Eurovision fans keep celebrating Eurovision together every Saturday at 20:00 GMT (21:00 CEST) with #EurovisionAgain, which hosts synced viewings of classic Contests for fans to watch in-time at home and come together on Twitter. This week we travel to Dublin, making a step back in time to 1997, which is the last time that Ireland hosted the competition and the last time that the United Kingdom won Eurovision. Come time-travel with us!
Ireland won the Eurovision Song Contest 4 times between 1992 and 1996. Just like in 1993, 1994 and 1995, Ireland's public broadcaster RTÉ hosted the Eurovision Song Contest again in 1997. Despite initial rumours that Australia had offered to host in Sydney’s Opera House and rumours that RTÉ might team up with the BBC in Northern Ireland, they decided to host it alone.
Straight To The Point!
1997 marks the 7th and, to date, last time that the Eurovision Song Contest took place in Ireland; the 6th in Dublin, and the 3rd at the Point Theatre. It was the 4th time in 5 years that the same country hosted the event, a record that RTÉ, as mentioned during the broadcast, is extremely proud of. It is also a record that no other country has come close to beating since.
Security was tight in Dublin after a number of alerts which even saw the Point Theatre evacuated during the event week. Thankfully, the contest took place without a hitch. The 1997 Eurovision Song Contest is remembered as one of the top productions of its time. As history shows, experience helped RTÉ to produce more spectacular shows with every passing win. The achievement is even greater when the financial constraints facing RTÉ after hosting so many times in a short timeframe are taken into account.
Eurovision Song Contest 2.0
Some important rules were changed from this Eurovision Song Contest onwards. Televoting was introduced for the first time in 5 of the participating countries: Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. It was a successful experiment which was implemented from then on.
The orchestra also saw their days numbered as, from 1997, full backing tracks were allowed without restriction, meaning that the songs could be accompanied by pre-recorded music instead of the live orchestra. 4 entries, including the home entry from Ireland, made full use of this new rule.
In the 1990s, the number of countries that wanted to participate was higher than the available spots in the Grand Final. The EBU raised the maximum number of participants to 25 and the audio pre-selection that was in place in 1996 was replaced with a new system. In 1997, the average results of all countries in the previous 4 Contests were calculated and the countries with the lowest averages had to wait until the following year to participate. Israel withdrew voluntarily, and Bosnia & Herzegovina took their place. Belgium, Finland, Romania and Slovakia were all absent in Dublin that year. All, with the exception of Bosnia & Herzegovina, returned in 1998.
The opening sequence of the show included messages from former Contest stars, including Céline Dion and a-ha's Morten Harket, beamed onto a massive video wall. Video clips with greetings from Eurovision legends including ᗅᗺᗷᗅ’s Benny and Björn, Johnny Logan and Julio Iglesias were also shown between songs.
Walking on Sunshine
The UK and Ireland topped the ranking as they did in 1970, 1992 and 1993, although they swapped places with the hosts on this occasion, giving way to the United Kingdom's win. Marc Roberts was Ireland's runner-up with his rendition of the evocative ballad Mysterious Woman which included the cult line, "Were you from as far away as the Gulf of Araby?" The Irish record became even more impressive with 4 victories and a second place in just six years. In the 1990s, Ireland was only out of the top 10 twice.
While the presenters promised at the beginning of the show that, “it’s not gonna be easy to pick a winner”, the juries and televoters seemed to have no trouble. Katrina & The Waves scored an unprecedented 227 points with their song Love Shine A Light, winning by a landslide. It was also the record for most 12 points (10 times) and the biggest gap between first and second place (70 points). The winning song gave Eurovision its biggest hit song since Hold Me Now in 1987 and the band’s biggest hit since Walking on Sunshine in 1985. Despite this success, Katrina & The Waves disbanded shortly after their victory.
The winning title, Love Shine A Light, inspired the name of the show to be broadcast on Saturday 16 May in place of the Eurovision Song Contest 2020: Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light.
Boybands vs Girlbands
Presenter Carrie Crowley was one of RTÉ’s news editor at the time, and Ronan Keating was the frontman of the very popular boyband, Boyzone. The group were the interval act presenting an original song called Let The Message Run Free. It was later released alongside their hit-single Picture Of You, which was a #2 hit in the UK and the Irish charts.
