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Gina G represented the United Kingdom in the 1990s

A History of the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest

25 July 2022 at 14:28 CEST
Gina G represented the United Kingdom in the 1990s
It’s official! The United Kingdom will host the 67th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, the BBC doing so on behalf of Ukraine after their memorable victory in Turin earlier this year. So let’s take a look back at the History of the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest…

The BBC has a rich history of Eurovision participation, and has stepped in to host the Contest numerous times when the previous years’ winning broadcaster could not.

Along with a wealth of historic highs and agonisingly near-misses, the United Kingdom has some of the most passionate and dedicated fans on the planet.

United Kingdom at Eurovision: The Winners
1967Sandie Shaw - Puppet On A String
1969Lulu - Boom Bang-A-Bang
1976Brotherhood of Man - Save Your Kisses For Me
1981Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up
1997Katrina and the Waves - Love Shine A Light

‘It’s Coming Home’…?

The 2023 event will be the 9th time the Contest has taken place in ‘Blighty’. To date, the UK has won the Eurovision Song Contest on 5 occasions and hosted the event on 8 previous occasions: 1960, 1963, 1968 and 1977 in London, 1972 in Edinburgh, 1974 in Brighton, 1982 in Harrogate, and 1998 in Birmingham. 

On top of this, the Contest stalwarts hold the record for finishing second, taking the runner-up spot an impressive (and perhaps frustrating) 16 times.

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1950s

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1950s

Year

Participant

Song

Finished

Points

1956

Did not enter

Did not enter

n/a

n/a

1957

Patricia Bredin

All

7

6

1958

Did not enter

Did not enter

n/a

n/a

1959

Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson

Sing, Little Birdie

Runner-Up

16

Patricia Bredin on stage in Frankfurt HR/ARD

The United Kingdom made its debut in the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1957; the BBC would have taken part in the first Contest a year earlier, but were busy preparing for their own domestic songwriting competition, and so sent their apologies.

The first act to represent the UK was Patricia Bredin and she wasn’t messing about: her track All clocked in at 1 minute and 52 seconds, the shortest Eurovision song for 58 years, until Finland’s Aina Mun Pitää shaved it down to 1:27 in 2015.

The UK was widely expected to host the 1958 Contest (before the tradition of the previous winning country hosting was fully established) but ended up sitting it out, returning for the following edition.

It was in 1959 in Cannes, France, when husband and wife duo Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson entered with Sing, Little Birdie that the BBC tasted a degree of success with the first of their 16 second place finishes - a record tally of silver medals added to by Sam Ryder in Turin earlier this year.

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1960s

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1960s

Year

Participant

Song

Finished

Points

1960

Bryan Johnson

Looking High, High, High

Runner-Up

25

1961

The Allisons

Are You Sure?

Runner-Up

24

1962

Ronnie Carroll

Ring-a-Ding Girl

4

10

1963

Ronnie Carroll

Say Wonderful Things

4

28

1964

Matt Monro

I Love the Little Things

Runner-Up

17

1965

Kathy Kirby

I Belong

Runner-Up

26

1966

Kenneth McKellar

A Man Without Love

9

8

1967

Sandie Shaw

Puppet on a String

Winner

47

1968

Cliff Richard

Congratulations

Runner-Up

28

1969

Lulu

Boom Bang-a-Bang

Winner

18

United Kingdom Host Cities in the 1960s

  • 1960 - Royal Festival Hall, London

  • 1963 - BBC Television Centre, London

  • 1968 - Royal Albert Hall, London

The Netherlands' Teddy Scholten won with Een Beetje in 1959, but the broadcaster declined to host so soon after the 1958 event in Hilversum. This prompted the BBC to grab the chance of hosting for the first time, and so the 1960 Eurovision Song Contest took place in the Royal Festival Hall in the heart of swingin’ London.

The ‘60s saw the romance between Eurovision and UK audiences blossom into a full blown love affair, as the BBC perfected their strategy of picking already popular light-entertainment stars of the day to compete.

Cliff Richard represented the United Kingdom in 1968 BBC

Pop duo The Allisons, Bond theme singer Matt Monro, rock pioneer and movie star Cliff Richard, and TV legend Kathy Kirby, all represented the United Kingdom, and all finished in second place.

In 1967, the BBC finally struck gold with their first Eurovision winner: Sandie Shaw performing Puppet On A String. The barefoot chanteuse had already notched up two number one singles, and her Eurovision success would provide a third global smash hit.

