It’s now four decades since that exciting evening in Dublin when Bucks Fizz won the Eurovision Song Contest for the United Kingdom with their entry ‘Making Your Mind Up’.
The Fizz are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the victory (which took place on Saturday 4 April, 1981) with an online gig and lots of surprises throughout the day. They’re also hoping to mark the occasion later in the year with a live concert when pandemic restrictions ease.
Making Your Mind Up is such a well known and much loved Eurovision party staple that it’s easy to forget it only won by 4 points and one of the band members, Cheryl Baker, almost gave up on pop music entirely just before the Contest!
Eurovision.tv caught up with Cheryl who told us all about her journey from Bethnal Green to the backstage green room.
The Bad Old Days: Paris 1978
Cheryl began her pop career as a vocalist in Co-Co, the United Kingdom’s act for the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest in Paris. The entry was called The Bad Old Days and, unfortunately, it lived up to its name, as the singer explains:
“When I was young I watched Sandie Shaw win for the United Kingdom (Puppet on a String, 1967) for the very first time and I thought then ‘that’s it, that’s my gold medal, forget the Olympics, I now want to be a singer in a band, to enter the Eurovision Song Contest for my country, and to win the grand prix!’. And so, I joined Co-Co.
In 1978 we entered A Song For Europe (the national selection show) and won it. So here was I, about to hopefully fulfil my childhood ambition of winning the Eurovision Song Contest... but it didn’t go to plan.”
The highest mark The Bad Old Days received was an 8 courtesy of Germany, but it failed to inspire many more juries, earning a total of 61 points from the other 19 competing countries.
“At that time, the UK had mostly either won or come second in the Contest, and certainly placed within the Top 5 every year. Not this year. We came 11th which was the worst the UK had ever done at the Eurovision Song Contest, and it absolutely broke my heart. I felt like I’d let the Queen down!”
Nobody can be sure how Queen Elizabeth II reacted to Co-Co's performance but Cheryl was right about the result. Until 1978, the United Kingdom had enjoyed a run of 11 consecutive Top 5 finishes, so the low placing would have come as something of a disappointment.
Baker laughs about it now and suggests the United Kingdom would jump at the chance to finish 11th these days!
Making Your Mind Up: office job or pop stardom?
By the 1980s Cheryl had given up on Co-Co and decided to take a secretary job at Mayfair Studios where the group had recorded their music.
The career change turned out to be a stroke of luck, as officer worker Cheryl was recognised by singer and music publisher Nicola Martin, who was in the studio working on a demo track… Making Your Mind Up.
Nicola played our Co-Co vocalist the song and asked how she felt about joining one of the bands she was putting together for Song For Europe 1981.
“Nicola had already secured Mike Nolan for the band, who was short and blonde, so she thought it would look good if the rest of the band was short and blonde. That was the criteria!” Cheryl jokes.
“And the name Bucks Fizz was because when Nicola recorded the demo, she was drinking a bucks fizz at the time. We could easily have been called ‘Cup of Tea’.”
After a little indecision over the final line-up, eventually Jay Aston and Bobby G were invited to join Cheryl and Mike to complete the group. The newly formed Bucks Fizz stormed their national final and went on to travel to the 26th Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin.
For Baker, the difference between the French and Irish Contests couldn’t have been more stark:
“It was like chalk and cheese. Paris 1978 was very formal and I was young, I’d only been in the business three years at that time - it didn’t feel like I’d earned my stripes yet. I wasn’t ready.
Whereas three years later, Dublin 1981 was amazing. I was older and wiser, I had experience of Eurovision and I knew how disappointed I could be and so I pushed that to the back of my mind and thought ‘you know what - let’s just have fun!’
And we did have fun! The Irish know how to party, and so rather than keeping everybody separate and having formal soirees as was the case in Paris, in Ireland it was just a hoot. So I felt much more relaxed.”
Although Cheryl felt more relaxed in Dublin, the final voting sequence turned out to be one of the most tense in Eurovision history!
With just two juries left to reveal their scores, the United Kingdom, Germany (Lena Valaitis with Johnny Blue) and Switzerland (Peter, Sue and Marc performing Io Senza Te) were tied on 120 points.
It came down to the final set of marks. Eight points from Sweden was just enough to put the United Kingdom out of reach, earning Cheryl the gold medal she’d dreamt of as a little girl.
Eurovision Song Contest 1981 (Top 5)
🇬🇧 United Kingdom
Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up (136 points)
Lena Valaitis - Johnny Blue (132 points)
Jean Gabilou - Humanahum (125 points)
Peter, Sue and Marc - Io Senza Te (121 points)
Sheeba - Horoscopes (105 points)
No prizes for guessing the secret Bucks Fizz ingredient Cheryl believes gave the United Kingdom the edge over Germany….
“‘Making Your Mind Up’ was a good Eurovision song, no doubt about it, but the outfits and the rip away skirts were the icing on the cake that won the competition for us and I’m pretty sure of that.”
Details of how The Fizz are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest victory can be found on their Facebook page. The full interview with Cheryl Baker can be viewed over on the official Eurovision YouTube channel.