The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the highlights of my year. As an avid fan you may think that it would dishearten me that the United Kingdom – or even our neighbours Ireland – rarely appears in the top half of the scoreboard when it comes to the vote of the forty two countries of Europe. However, it is widely understood that the United Kingdom will never succeed in the contest. We would most likely not even make it past the semi-finals if we had to audition like the rest of Europe and weren’t part of the six countries guaranteed a place in the final. The United Kingdom were promised a place this year alongside Italy, France, Germany, Spain and winners of 2011 Azerbaijan: i.e. the largest financial contributors to the competition and the host country.
Although it could be argued that it takes all of the fun out of watching the show, as we all know the United Kingdom or Ireland will never win, I would disagree. What could be more fun on a Saturday night than watching twenty-six exuberant European acts dance around and poorly represent their countries? For me, this is the Eurovision spirit.
It is widely acknowledged among the Eurovision world that neighbouring or associated countries award each other the high scores, therefore we are rarely shocked when Cyprus and Greece or Portugal and Spain award each other twelve points. On the other hand the same cannot be said for the United Kingdom and Ireland, we do not share the same camaraderie as say, Sweden and Finland. Although, this year, Engelbert Humperdinck was not the finest act the UK has displayed at Eurovision and Jedward were much more ‘Eurovision friendly’, I believe that even if the UK had been represented by an act as excitable as the Irish twins we still would not have done brilliantly.
Perhaps it's just basic geography – as an island, we are rather isolated and right on the edge of Europe – or perhaps it’s more political than that? Despite the fact that the United Kingdom have won the competition five times – first with Sandie Shaw in 1967 to the most recent victory with Katrina and the Waves in 1997 – this seems more coincidental than the UK actually being liked. The smaller countries of Europe – especially as most of them are rather newly formed, such as Czechoslovakia which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia 1993 – possibly see us as hierarchically superior as we are much more established than the majority of them and have not fought amongst ourselves for centuries.
I believe the most straightforward argument is probably the most likely: simply supporting your neighbours. Although this theory does technically mean that the contest becomes obsolete, as we pretty much know how the voting will go, where’s the fun in that? It’s hardly a serious competition, not for the UK at least, so perhaps the voting and winning is not even important. Most people I know simple tune in annually to watch the dances, costumes and songs of Europe for harmless entertainment. Perhaps it’s taken more seriously in countries where winning is a possibility, but here it is simply viewed for pure entertainment. There is also the fact that the UK uses acts unknown even within their own country – with the exception, perhaps, of Blue in 2011 – whereas a lot of the European acts are already well known within their own countries, such as 2010’s winner Lena for Germany whose song was released two months before the competition’s final and was successful throughout Europe. The same cannot be said for Engelbert.
One factor of the contest which doesn't fit into my many theories of our failure is the fact that the vast majority of the countries choose to sing in English. I understand that this is to give the opportunity for the majority of people to understand the song as English is a widely spoken language in Europe, however would it not make sense for them to isolate us? It used to be a rule of Eurovision to sing in your first language, and I believe this should still be in place. But, as they don’t isolate us, perhaps it is not the case that there is a conspiracy against us and just the case that we put forward poor acts with rubbish songs which are not even popular within our own country, never mind the rest of Europe.