13th, February, 2009
Mark’s in Malta…
So there I was struggling uphill in a blizzard towards Luton Airport because the shuttle buses from the station had stopped running. Your country needs you – I told myself following the trail of freezing but hopeful travellers passing the dejected ones trudging the other way from cancelled flights – to get to Malta and see the UK’s Jade on her first performance abroad.
It was a miracle we ever got there but take off we eventually did – after two hours on the ground while the plane was de-iced, most of which involved a poor woman struggling with a long-handled broom to get the snow off the wings – and we landed two hours behind schedule. Ah well, Valletta late than never.
All this for Eurovision, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jade. But the contest is big in Malta. They’re desperate to win but have never QUITE done it (second twice since 1991). So much so that great fame greets the victors and ignominy the failures. One recent Maltese representative who received only one point in the contest didn’t go out for a year afterwards. Another who fared not much better has all but given up a singing career.
One TV producer and presenter (she seems to do everything on Maltese TV including Deal or No Deal) told us: “For most of the world the big event this year was Obama being made president. Here its Eurovision!” Yikes. And she congratulated us on having Andrew write our song. “He’s a god,” she murmured reverently.
So no surprise that the final to choose the Maletese entry on Saturday (they started the selection process in November) was an epic show lasting over four hours with 20 songs – amazing given the islands population of just 400,000 – though it was definitely a question of never mind the quality… Le tout Malta was there in all their finery.
There was the unfortunately titled Kamikaze Lover – think Norway’s 1992 winner Nocturne, all violins and just two sentences of lyrics, but on a camp acid trip thanks to the leering, posing lothario performer. The Village People met Il Divo in Tonight at the Opera, there was a quartet of people who looked like neighbours who’d got together to write a song (Ha Hi Hu) and took us back to somewhere circa 1976, and one soloist had the nerve to call herself just Kylie. Honestly. Cute Vittorio and Dorothy would be a shoo-in for the lead roles should they ever do a Maltese version of High School Musical. And then there was the only guitarry song of the night by a blond youth who goes by the name of Klinsmann. Yes, his parents really did name him after the German footballer.
The 20 entries were whittled down for the televote to a final three by a “celebrity” panel, which included 1995 Irish winner Linda Martin and Nicki French and, inexplicably, one of her backing dancers for her 16th-placing 2000 entry “Don’t Play That Song Again”.
It was a long evening, though we all knew who was going to win – Chiara, who came 3rd in the Birmingham Eurovision in 1998 and then one place better in Kiev four years ago. Will she go all the way in Moscow? “Well What If We” tries to ape her 2005 hit “Angel” but is inferior – and while she can carry a ballad, she’s up against our very own Jade. Even in rehearsal those watching reported goosebumps at her performance of “It’s My Time” and on Saturday she didn’t disappoint with the best performance of the night. Loving the big key change, and we waved our Union Jacks in jubilation as the audience applauded enthusiastically.
Though the prize for schmoozing da votes went to Turkey’s Hadise, who performed her entry at the drop of a hat several times on TV, shimmied around with the Maltese flag and said the magic words “I love Malta”. Douze points for Turkey.
But the UK had a screen presence in the inestimable Schlagerboys (see my last blog) who are revered in Malta and explained on TV the next day that this was the first time in ages that UK has a song and a singer to be proud of . “We love Chiara,” they trilled “but we are rooting for Jade this year.” Yes, its OUR time at last.
Mark Cook (watching Eurovision since 1967)
Mark Cook is a journalist and theatre critic for the Guardian Guide and The Big Issue