Kelly’s Eye: How Can the UK Ever Win Eurovision Again?

  Kelly’s Eye – “The Eurovision Times” is pleased to introduce a new category: Kelly’s Eye. Our fellow blogger James Kelly from “Scot Goes Pop” will enrich our blog with his views on our favorite television show from time to time. His blog about politics and Eurovision has been named one of the best 100 political blogs in the UK. Today he asks the question how his home country could claim the Eurovision crown again.

How can the UK ever win Eurovision again?

With Engelbert Humperdinck’s failure in Baku, the UK now know they will go into next year’s contest having equalled their longest ever period without a victory at Eurovision – 16 years.  The difference is that the last time the country went 16 years without a win, there were plenty of grounds for (correctly) believing that it was only a matter of time before the breakthrough arrived.  The period between 1981 and 1997 was punctuated by near misses for the UK – they finished second no fewer than four times, and achieved respectable results on most other occasions.  The period since Katrina and the Waves’ triumph in 1997 could hardly have been more different.  Yes, there have been a few bright spots – Imaani finished second in 1998 and Jessica Garlick was joint third in 2002.  But by the time Jade Ewen finished fifth in 2009 with a song penned by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, it seemed nothing short of miraculous, because a humiliating result for the UK had become something of an annual ritual.  And the fears that 2009 would prove nothing more than a blip were well-founded.


It goes without saying that the contest has changed beyond all recognition since the UK were last truly “in the game”.  The standard of music is much higher, the number of entries has increased dramatically as the contest has expanded eastwards (bringing with it the problem of political and neighbourly voting), other countries are now able to sing in English, and the staging of the event is on an entirely different scale.  It’s incredible to think that when Eurovision was last staged in the UK, the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham seemed like a large venue – it’s a tiddler compared to the arenas and stadiums that have staged the contest since.  It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the UK simply haven’t coped with these changes as well as many other countries have.


Part of it is out of their hands, of course.  For instance, how can they possibly counteract the impact of neighbourly voting in eastern Europe?  A half-flippant, half-serious answer is that the UK itself could break up.  If Scotland votes in favour of independence in the 2014 referendum, we might well see the emergence of a small ‘British Isles voting bloc’, with Scotland, Ireland and what remains of the UK all favouring each other in the way that the Balkan nations currently do.


In the meantime, how can the national selection process change to boost the UK’s chances?  There’s a potential lesson from history here, because in the early-to-mid 90s the BBC did start to become concerned about the long gap since the last victory, and tinkered with the format of the national final.  Between 1992 and 1994 they chose a performer internally, but from 1995 onwards went in entirely the opposite direction and brought in a range of performers to represent more musical types than ever before.  Ironically, both of these diametrically-opposed approaches were justified by precisely the same mantra – “Eurovision is supposed to be a song-writing competition, and that’s what we need to get back to”.  And essentially both approaches had the same degree of success in the contest – although none of the internally-selected singers actually won, two second-place finishes in the space of three years can hardly be deemed a failure.


So what that tells us is that there are different ways of succeeding (and as recent years have proved, there are also many different ways of failing).  But in fact there was a very different outcome to the two 1990s approaches which had nothing whatever to do with the UK’s position on the leaderboard.  When a radically different type of entry was tried in 1995, the UK may have only finished tenth, but the country’s interest in Eurovision shot up, with a dramatic increase in viewing figures.  That shot in the arm continued the following year when Gina G’s Ooh Aah…Just a Little Bit (which only finished eighth in the contest itself) became the first UK entry in many, many years to reach the top of the singles chart.


My own view is that there is nothing the BBC can do to guarantee that the UK will win – if there was a ‘silver bullet’ available then another country would already have discovered it and would be winning year after year after year.  But what the BBC most certainly can control is the regard in which the contest is held at home, by ensuring that they always send a credible entry, regardless of the eventual result.  The period between 1995 and 1999 (especially the first two of those years) was when they were getting it right, and the national final was transformed into a high-profile shop window for the best that the UK music industry had to offer.


So that’s the model I hope the BBC will revert to next year – an open national selection, but with aggressive attempts made to ensure that the very best songwriters and performers throw their hats into the ring.

Follow our author James Kelly on his blog Scot Goes Pop on Eurovision and politics!

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95 comments on “Kelly’s Eye: How Can the UK Ever Win Eurovision Again?

  1. Any UK users on this site it would be great if we all could write to the BBC to tell them of our suggestions on how we can improve our future at Eurovision, its time we acted and did something about the mess the BBC have cuased the past decade at our record in Eurovision, of nobody speaks up we will have to put up with humilation for another decade as BBC will continue to send the wrong and crappy entries.

    • I’ll speak up with you :)

      • Thanks :) The more people who speak up to the BBC the more likely they will do something about improving Eurovision selection process for the United Kingdom. I’m sure if they get enough people complaining they will have to do something about it, am I right in saying this?

