Can the UK win the Eurovision Song Contest?

UK Eurovision hopeful Engelbert Humperdinck (Copyright: BBC)
If you’ve followed Eurovision in recent years you could be forgiven for thinking the UK is one of the contest’s perennial no-hopers – but in fact we have one of the best track records, ranking (joint) second only to Ireland.

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The only hitch is that the last time we won was 15 years ago in 1997, when Tony Blair had been Prime Minister for just two days and JK Rowling was still putting the finishing touches to her first Harry Potter novel!

Apart from a second place in 1998, third in 2002 and fifth in 2009, we have languished between the middle and bottom of the results table since our last win – with no fewer than THREE bottom-place finishes courtesy of Jemini, Andy Abraham and Josh Dubrovnie.

Have we fallen victim to tactical voting?

Our poor form in the noughties has been attributed in some quarters to tactical voting and to a backlash against us for our participation in military action in Iraq – but does tactical voting really exist?

“It was a major issue in the middle noughties, but has been reduced by the re-introduction of juries awarding half of the points since 2009,” says John Thompson of Eurovision fan site .

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“It’s still true though that a song from the likes of Greece will score many more points from the very same song sent from, say, Malta. “

But another expert, author of ‘The Eurovision Song Contest – The Official History’ John Kennedy O’Connor, thinks tactical voting is a fallacy.

He explained: “I know that when Serbia won, the viewers in the UK and elsewhere were complaining vociferously about how they only won because of support from Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, etc. It didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

“If Croats wanted to make sure one of their neighbours triumphed, how would they decide which one to get behind en masse? They could have picked Bosnia or Macedonia, just as easily as Serbia.”

And he has an alternative explanation for the support Baltic states appear to show one another.

“Neighbours vote for neighbours because they like the same styles of music and possibly know the artist. Usually neighbours are political enemies, so they’re not supporting each other for any fraternal reasons.”

What both experts do agree on is that ex-pats can play a big part in a nation’s chances of Eurovision success – so countries with a history of migration such as Greece, Turkey or Russia can pick up extra voter support across Europe.

So can Engelbert Humperdinck pull it off for the UK at this weekend's Eurovision Song Contest?

There was surprise when 75-year-old easy listening veteran Engelbert Humperdinck was announced as Britain’s entry for 2012, but also a general recognition that he has a good song and can still turn in a killer performance.

Unfortunately there was bad news for the UK at the draw stage – where we ended up with the opening slot on the show.

Going first is generally regarded as a very bad thing – because with another 20-odd songs to follow and phone voting only starting after all the performances, most voters will have forgotten about the first song.

John Kennedy O’Connor said: “I was gutted when I heard the draw. The win was out of reach from that moment.

“I hope it doesn’t dissuade an artist of his calibre and profile to take it on next year. It’s genuinely an excellent song. Probably the best UK entry since Katrina’s ‘Love Shine A Light’. I really like it.”

And John Thompson agreed, saying: “His chances are poor. It’s a lovely sweet song but the draw has killed any decent result.”

Who could win it for the UK?

“I wish Dusty Springfield was still alive and regret that she never did Eurovision,” said John Kennedy O’Connor.

“You need to be a household name – preferably in households across Europe – and someone the UK audience can get behind. Someone at their peak isn’t going to touch it, but someone who’s hit all the heights, but now has nothing to lose would be ideal. Will Young would be great.

“It probably sounds very naff, but I’d like to see a supergroup of grand pop divas. Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, Lulu, Sandie Shaw. It could be magical. It could be bloody awful.”

John Thompson was more concise, answering simply: “Anyone with great vocals, charisma and a fantastic SONG!”

The Eurovision Song Contest is on BBC One, Saturday at 8pm