Their appearance in the Contest was an attempt to appeal to the younger generation. As host Carrie Crowley said: "Tonight, youth has its fling," which was timely given that this was the era of boyband and girlband success. 1997 was a reflection of this trend, with Sweden’s group Blond and Hungary’s VIP, representing the boybands, and Spice Girls-inspired group E.N.I. representing Croatia. Meanwhile, the Netherlands sent a “ladies band”, Mrs. Einstein, which called themselves the 'Old Spice Girls' in a funny reference to their age and the comparisons to the Wannabe hitmakers.
After the UK and Ireland, most of the Mediterranean countries managed very good results in the final ranking.
According to the new rules of the time, Turkey had to receive at least 115 points to be able to return in the following year, but they had never received more than 57. So they sent the same singer to try to improve the numbers, Sebnem Paker, who amassed a wealth of 121 points for Dinle, ranking her country in the Top 3 for the first time since their 1975 debut. Sebnem tried to represent Turkey again the following year with the song Çal which finished 4th in their national selection.
Italy was back with a one-off entry in 1997, returning for the first time since 1993. Representing the country in Dublin was the duo Jalisse, fresh off their Sanremo win with the song Fiumi Di Parole which also became their Eurovision entry. It was well favoured and placed 4th but, despite the good ranking, RAI withdrew Italy from the competition again, this time for 14 years.
Cyprus matched their best ever result, 5th, with the song that opened the show, Mana Mou. Spain offered a more traditional love ballad, Sin Rencor, written and performed by Marcos Llunas who took it to 6th place, while France’s Fanny performed a more contemporary one, Sentiments Songes, ranking one place behind, in 7th. Malta's Let Me Fly, a new age piece in the style of recent winners at the time, and Slovenia, with the medieval-sounding Zbudi Se, closed the Top 10 ranking.
The language ban
For a number of years, some countries asked for the language rules to be relaxed. The rules in place in 1997 stated that every participating country had to perform in 1 of the official languages. There was a perception among many broadcasters that English language songs had an advantage, a feeling which increased after Ireland and the UK topped the rankings in almost all of the previous 5 years. In 1992 the top 3 songs were also the only 3 songs in English in the entire contest.
Some countries pushed the boundaries of the language rule. Norway and Austria used several words and expressions in English in their songs; it didn't appear to help with their final results though. Austria placed 21st with Bettina Soriat and her early 1990s dancefloor beats in One-Step, and Norway came last with 0 points with Tor Endresen’s 1960s retro rock-inspired San Francisco. It was the 8th time Norway finished at the bottom of the list, and it wouldn't be the last, although they were not alone this time.
Célia Lawson from Portugal also got no points for her ballad Antes Do Adeus, which she sang in Portuguese. The title translates as "Before Goodbye" and, coincidentally, the entry performed before, from Bosnia & Herzegovina, was called Goodbye so in the running order, it was actually “After Goodbye”.
It was 22 points for Germany’s Bianca Shomburg, fresh from winning the most popular talent show, the European Soundmix Show. There, she imitated Eurovision winner, Celine Dion, but sadly couldn’t imitate her success at Eurovision, placing 18th with Ralph Siegel's ballad Zeit.
After failing to qualify in the 1996 audio pre-selection, Russia was back in the Eurovision Song Contest with 1 of their biggest stars, Alla Pugacheva. She was the wife of the previous Russian entrant, Philip Kirkorov, and performed her self-written song Primadonna. In the week of rehearsals, she acted like a true primadonna, arriving at the Point Theatre in a limousine, while husband Kirkorov used to get the shuttle bus with the rest of the delegation. After Alla finished in 15th place, Russia left the competition and only returned in 2000.
Icelandic singer Paul Oscar broke new ground with his performance on a white leather sofa, flanked by 4 women in leather dominatrix outfits who represented death in My Last Dance, or as it was in Icelandic, Minn Hinsti Dans. The song scored well with televoters; Sweden gave the song 8 points meaning that it ranked 3rd in the national vote and the UK gave 6 points as it came 5th in the popular vote. If televoting had been used in all countries at the time, and this trend continued, Iceland may have been in the top 10.
A lasting legacy
1997 was a ground-breaking production and a triumph for RTÉ. The introduction of televoting would revolutionize the Eurovision Song Contest scoring and it was extended to almost all participating countries in the 1998 Contest.
The Executive Producer of the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest, Noel Curran, has gone on to take up the position of Director-General of the EBU and, in a twist of fate, Noel is married to former Eurovision winner Eimear Quinn!