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Christine Marchal-Ortiz: "I feel so nostalgic about Eurovision"

10 October 2017 at 09:00 CEST
Christine Marchal-Ortiz was the Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest between 1996-2002. Stijn Smulders
Christine Marchal-Ortiz was the Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest from 1996 until 2002. The 1990s were a time of great change in both Europe and the Eurovision Song Contest and Christine oversaw many of the changes in the competition during these years. We caught up with Christine to hear more about what happened behind the scenes.

Christine Marchal-Ortiz is originally from France and worked for TF1 in France prior to joining the European Broadcasting Union in the 1990s. Christine worked hard to ensure that the contest remained on track despite the wider challenges in Europe. "My job included helping the broadcaster to choose the venue, agree the budget and being the link between the Host Broadcaster and all the participants. The second part of my job included the long-term evolution of the contest, including overseeing any changes to the rules," she said.

Working in television for a number of years it is perhaps unsurprising that the most enjoyable aspect of the job for Christine was the live show itself. "I loved the show itself, the week before, the excitement. I like TV and the live shows and the event week was really the highlight for me," said Christine. "I also loved working with 25 or more different countries, the daily work was so interesting. Each year you start all over again with new people, new countries, new places. I liked that a lot."   

Changing times, different challenges 

The 1990s saw the Eurovision Song Contest rapidly expand to include new participating countries. This brought different challenges for the competition, including the introduction of a relegation system for the first time. "There were big differences between the Host Broadcasters. For example working with the BBC is very different to working with Estonian Television. It's a challenge but an exciting one," Christine said. "The biggest challenge was to bring the contest into the 20th century and modernise it whilst at the same time keeping the fundamental elements of what people like about the contest," she added.

Christine was in her role when the Reference Group, the governing body of the Eurovision Song Contest, was set up. When the Reference Group was formed there were many ambitious plans for the competition, including the introduction of a Semi-Final, which was finally implemented in 2004. What took so long? "It's good to have ambitions but ambitions take time, especially when there are nearly 30 countries involved," said Christine. 

Christine oversaw a number of key changes in the Eurovision Song Contest which laid the foundations for the long-term development of the format. "We implemented a lot of the big changes including televoting, the marketing of the contest, the launch of the official CD. We also stopped the live orchestra and relaxed the language rules. It was difficult as people were attached to the orchestra at the time but I believe it was the right thing to do to modernise the show."

The fan rumour of 1999

Over the years many Eurovision fans have claimed that the results of the Lithanuian televote in the 1999 Eurovision Song Contest were read the wrong way around. The popular myth is that Ireland should have received one point instead of 12 whilst Estonia should have received the maximum instead of their single point. 

"This does not ring a bell," recalled Christine. "Any queries about voting were always investigated seriously but I don't remember this case in particular." Sweden went on to win the 1999 Eurovision Song Contest with Take Me To Your Heaven performed by Charlotte Nilsson (now Perrelli).

Reflecting on the past

If Christine could start over again would she do anything differently? "I did my best and really cared for the contest. Maybe I would have tried to push to go faster, sometimes we hesitated. Maybe it took us too much time to finally end up with the Semi-Finals but it's something that's easy to say afterwards."

Does Christine have a favourite song from her time working on Eurovision? "For me it was Dana International, it was the nicest victory to experience live. I think she was a great singer with a great song and maybe it opened up minds a little bit."

During Christine's time in her job the Eurovision Song Contest was staged in seven different countries in seven consecutive years. In 2002 she decided to step down from her role to spend more time with her family. Does she miss working on Eurovision? "Every year when the contest arrives I feel excitement and nostalgia. I am still very curious about it and if I don't get to see it live, I watch it recorded. I like to see the voting and see what's changed. I loved being a part of it." 

Thank you to Christine Marchal-Ortiz for taking the time to speak to