The United Kingdom came last with just 14 points, a position truly undeserved as Andy Abraham gave a great performance of a pretty good song. I assure you that this is not sour grapes. This is the triumph over politics over an ideal.
For my more exotic readers overseas, let me explain. Eurovision - or the Eurovision Song Contest as it used to be known - was created to build a sense of harmony, unity and forgivenness following the end of World War II. The name 'Eurovision' actually denotes a network of communication channels created in the early '50s that links state TV stations across Europe. The system minimizes the cost to each member of transmitting pan-European news and sports footage. In an effort to justify the cost of the network, members came up with the idea of a song contest (they got the idea from Italy's San Remo Music Festival) and the first was held in Switzerland in 1956. The winner is decided by televotes cast by the populations of all participating countries.
Since then, it has been televised across the whole of Europe once a year and has made stars of bands and artists like Celine Dion, Abba, Cliff Richard, Bucks Fizz, Lulu and Julio Inglesias. It also gave Riverdance to the world as this was originally just a 'cultural filler' between segments of the show put on by the Irish hosts in 1994. It was such a huge hit, it spawned a worldwide phenomenon.
Eurovision is one of the most watched shows in the world; regular viewing figures top 400 million. Initially, just a few countries took part and the show was quite manageable. However, as more and more countries entered the European Union, it started to become clumsy. Then, with the fall of the USSR, the many Balkan states became part of Europe, bolstering the numbers even more. Suddenly, the contest became too big and unwieldy. Therefore a semi-final was brought in for the 2002 show so that only the top 25 songs went through. This year, we had two semi-finals for the first time as a staggering 42 countries took part.
As the biggest financial contributors, the 'Big Four' - UK, France, Germany and Spain - are always guaranteed a place in the final, as is the previous year's winner (whose country will be the current hosts). Next year, I say keep the money and take our chances with the rest. The happy excitement of Eurovision has gone, replaced by cynicism and political posturing.
There has always been an element of 'political' voting within Eurovision. Regular viewers are aware of this. Greece, Turkey and Cyprus have always voted for each other. Turkey has given Germany the maximum 12 points in the Eurovision finals every single year since 1990. Germany has reciprocated for the most part, giving Turkey an average of 10 points over the same period. The Scandinavian countries also usually vote for each other. In the past, this could have been explained by viewers voting for music from countries with similar musical tastes. But no longer. Whereas songs used to be sung in their native languages and in some way reflected their country of origin, these days most are in English and are homogenous pop songs that you could expect to hear anywhere in the world. It's just politics now and it's got so bad that some countries don't even bother to enter any more. Italy became so fed up with it all that they opted out.
With the entry into the competition of the former Russian states, things have now gone from bad to worse. We rarely get a point these days. The UK always managed to get a score that truly represented how good our act was. But, for the past few years, we've struggled to garner any points at all. In fact, during the 2003 contest, we scored a big fat Nul Point. I'll be the first to admit that it was a pretty poor song and Jemini could have performed it better. However, there were far worse acts on stage that year ... the year, incidentally, that we entered the Iraq war despite opposition from most of Europe (and, indeed, most of the British public). As long-time Eurovision commentator Sir Terry Wogan said at the time, 'I think the UK is suffering from post-Iraq backlash'. Here's how we've fared in the past six years:
2008 - Andy Abraham, 25th place
2007 - Scooch, 22nd
2006 - Daz Sampson, 19th
2005 - Javine, 22nd
2004 - James Fox, 16th
2003 - Jemini, 26th (out of 26)
Talking of Sir Terry - who is as much a part of Eurovision as the dodgy songs and dodgier costumes - he has said that in the light of yesterday's terrible result, he may quit as the BBC's Eurovision commentator. He's been the show's mainstay since the early 1970s. However, as he says, 'Eurovision is no longer a music contest. Russia were going to be the political winners from the beginning. I think it's tremendously disappointing from the point of view of the United Kingdom. Andy Abraham gave, I think, the performance of his life with a song that certainly deserved far more points than it got when you look at the points that Spain got, that Bosnia-Herzegovina got - some really ridiculous songs.'
Sir Terry said his producer, Kevin Bishop, was stepping down after this year's contest. 'He and I have to decide whether we want to do this again,' he said. 'Indeed, western European participants have to decide whether they want to take part from here on in because their prospects are poor.' Winners Russia scored 272 points, receiving the maximum 12 points from former Soviet states Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus and Armenia, as well as Israel. The UK got just 14 points in total (votes from Ireland and first-timers San Marino). Despite this, Sir Terry was keen to congratulate winner Dima Bilan (above with violin) for a great performance.
So what's the future of Eurovision? Do we go back to the old voting system of using a jury panel in each country? To be honest, that was just as political. But at least we got some points. Or should we break the contest into two smaller shows: a truly European contest, and an Eastern European contest? That would give every country a reasonable crack at the trophy I guess. But I suspect that that will not sit well with the whole concept of 'unity' that supposedly underpins the competition.
Again, I must stress that this is not sour grapes; I don't think that Andy' song was the winner. But it certainly wasn't the worst song, not by a long chalk. There were better performances and Dima Bilan's was one of the best. And why not? Bilan is huge in Eastern Europe and has legions of fans. He's a great performer. But who will we get to represent us next year? Six years of humiliation doesn't exactly inspire people to queue up for the job does it?
I'm tempted to say that, as a major financial contributor, we should just pull the plug until some fairness creeps back into the competition. Let's face it, the money could be better spent at home. I know that's not the spirit of Eurovision ... but all of the spirit has been kicked out of me I'm afraid.
I bet Andy Abraham feels a whole lot worse.