Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Why the secrecy over Eurovision?

Conchita Wurst, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014

Conchita Wurst, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 - Credit: AP

About a year ago, I dedicated a column to the subject of the Eurovision Song Contest. I also pledged that I’d have a shot at the event myself. It’s been, as hippies used to say, a trip.

The first thing I did was to consult my learned colleague, Kimberley Rew of Cambridge. Kimberley, who wrote the UK’s last winner, Katrina and the Waves’ Love Shine A Light (1997), was unsure how songs were submitted nowadays. In days of yore, when Wogan bestrode the airwaves, it was a simple matter, Kimberley said, of sending a cassette to the BBC. It may have helped that he’d previously written the world-wide smash Walking on Sunshine but the entry process back then was, nonetheless, not complex.

In addition to Kimberley, I asked a TV producer of my acquaintance how songs were now submitted. Alan (not his real name) has produced many major talent and “celebrity” type shows. A keen long-term Eurovision fan, Alan asked a few insiders some questions on my behalf. To his own bafflement he came back with no more information, other than that: “The BBC seem to be playing their cards close to their chest.” He added that choosing our songs is now done by something which they call “internal selection”.

I telephoned the BBC and was told they didn’t have a Eurovision department as such. There was consequently nobody they could put me through to. They suggested instead that I went online to the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) Eurovision site. Here I easily discovered many things about other countries’ entry processes, yet nearly nothing of our own.

I could, had I so wished, have more easily entered a song for Norway or Switzerland than the UK. Realising last February that it would be a good time to plan for a 2015 entry, I studied the situation. Our 2014 entry, as announced by the BBC last March, was by Mollie Smitten-Downes, a name which I thought reminiscent of a wartime Spitfire pilot’s fiancee. As soon as I heard the song – big on air-punching, short on melody – I knew that it was dancefloor buffalo. I was correct. It lumbered in 17th out of 26 entries.

The contest was won by a similarly epic and forgettable anthem sung by a stunningly beautiful Austrian lovely – with a beard.

I had to admit, it was ingenious. The last thing I’d expected was for the Eurovision Song Contest to be hijacked by a gender politician. In the weeks following the competition, I pressed on, writing and recording songs, a few of which were posted up on Mule TV, my internet TV channel. I wanted to know what the listeners thought. I also emailed the BBC, in my vain attempts to get through to someone, anyone, with any information.

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It wasn’t until September that I finally got hold of a producer’s name and email. Instead of the producer, I received a reply from his assistant who was sorry for the lack of info and the delay. The good news, however, was that the competition was indeed open. News of the entry procedure would follow.

So, for the first time in years, the competition was again open to submissions. The public, it was emphasised, would still have no say in the judging. I studied the conditions of entry. They were roughly as follows: The song must be under three minutes long. Whoever writes the song must also perform and record it. Unlike before, you cannot nominate someone else to sing it. You must prepare a video. It doesn’t have to be a high budget one, but nonetheless a film clip of you, the songwriter, performing the song was required.

By now it was late September. They wanted the whole shebang written, recorded, filmed and submitted by the last week of October. You were not allowed to use a song which had been exposed on any medium, including internet TV, later than September 1. They wanted all of this in just under four weeks! Paul McCartney or Sting, I realised, even if they cleared their desks, might be pushed to beat this deadline. And there was my best shot, up on YouTube for several weeks by now and therefore completely ineligible.

I wasn’t cross, I laughed in amazement. What did they think they were doing? It would have been simpler in the first place for me to enter a song for Norway, fly out there and nominate a Norwegian artiste to sing the song. Why the secrecy and the obstacles? We’re the Brits. We’re blooming good at writing songs. We could probably win every other year, at a push, if we really wanted to. It’s almost as if the BBC don’t want us to win.

Maybe, they fear the expense of hosting the contest if it ever happens that we do. Who knows? So I retreated, vaguely intending to have another go in 2016. Do you know who our 2015 Euro entrant is? No, neither do I. At time of writing the BBC aren’t telling us either. Then, last week, there was a new bombshell. In this year’s Eurovision, for the first time ever, Australia will be competing. That’s right – that would be Australia, Europe we suppose. I daren’t repeat in a family newspaper what I uttered upon learning this latest gem.

I can only conclude with a well-known quote by Sir Terry Wogan. “Is it me?”