2nd, February, 2009
Moscow here we come…
With the glitzy finale of _Your Country Needs You_, the journey is just beginning, not ending, said Andrew Lloyd Webber on Saturday night. And what a journey it will be for winner 21-year-old Jade from Plaistow in East London, as she prepares to perform the catchy, anthemic ballad “It’s My Time” to 100 million TV viewers around the world.
So what can she look forward to over the next few months leading up to the contest in Moscow’s Olympic stadium?
Well a certain amount of travelling, for a start. For the first time, the UK’s entry will be promoted around Europe, sometimes with the personal endorsement of Andrew Lloyd Webber. It will be a continuation of the charm offensive to win hearts and votes that we first saw in the opening show of _Your Country Needs You_. First stop: the Maltese final in Valetta on Saturday. They’re big Eurovision fans in Malta.
Those who have taken their entry on the road before the contest have certainly done well in the past. The year Greece won in 2005, Helena Paparizou had toured extensively with “My Number 1″, partly paid for by the Greek Tourist Board. These days winning the contest is as much about selling a song as winning the chance to have a free (ish) three-hour advertisement extolling the beauties of the host country to 100 million people.
This year, of course, with the involvement of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren, there will be a huge demand for the UK song and Jade.
For her the ultimate goal is Moscow (how Chekhov, how Three Sisters) and competing against 24 other countries in the final. Not for nothing has Andrew described the contest and the surrounding antics as a zoo. Over two weeks in a round of parties, rehearsals, interviews, press conferences and appearances, 43 countries in total will all be jostling for their share of the limelight. Usually it is the most colourful and outrageous acts that get the most publicity. The UK has a head start this year but it will be a testing time for young Jade.
But can we actually win the thing? Much depends on our place in the running order on the night, and the fact that we automatically qualify for the final does not do us any favours vote-wise. But we are delivering a message that the UK is taking the contest more seriously and there is a major change in the voting that should improve our chances.
With all the partisan voting of the past few years there were probably only seven countries that could win Eurovision: Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Armenia – by virtue of friendly neighbours, political alliances or the spread of their population around Europe.
Mindful of the Eastern block voting, the Eurovision authorities have reintroduced the national juries, which will count for 50 per cent of the vote. Older Eurovision fans will recall the days of yore with those crackly voices delivering jury votes over the phone. Being limited in number – this year they will be made up of five music professionals – the jury votes are often a tad eccentric (one year the Turkish jury was made up of Istanbul taxi drivers).
Back-up juries have occasionally been used in recent years, where there has been a technical problem with the televote, or in small countries where there are not the required number of votes. The results are always uncertain – last year the UK even got six of our total 14 points from a jury in San Marino! All of which should make the hitherto tedious voting more interesting.
In this respect it’s a crucial year for the contest. If the voting remains interminable and predictable, audiences, particularly in Western Europe, will vote with their remote controls and stop watching. Some countries, as Austria has done, may even pull out of Eurovision altogether.
It’s also a make-or-break year for the UK. A good result this year is likely to mean that next years selection process will be high-profile. A bad result – and this seems unlikely given the high standard of our song and singer – could mean going back to the bad old days and the so-called decade of shame since we last won in 1997.
Whatever happens in Moscow, one thing is certain: Jade has star quality and a terrific career ahead of her.
Mark Cook (watching Eurovision since 1967)
Mark Cook is a journalist and theatre critic for the Guardian Guide and The Big Issue.