Sandie notoriously hated this song ‘from the very first oompah to the final bang on the big bass drum’ as she recalled, in her autobiography. So it was a good job that it didn’t take long for the UK to produce a second champion.

Performing Boom Bang-a-Bang, Lulu won the 1969 Contest in a four-way tie with France, Spain and the Netherlands; a situation which prompted Finland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden to withdraw from the next Contest in protest.

The 1968 winner, Massiel, with the four winners in 1969.

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1970s

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1970s

Year

Participant

Song

Finished

Points

1970

Mary Hopkin

Knock, Knock Who's There?

Runner-Up

26

1971

Clodagh Rodgers

Jack in the Box

4

98

1972

The New Seekers

Beg, Steal or Borrow

Runner-Up

114

1973

Cliff Richard

Power to All Our Friends

3

123

1974

Olivia Newton-John

Long Live Love

4

14

1975

The Shadows

Let Me Be the One

Runner-Up

138

1976

Brotherhood of Man

Save Your Kisses for Me

Winner

164

1977

Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran

Rock Bottom

Runner-Up

121

1978

Co-Co

The Bad Old Days

11

61

1979

Black Lace

Mary Ann

7

73

United Kingdom Host Cities in the 1970s

  • 1972 - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

  • 1974 - Brighton Dome, Brighton Dome

  • 1977 - Wembley Conference Centre, London

The 1970s saw the United Kingdom’s dominance of the Contest continue as the BBC produced another winner with Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses For Me - still the biggest selling Eurovision single of all time. 

On top of that win, during the ‘70s, the UK finished in the Top 5 at every Contest until they recorded their worst result (up until that point) in 1978 when Co-Co placed 11th with The Bad Old Days. The “poor” result caused something or a stir in the British press. 

But the disappointment was to be short lived as Eurovision entered the 1980s, and Co-Co band member Cheryl Baker joined a new group which would go on to become one of the most successful Eurovision bands of all time. 

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1980s

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1980s

Year

Participant

Song

Finished

Points

1980

Prima Donna

Love Enough for Two

3

106

1981

Bucks Fizz

Making Your Mind Up

Winner

136

1982

Bardo

One Step Further

7

76

1983

Sweet Dreams

I'm Never Giving Up

6

79

1984

Belle and the Devotions

Love Games

7

63

1985

Vikki

Love Is...

4

100

1986

Ryder

Runner in the Night

7

72

1987

Rikki

Only the Light

13

47

1988

Scott Fitzgerald

Go

Runner-Up

136

1989

Live Report

Why Do I Always Get It Wrong

Runner-Up

130

United Kingdom Host Cities in the 1980s

  • 1982 - Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate

In 1981 the pop quartet Bucks Fizz won the Contest for the UK for a 4th time with Making Your Mind Up. The band would go on to achieve hits across the globe including The Land Of Make Believe and My Camera Never Lies - truly the Måneskin of their day. 

 

The ‘80s ended with two near misses for the United Kingdom as Scott Fitzergerald and Live Report finished second to both a young Céline Dion and the first Yugoslavian victory, respectively.

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1990s

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 1990s

Year

Participant

Song

Finished

Points

1990

Emma

Give a Little Love Back to the World

6

87

1991

Samantha Janus

A Message to Your Heart

10

47

1992

Michael Ball

One Step Out of Time

Runner-Up

139

1993

Sonia

Better the Devil You Know

Runner-Up

164

1994

Frances Ruffelle

We Will Be Free (Lonely Symphony)

10

63

1995

Love City Groove

Love City Groove

10

76

1996

Gina G

Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit

8

77

1997

Katrina and the Waves

Love Shine a Light

Winner

227

1998

Imaani

Where Are You?

Runner-Up

166

1999

Precious

Say It Again

12

38

United Kingdom Host Cities in the 1990s

  • 1998 - National Indoor Arena, Birmingham

After another two silver medals for Michael Ball and Sonia in ‘92 and ‘93, the 1990s saw a run of disappointing (for the era) results for the United Kingdom, punctuated by Gina G’s breakout hit Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit.

The dance floor ditty stomped across various Top 40 charts in Europe and landed in the US Billboard Hot 100 - a rarity for a Eurovision entry, and one that placed 8th at that.

