The 61st Eurovision Song Contest kicked off last night with its first semi-final in Stockholm, and already the pundits are despairing of the UK doing any better this year than in previous dismal showings.
Even the Contest’s most loyal champion, the late, great Terry Wogan – who will surely be paid fitting tribute on Saturday evening by the BBC – grew increasingly weary of the political voting on the show, where geographical neighbours started looking out for each other, Cyprus made its allegiance to Greece over Turkey comically clear, and the UK’s withering series of defeats couldn’t be put solely down to the fact that its entry sounded like an inferior version of the Waffles ad.
Our entry this year, Joe and Jake with a pair of guitars and cherubic grins, are at least in the top ten favourites, according to the bookies. However, this may mean nothing when it comes to Saturday night, with voting blocs across the continent (and Israel, and Australia) putting their weight behind someone else – and not just because the artist is performing naked with a pair of wolves (yes, looking at you, Belarus).
With such collegiate influence afoot, who CAN the UK rely on to make it feel like less like an island, as the votes come in? According to the serious number-crunching of accounting technicians AAT, our biggest Eurovision friend is Ireland, who’ve given us 187 points in total since both countries participated for the first time in 1957. Besides this predictable ally, our most loyal supporters have been Austria (175 votes) and Portugal (152).
Who doesn’t like us? AAT informs us that the country who’s dished out the fewest votes in our direction is Greece, with a meagre 85 votes in six decades. Not giving much more away, Italy with 88 and Finland with 97.
Surely this says more about differing musical styles than it does about political differences or geographical chasms. While Ireland used to do consistently well with their power ballads – thank you, Johnny Logan – it seems their voters have been equally amenable to the UK’s more diverse offerings. Ireland is the only country to have given the UK points at every contest in the last decade, which is pretty loyal considering the likes of 2007’s Scooch (‘Flying the Flag For You’) and last year’s Electro Velvet.
In contrast, Greece has obviously been less impressed, understandable when you consider their own offerings, more dramatic, folky and generally in their own language.
When it comes to sharing out our precious UK votes, who do we like in return? Unsurprisingly, our most beloved contestant is Ireland, with a whopping 209 of the points of the UK jury, and more recently, public voters going in the direction of Mr Logan and his compatriots. Behind them, it seems our admiration for Sweden has endured long since ABBA in 1974, with 170 points going to them, and Germany with 144 – the latter meaning we can count ourselves partially responsible for the victories of 1982’s Nicole with ‘A Little Peace’ and Lena’s ‘Satellite’ in 2010.
Poor Portugal, however, has only received 29 UK points in the Contest’s history - well, can you name a Portuguese entry? – while it is evident we’re not much fonder of Finland (37) and Italy (48).
For the UK's Swedish ambassador, Nicola Clas, the voting can often highlight tensions between countries, however surprising. She remembers 1995, when Sweden gave its neighbour Norway nul points. Despite the latter going on to win the Contest, the Swedish ambassador to Oslo was called upon to apologise.
If you want to discover the country we apparently have the least rapport with – musically speaking – then it’s clear from the voting over the last decade. The UK has not given Montenegro a single point in that time, nor has it received any in return. Ouch! See below - how many points for Montenegro's Highway performing 'The Real Thing'? (Clue: alas, they did not make the cut for the 2016 final after last night's performance)
Nicola Clas told this week's Radio Times: "Voting for your neighbours has always been part of the contest. On its own, it will never be enough to swing the contest: the only way to win is to get points from all over the continent. As Abba’s Benny and Björn said, 'Everything always begins and ends with a good song.'"
Other countries whose fingers obviously slipped when it came to dishing out the votes to the UK: Austria and Finland, a decade of nul points all round.
In return, those receiving nul points from the UK in the last 10 years include Armenia, Belarus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Macedonia, San Marino and Slovenia.
Of course, that could all be about to change if the Belarus entry lives up to his promise to perform naked, with wolves, surely an act to bring Europe together if ever there was one.
The Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals continue on Thursday on BBC Four at 8pm, with the Grand Final on Saturday evening on BBC One. Nicola Clas presents The Swedish Ambassador’s Guide to Eurovision on BBC World Service, which you can listen to here.
Tap the first picture below to open the slideshow:
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