I haven’t interviewed a UK Eurovision artist for eight years. The last act I spoke to was Daz Sampson. He seemed terribly sweet on the phone during our interview. Incredibly humbled by his opportunity to represent his country. An all-round nice guy. An underdog. And I have a weakness for underdogs, because I hope combined with my rampant imagination always make me think that maybe the underdog will win. Daz came 19th out of 24 countries in the 2006 Eurovision.
So I approach meeting Bianca and Alex from this year’s UK act – Electro Velvet – with a certain amount of trepidation. My heart is pounding. It’s important not to go all dewy-eyed (like I normally do) when I see people who are TV talent. Treat them like normal people, I tell myself. Retain your sense of objectivity, inject a healthy dose of cynicism where appropriate in order to provoke a response and remember above all else that Eurovision is now tougher than ever to participate in, one which doesn’t necessarily reward warm, open personalities.
I ask them first off about appearing at the Eurovision Greatest Hits event the night before at Eventim Apollo. “It was an amazing night. We were amongst the royalty last night,” says Alex referring to the appearances of last year’s winner Conchita and 1997 diva Dana International. “You’re a part of that now – you’re the UK act for this year,” I gesture, like he actually needs reminding. “We haven’t earned our stripes yet,” he replies.
For a second I’m flawed. Humility has been played earlier on in the interview than I’d anticipated. If I’m not careful I’m going to end up rescuing them with further contextualisation of the contest and the interview will be lost.
Dark-eyed, matter-of-fact Alex had already taken me off guard before the interview started, with a well-chosen question directed at me: “Why are the real hardcore fans – people like you – so fascinated by the show?” My explanation is uncharacteristically eloquent. Something along the lines of how those who love it recall an early experience of being allowed to stay up late by their parents. Eurovision on that night was a window into adulthood and late night TV, and being impressionable the live show seemed to be incredibly important. Every subsequent contest sees us, on some level or other, trying to recreate that sense of excitement. That then turns into an annual tradition. And before you know what’s happened, you end up feeling like you own the show like Archers fans do, or Whovians with their Time Lord.
That I’m asked the question at all, is what impresses me more than anything else. It didn’t feel like he’d been briefed to do so, more that there was a genuine desire to gain an understanding of this incredibly important but ultimately insignificant television show. Thinking back on it now I write this up, I realise one other aspect of being asked the question. If I as a fan feel as though I own the show, then a member of this year’s cast has done me the charming favour of showing me some respect. So very often I feel as though I’m having to adopt an otherwise apologetic strategy for my obsession with it.
Bianca, long dark hair (minus the curls she had for the show the night before), a warm sweet smile and mischievous eyes had, explains how they ended up singing their song Still In Love With You.
“Alex and I were sent the song by the songwriters David Mindel and Adrian Bax White , and we just loved it immediately. We didn’t know it was going to be a Eurovision song then, just that when we heard it we wanted to sing it together.” What did they have to think about when the possibility of participating in the Contest was put to them. “Nothing,” says Bianca without a moments thought, “it was a great opportunity – I couldn’t turn that kind of opportunity down.”
This is usually the point when my cynical gland starts pumping out its poison. I visualise the clichéd stories which sometimes denigrate the enthusiasm fans have for the show. Does the potential for negative opinion influence your decision to participate in any way? “I don’t care about that. It doesn’t matter,” chips in Alex. “When the song was revealed a few weeks ago there was a real difference of opinion between those who liked it and those who absolutely didn’t. That means everyone’s talking about it. That’s really important.”
So, they’re modest, a little bit humble, really easy to talk to, have warm engaging personalities and seem robust too. So far so good, I’m thinking to myself. What challenges do you have between now and May? Alex bats this rookie question away – “They’re not so much challenges,” he replies. Bianca, a former participant in The Voice UK, says they’ve both just got to work on the performance, make sure everything is the best they can do and that they’ve enjoyed it. How do they know when you’ve achieved that? “It’s the buzz that you get the off the crowd. You can tell within yourself whether you could have done better. I just don’t want to be disappointed with the performance. For both of us we just want to work the hardest we can so that when we come off the stage and sit in that green room, we know that we’ve done our best and that we gave it our best shot.” “We’ve got two shots at it,” adds Alex, “the jury final and the grand final. Both have got to be amazing. We’ve got to connect with the crowd – you’ve got to get them onside. That way they’ll lift your performance.”
I ask them about experiencing their first Eurovision crowd, singing the song as the warm-up at the Eurovision Greatest Hits show the night before. “It was a phenomenal reaction,” says Bianca, “It was deafening. It was really nice to hear them and think ‘they approve of us’“. Again with the humility. They’re both at risk of breaking my heart.
It’s at this point I’m reminded about another rather odd part of being a follower of the Eurovision. There’s a sense of pride yes, but also an inexplicable desire to wrap them in cotton wool and make sure they’re given the support they’ll need in what at this moment in times seems like the rough and tumble of Eurovision PR machine. There’s a desire to impart some kind of sage advice (bizarre given that I have absolutely no idea what performing in the Eurovision actually involves), or give them a warm smile and a borderline gesture involving the phrase, “just make sure you enjoy the whole thing”.
This is of course an illustration of the unusual status a Eurovision act is bestowed by fans. Long before they step onto stage and regardless of the final votes they are awarded, Electro Velvet have already secured their place in Eurovision history as the UK’s act for 2015. They will always be remembered just by virtue of the fact they’re the act. But more so than in previous years, I warmed to the song almost immediately. They are, in some circles, already Eurovision celebrities. They’re also performers who will need to look right on stage and on TV and for me, right now, that’s the unknown which injects the necessary sense of jeopardy between now and May. Countless Eurovision songs from all sorts of countries have worked well in a preview video or in a studio but suffered in the context of the expanse of the Eurovision stage or in the context of the other acts on the night. If you’re looking for a shining example take a look at Hungary’s Dance With Me from 2009 – a tightly produced video accompanying a thumping disco number which ended up suffering in the live performance on stage. I’m sure it won’t be anything like that. Sure of it.
It may only be three minutes of TV Bianca and Alex are working on, but the eyes of those like me, with a never-ending fascination and enthusiasm for the contest, are on them now. I’m not entirely sure how I’d feel about that if I was in their shoes. And after only twenty minutes in their company reinforces the unconditional support I’m happy to offer. They’re not just performers on stage looking for votes, but people like you and me who are taking a risk and looking to do their best. Rather them than me. Even if I did have the talent, I’m not sure I’ve got the balls for it.
My only hope is that now I’ve spent some time with them, things don’t go the same way as it did for Daz Sampson when I was equally effusive in his interview.
“Will we see you in Vienna?” asks Alex as we pack up to leave. “I’ll be there. But I’m sure you’ll be very, very busy,” I reply. Truth be told, I don’t want to jinx things for them.
From now until Sunday 24 May, I’m keeping a Eurovision Diary. Follow what’s going on in the Eurovision bubble at www.thoroughlygood.me/eurovision