When British Eurovision entrant Bonnie Tyler sets her bouffant and dons her shoulder pads on Saturday night, she can be certain of two things. First, she will lose the Eurovision song contest and second, her defeat will be taken as yet another sign the UK does not belong in Europe.
The glitz-bash that helped make “euro” a prefix for trashy is one of few events that unite Europeans divided by language, culture and economic strength. But, as the UK debates leaving the EU, Britons see it as more of a foreign freak show than an event where they truly fit in.
The UK has not won the contest for 15 years and Britons feel no country has truly got their back, not least since it received “nul points” in 2003. East Europeans, former Yugoslavians and Scandinavian countries tend to vote in blocks for each other’s entrants. The UK, if it is lucky, might win support from Ireland and Malta.
“Our attitude to Eurovision is very much reflective of our attitude to Europe,” said Paul Jordan, a researcher at Cardiff University known as “Dr Eurovision”.
“We see it as just another example that Europe hates us,” he added.
Historically, the UK has still performed well – winning five times and coming second 15 times since it first entered in 1957 – but it lost its advantage when other countries were allowed to perform in English at the end of the 1990s.
Now much of the voting reflects geopolitical relationships but even countries eager to keep the UK in the EU, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, have shown little enthusiasm for Britain’s Eurovision entries in recent years.
Dr Jordan believes the problem is that the UK does not take Eurovision seriously enough, sending its clapped out old stars when other countries are entering credible hits – such as this year’s frontrunner, Emmelie de Forest of Denmark.
If Britons would only be less sceptical, they could return to the top of the scoreboard, Dr Jordan said. But as opposition to the political union rises, the UK risks becoming more, not less, distant from Europe, and enthusiasm for Eurovision seems destined to remain strictly ironic.
Get alerts on Eurovision when a new story is published