    • Would they accept complaints outside UK? I would like to voice my opinion as well. Us people in the Ocenia were very disappointed with how our mother-land Commonwealth has been performing in this contest :-/

  2. @Scott
    you are young, I’ve been watching ESC since 1971, and still can’t answer your question re UK nowadays…whatever happened since 1999 basically?, I don’t know, if singers like Katie Melua offer their help and get rejected then there is no hope I guess, back to the 80s and a guaranteed top 10 based on typical eurostyle group?! I must admit how I still love Sweet dreams to this day, blond girl is the godmother of one of my best friends!!, she hates to be reminded of ESC , maybe that’s the whole point re UK ESC?!

    • I’m sure theres a soloution to winning when you hear british artists perform on the radio or either on the 4 music you can see a potential winning entry, something contemporay which represents the current music industry/charts in most western european countries. I have recently discovered a realy great singer Carrie Underwood, unfortunatly we probably couldnt send her though becuase she’s American but her song “Theres a place for us” that features in Narnia Voyage of the Dawn treader is the exact entry we need, we need an epic power ballad like that which you would see performed as a soundtrack to a film, something like Leona Lewis’s “I see you” or her cover of Johny Cash’s “Hurt” a balld that would stand out amoungst all the other countries. Its just a BBC wont see what they need to do to get decent results, we need to act and complain to them or nothing will get done and we will continue to have up and down results or stay in the bottom five year after year.

  3. Germany made the exact same mistake in many years and France as well. Trying to find the winning formula. And as a result they got some of their worst results. It’s not about winning. It’s about sending an entry which you can be proud of. Something which other nations see as a representation of the best your nation has to offer. If other nations see your honest effort they will vote for you and bring you in top 10. That’s what Italy does for two years, that’s what germany did
    for three and that’s what spain did this year. And of course it’s what Sweden did and what brought victory.

    • agree with you, but here the question is about the “winning formula”, nobody is interested in who came 2nd , 3rd or 10th,

      • Actually sending in top ten worthy entries every year is the winning formula. In a weak year this is enough to win eurovision. It was what Azeris did and that brought eurovision to Baku.
        UK can definitely do this. This year british songwriter jamie cullum came in 8th. But for Germany and not for stupid BBC.

  4. NDR’s official ESC site eurovision.de has contacted all broadcasters that participated this year and asked for the spilt results and the names of the jury members. They think that it is high time to bring some transparency to ESC. I love them!

    Here is the article from the blog (for those who understand German):


  5. In Greece,we know the names of the jury members but not the split results.

  6. 1) Where will the BBC find the budget to mount this huge national selection?
    2) Who will sign up knowing that if they lose in the UK NF the press will cruicify them and kill their career?
    3) Did you *see* the songwriting line-up Engelbert had?
    4) All of this needs leadership. First step, find a MUSICAL leader to sit alongside the PRODUCTION leader (Hod)
    5) …oh I’ve covered this already… http://www.escinsight.com/2012/05/31/wheres-the-stefan-raab-for-the-united-kingdom-and-eurovision-hes-hiding-a-bbc-scotland/

    • Wouldnt cost them that much, perfer them to go puting the money into a restyled national final and chnage peoples negative views of eurovision than go wasting it on money into crappy programmes like most tacky programe ever lets dance for comic relief, Eastbenders, Casuality and now more recently Doctor Who after its more gripping orginal storylines have being stepped down so that its more suited to little kids.

    • Gary Barlow would probably offer his services to the BBC maybe, he’s more likely to do it than Simon Cowel and he is a great song writter, some of his songs he wrote for itv’s “Britania High” where great, they contained rather moving and meanigful song lyrics. But I could just see BBC getting someone ridiculous like Tom Jones. Arlene Philips & Gary Barlow should be responsible for the entry.

  7. The U.K. should also work on presenting the song well on stage. They make great music but most often bad presentations during the contest.

    Times have changed now since Katrina & The Waves won. Other countries are trying different ways to perform on stage. Not just standing around singing or moving their feat with a bunch of back-up vocalists.

    • its not meant to be mad and ecentric choegraphy, customes and staging though its meant to be about the VOICE, the MUSIC and the SONG! We dont want to send tacky gimics such as Lithuania this year and Turkeys rather ecentric and tacky choegraphy this year.

  8. Last year British artists took almost 13% of worldwide sales.
    Why would any of our top sellers touch the ESC with a bargepole?


    • This just proves my point, why the BBC must change peoples negative attitudes about Eurovision in this country, for currently new artists in our charts or are at the verge of entering ESC, would be a great platfrom for then to become sucessful in the rest of Europe and form a fan base out there. ESC would be great for artists such as Connor Maynard, Ed sheeran, Emeli Sande, Bo Bruce, Little Mix and Stooshe.

    • That’s because Britain public has bad attitude for participants who do poorly or don’t get a Top 10 placing in Eurovision. New and established artists in Britain rarely go on Eurovision because they don’t want to ruin their careers. Its the cold hard truth. Just read the news articles online and how they describe their representatives. Its like British media they’re not even ‘proud’. Which is sad.

  9. Bill Bailey, thats how we can win.

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