That iconic outfit Gina wore in Oslo was custom made by Paco Rabanne for Cher, who was living in Wapping, London, at the time. For whatever reason, the Believe-hitmaker cast aside the glittering garment one afternoon at the Warner Bros offices, where later on Ms G stumbled across it hanging up just days before the contest. She stuffed it into her handbag and the rest is history.

It wouldn’t be until the following year, 1997, that the United Kingdom would win the Eurovision Song Contest for a 5th and (so far) final time. 

Love Shine A Light was originally written as a track for the Samaritans organisation, but several friends and colleagues convinced Katrina Leskanich to enter it into that years’ Song For Europe where it romped to victory, 11,138 votes ahead it’s nearest competition: Yodel In The Canyon Of Love by Do-Re Me feat Kerri.

Victory meant the United Kingdom would be expected to host in 1998, and so they did - in Birmingham!

The Contest in the Midlands became notable for a number of reasons: televoting determined the winner for the first time; it was the final Eurovision where acts were expected to perform in their native language; and it became the last show to feature a live orchestra.

Imaani was the UK’s fifteenth runner-up, narrowly missing out on a home-turf victory when Where Are You? landed second place as the final jury dished out their scores.

But, of course, Birmingham produced an iconic winner regardless: Israeli superstar Dana International won by a margin of 6 points with her track Diva - dressed in feathers by Jean Paul Gaultier and becoming the first openly trans winner of the Eurovision Song Contest.

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 21st Century

United Kingdom at Eurovision in the 21st Century

Year

Participant

Song

Finished

Points

2000

Nicki French

Don't Play That Song Again

16

28

2001

Lindsay Dracass

No Dream Impossible

15

28

2002

Jessica Garlick

Come Back

3

111

2003

Jemini

Cry Baby

26 (Last)

0

2004

James Fox

Hold On to Our Love

16

29

2005

Javine

Touch My Fire

22

18

2006

Daz Sampson

Teenage Life

19

25

2007

Scooch

Flying the Flag (For You)

22

19

2008

Andy Abraham

Even If

25 (Last)

14

2009

Jade Ewen

It's My Time

5

173

2010

Josh Dubovie

That Sounds Good to Me

25 (Last)

10

2011

Blue

I Can

11

100

2012

Engelbert Humperdinck

Love Will Set You Free

25

12

2013

Bonnie Tyler

Believe in Me

19

23

2014

Molly

Children of the Universe

17

40

2015

Electro Velvet

Still in Love with You

24

5

2016

Joe and Jake

You're Not Alone

24

62

2017

Lucie Jones

Never Give Up on You

15

111

2018

SuRie

Storm

24

48

2019

Michael Rice

Bigger than Us

26 (Last)

11

2020

James Newman

My Last Breath

Cancelled

n/a

2021

James Newman

Embers

26 (Last)

0

2022

Sam Ryder

Space Man

Runner-Up

466

United Kingdom Host Cities in the 2020s

  • 2023 - TBD

As the Contest entered the 21st Century, the United Kingdom’s love of Eurovision continued to boom, even if the points on the scoreboard rarely matched the nation’s enthusiasm.

The first victim of the UK’s very own Eurovision ‘millennium bug’ was chart act Nicki French. She set off to Stockholm with the ominously titled Don’t Play That Song Again… and needless to say it wasn’t played again over the end credits.

Jessica Garlick achieved a third place finish in Tallinn in 2002 with Come Back, but hopes of another run of British success were well and truly dashed in Riga the following year as duo Jemini recorded the United Kingdom’s first ever nil points.

Over the next 20 years they’d be followed by 4 other acts finishing at the foot of the scoreboard: Andy Abraham, Josh Dubovie, Michael Rice and James Newman. 

But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for UK fans. 

Boyband Blue finished 5th in the televote (and 11th overall) in 2011, while Jade Ewen (with a little help from Andrew Lloyd Webber) finished 5th in 2009 before joining Amelle and Heidi in the final iteration of the Sugababes.

And of course, finally, in 2022, Sam Ryder fell just short of winning in Turin, but as runner-up with SPACE MAN, the TikTok sensation brought the United Kingdom back to the top end of the Eurovision Song Contest scoreboard.

Now, with the opportunity to host a 9th Concours Eurovision de la Chanson, UK fans will be hoping that this is the start of another successful era, and perhaps one that will eventually result in a first win for the United Kingdom in nearly 25 years.