I guess you can go back as far as 1981 for my earliest memory of my active interest the Eurovision Song Contest, when my grandmother first got myself and my cousin interested in watching the previews and then the final itself. And as history shows it was a good year to start with as my native United Kingdom won the title with Bucks Fizz and Making Your Mind Up!
From then on I remember the days of eagerly awaiting the previews on BBC Television every year so that I could hear and get to know the songs in advance before the final. In the early 80's we never had a video recorder at home to record the show, so back in those crazy prehistoric days what I had to do to get a recording of the songs was to hand hold a tape recorder to the television set and threaten the rest of the family that if anyone walked in or made any noise during that show there would be big trouble!!.
As the 1980's progressed, technology did too and it wasn't long before I started to video record the previews and finals. I also set myself a target when I was on a summer holiday overseas of buying that particular countries Eurovision Song contest entry on 7" vinyl record! How times have changed!.
In 1989 I found an article in a magazine called Smash Hits which enlightened me, it said that there were a number of fan clubs for the Eurovision Song Contest and provided addresss to write off to join. I was stunned to find out that it wasn't just me who had this fascination and level of interest - there WERE others out there!
From that moment I began to build a network of contacts and quickly realised that a whole new dimension about the contest opened up, this was called national finals! the Eurovision Song Contest was not just about two sunday afternoons in April with preview shows and the final show in April or May, oh no - this was a whole year event where countries were holding their own competitions to pick their songs months in advance! You can imagine how quickly my video collection quadrupled upon discovering this!
The next pivotal year for me was 1994. In April I read an article in a newspaper which was offering a package with hotel and tickets to the Eurovision Song Contest. So at the last minute myself and a friend decided to go. And a wonderful time we had, not only the whole experience of finally attending the contest, but the privelege of beind one of the first people to see the amazing Riverdance debut performance on TV, the getting to meet some of the artists themselves and realise they are in most very nice and approachable people. That was it, i already had the bug. There was no way I was ever going to be watching the show on a television set at home again!
In 1995 we did the same package again, but made another discovery which was to shape future trips for me to the Eurovision Song Contest. This being the rehearsals and press conferences and parties, and you can imagine my astonishment as an impressionable 21 year old when I realised that the parties on the whole had FREE drinks for the duration! It soon became evident to me that this whole thing was about a lot more than just a three-hour show every year. I decided that in the future I would like to experience the whole event from the beginning of rehearsals to the very last twelve points coming in at the end of the final show, and partake in a constructive role.
So from 1996 to date I have always applied for full press accreditation to work backstage at the Eurovision Song Contest. I have worked mainly interviewing the artists on a 1-1 basis, writing up reports on press conferences, getting photographs for publication in various media. And in 2007 I joined with Eurovision.tv to carry on this type of work for the official website. It is a very exciting role right now, the Eurovision Song Contest itself has changed immeasurably over recent years and it's my ambition whilst in Belgrade in May this year to support our team on this great site to offer our readers even more than we did in Helsinki, ideally taking you on a journey backstage and offering a previously unseen insight in to many aspects of the contest.
In the mean time it's a very busy season of national finals with more countries participating than ever before. I wrote this blog from my hotel room in Tallinn, where I was attending and reporting on the Estonian Eurolaul 2008 for Eurovision.tv. From 1998 onwards I have also enjoyed visiting and reporting on several national finals in Malta, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, Ukraine, and of course the United Kingdom.
During these and other general travels I always have tried to get a feel for the popularity and perception of the Eurovision Song Contest with the domestic audience. For instance from my experience, in Malta when it's national finals night the streets are pretty much empty. The show holds similar popularity in Estonia with a high audience share.
Perhaps the most surprising evidence I came across was on my last vacation at the end of 2007 whilst touring around Australia for three weeks. I actually managed to find copies of the Official 2007 Eurovision Song Contest DVD and CD in several record shops in all of the three most heavily populated cities in Australia - Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Not only that, but one particular store in Melbourne also had the 2005 and 2006 Official CD's and DVD's in stock! The contest is shown in Australia on SBS and there is a following of fans generally amongst the Australian population.
So, that was a brief resumee of the last 15 years of my Eurovision Song Contest experiences. I hope that in 2023 i'll still be here, together with a walking stick or zimmer frame maybe, telling you about another 15 years experience of this great event.