Maltese Musical Moments28 November 2016 at 09:00 CET
Malta first participated in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1971 but finished last with Marija l-Maltija which was performed by Joe Grech in Maltese. The UK had Renée and Renato, America had Sonny and Cher and Malta had Helen and Joseph who flew the flag in Edinburgh in 1972 with L-imħabba. As with the previous year, the Maltese finished last again.
Down but not out, the country entered the contest again in 1975, this time with a song in English. Renato performed Singing This Song in Stockholm placing 12th out of 19th. The country then withdrew from the contest and did not return again until sixteen years later. It would be fair to say that Malta's best musical moments were still ahead of them.
Could it be?
The Netherlands withdrew from the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest as the date of the competition clashed with its remembrance day. The remaining place in the competition was offered to Malta which could not enter in previous years due to restrictions on the number of participating countries. Georgina & Paul Giordimaina took to the stage in Rome and performed Could It Be. The gentle love duet reversed Malta's fortunes in the competition and the pair finished in sixth place, by far the best result for Malta in the contest. Could it be that the tables were turning?
In 1992 the Netherlands returned to the competition but the limit on the number of participants increased to 23 meaning that Malta could participate again. Mary Spiteri performed the belting ballad Little Child in Malmö, achieving an impressive third place behind the United Kingdom and Ireland. Malta went on to have a string of top-ten results throughout the 1990s and beyond but it wasn't until 1998 that victory looked truly possible.
So near, yet so far
The 1998 Eurovision Song Contest was held in Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK. Chiara represented Malta with a simple ballad, The One That I Love. Throughout the voting it was a tense race between Israel, Malta, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. By the time the final country, FYR Macedonia, was called to vote, the race was wide open with Israel and Malta on the exact same number of points, 166. Israel received eight points which was enough to lock the UK out of victory but for Malta it was still to play for. Ten points went to the UK before final went twelve were awarded to Croatia, leaving Malta in third place in one of the closest contests in the history of the competition.
Shortly after the competition Chiara was interviewed about her experiences. "I'm not the sort of person who goes in and expects to win something but I did have faith in the song and I did know that I could do it, so I just did my best". During the voting Chiara was initially relaxed; "but then I was really nervous", she said. "Nobody ever won this for Malta and I was thinking about what would happen if I would win, a lot of dreams went through my mind. I coped very well, I was very relaxed and I just got up and was going to my dressing room and someone told me that I was the real diva of the night and that was it, I went to my dressing room and cried for two hours".
Whilst Chiara was initially crestfallen, her placing in the contest ignited a hunger for Eurovision in Malta and she was given a hero's welcome when she returned home. "There were about 6000 people at the airport waiting for me, they were all cheering for me". The experience did not put Chiara off the contest and she returned to Eurovision in 2005 with Angel where she placed second behind Greece. She also participated again in 2009 in Moscow and whilst Chiara failed to repeat her previous success, she took Malta to the Grand Final for the first time since 2006.
2002 was another close contest and saw Malta's Ira Losco pipped at the post by Latvia's Marie N. Ira returned to the contest this year and finished third in Semi-Final 1, qualifying for the Grand Final, where she finished 12th overall. Whilst initially disappointed, she acknowledged that the competition is very different to how it was back in 2002.
Between 1991 and 2005 Malta finished in the top ten in twelve contests including two second and two third places. As Finland proved in 2006, if at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Malta have won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest twice though, in 2013 and 2015, making it one of the most successful participating countries in the entire competition. Malta's best result in the Eurovision Song Contest in recent years is eighth in 2013, with Gianluca Bezzina's Tomorrow.
Malta's four appearances in the top three make it the most successful country not to have won the contest. Perhaps it's just a matter of time before the sun finally shines on Malta at Eurovision.