it’s history and pointless facts are showing their love and appreciation of it. When all around them are dismissing the event (or at it’s basest level) failing to appreciate exactly where the fine line between fun-filled mickey taking and malicious criticism, it is the Eurovision fan who leaps to the defence of the institution. It’s not without good reason hardcore Eurovision fans feel as though they keep the party going. Is it possible that without them Eurovision might have died years ago?

Naturally, I don’t necessarily go this far. But I do feel an inordinate sense of ownership or part-ownership of this TV show. That’s why there is that sense of anxiety every year – this year more so. It’s as though the Eurovision is my one true indulgent night of the year. The one night I spend the rest of the year dreaming about, fantasising about gripping finals when every song’s a potential winner and we’re fighting for first place when the jury casts their final vote.

Will we do well? Have we chosen well? Do we care enough? Will we come last? Will we sink without a trace? Will this year – horror of horrors – be our last year in Eurovision? Will the BBC become so disillusioned with our lack-lustre performance in the leaderboard they’ll pull out altogether thus pushing me into a never-ending period of mourning? A British Eurovision fan will (even if he doesn’t blog about it) spend nearly every waking hour analysing scenarios, working out whether we stand a chance or whether we might want to purchase a crate of Special Brew in case of a complete disaster. 

Well, maybe it’s not quite as intense as that. But it is important. This year more than ever it seems. As it happens when I sat in an office on the fourth floor of BBC Television Centre last year and witnessed Andy Abraham win with his song “Even If” I did quite literally jump for joy (there’s video evidence to prove it). We came last with that song last year and I had to stay up until 2am the morning after the final typing up the scores. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I was miserable as sin when I went into work the following Monday.

This year has been completely different. And I’m wondering whether people outside the UK (or inside for that matter) appreciate just how different it’s been. Us Eurovision fans notice these things.

First has been the unprecedented opportunity to observe our girl Jade’s first rehearsal in Moscow at the weekend. Normally we have to wait until our performer hits the stage in a far away city. That’s when we see just how different he or she looks on stage compared to the occasion we witnessed their selection. It’s normally quite a shock. That three minute presentation can be the most hideous journeys. Or, in the case of Scooch it can be just reliving a nightmare.

Jade JumpingBut seeing Jade during her rehearsal last weekend delivered an enormous amount of unexpected relief. Not only did it feel as though we’d made an effort and found a cracking and unheard of singer, but seeing Jade rehearse I felt reassured that we weren’t going to make complete arses of ourselves. It’s not just Jade’s reputation up for a vote, it’s the entire country’s after all. And the most sensitive of any country’s population is it’s blogging contingent.

Then, the other day, a different online pal dangled a photograph he’d found on the web. It did rather take me by surprise. The picture shows our girl Jade in a frozen shot, her and her violinists, stand-in Andrew Lloyd Webber and some other lovely looking lady leaping in the air, looking a little crazy but happy all at the same time.

My recently upgraded instinct software (Cynicism 2.0) should really kick in here. I’ve not seen the picture anywhere else. Is the picture real? Has it been doctored? Is this official or is it someone else’s handiwork? The answers to the questions are all the tenets of basic journalism and should … really .. be adhered to.

However, where my head should take over my heart goes crashing in for one very simple reason. The picture itself, the expressions on everyone’s faces sums up how I feel the night before the Grand Final. Everyone’s happy. Everyone’s quite enjoying themselves. Everyone’s really feeling quite proud and our girl Jade is slap bang in the middle of it.

But there’s another reason the unbearably schmaltzy levels of pride are in danger of spilling over. There’s another message which rings out loud when I stare at that picture. That photograph reminds me of a deeper understanding I’ve acquired about what it takes to deliver something really quite good.

Jade has been a massive promotional tour to ingratiate herself and her song with the rest of Europe. Our girl Jade is also a natural with a top note and a TV interview. Her face is engagingly vulnerable and plucky all at the same time.

The newspaper’s line about the Eurovision has been a little different this year – I can’t remember the last time our song has got reasonably good press as it did in the Guardian this morning – and we have a Lord who’s composed it too.

euro historyThe BBC Eurovision website has been upgraded too with a tasty (slightly more sophisticated) look from last year’s marvellous effort. It includes a flash-based application providing a data visualisation tool of all the scores from every single Eurovision, something which will prove invaluable come the big night when my fairweather Eurovision friends will no doubt demand key information about the voting tendencies of some other countries. Thank God for the BBC Eurovision website team for saving me from almost certain humiliation there.

It’s team work which has delivered the UK’s act (and every other act to the Eurovision). There are PR people, press officers, producers, directors, photographers, composers, lyricists, singers, make-up people, costume designers and commentators who all converge to deliver a message to back up a song to represent a country. It’s no mean feat. And I’m not involved in it in any way whatsoever which is, quite possibly, why I think it’s been so successful.

Regardless of how we do in the final (and don’t let anyone read this and think there is a sense smug satisfaction motivated by an individual convinced of a victory – far from it), this particular fan is especially proud of a team of people he doesn’t know for doing something which has at times felt as though they’re doing it all for him.

Of course they weren’t. They were doing it because that’s the work they do and that’s what they’re good at and that’s what they rather enjoy too. Still, you might want to warn any of them if you’re out in Moscow that I may well hug some or all of them if I see them next week. You know, just to say thanks.

One Comment
  1. pinguthegreek permalink

    Would that online pal happen to have been me ? I know, silly o’clock…..

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