The 1988 Eurovision Song Contest marked a major breakthrough in the history of the competition. The show, staged in Dublin, was given a makeover to attract a younger audience. Host broadcaster RTE introduced a modern set, at that point the largest in the history of the contest. Two giant video walls and a computerised scoreboard were also unveiled. At the time, it was a ground breaking production and set the standard for future editions of the contest. However, 1988 will always be remembered for one of the most thrilling voting moments in the history of the competition, and as the contest that launched a legend, Celine Dion.
21 countries participated in 1988. Denmark was represented the group Hot Eyes who performed in the contest for the third time. Lead singer Kirsten was heavily pregnant at the time and gave birth just three weeks after the contest. Luxembourg was represented by Lara Fabian who went on to have a major international career. However, the night belonged to Switzerland and Celine Dion, although it almost did not happen.
The UK entry was comfortably in the lead towards the end of the voting and it looked like the singer Scott Fitzgerald would emerge victorious. The final country to vote, Yugoslavia, gave Switzerland six points putting them one point in the lead. The Yugoslav jury did not award any points to the UK meaning that Celine Dion won the contest by a single point in one of the closest and most exciting voting sequences in Eurovision history.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Scott Fitzgerald recalled his Eurovision memories with great fondness. "I can laugh about it now," he says. "I have no animosity or anything like that. I never did. I'm a professional singer. You just get on with it. After Celine Dion won I went over to her and gave her a big hug and kiss".
Celine Dion opened the 1989 Eurovision Song Contest with her winning entry, Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi, and also premiered the English language single, Where Does My Heart Beat Now? At the time of the contest she could barely speak English and was said to have recorded most of her debut English album, Unison, phonetically.
1988 marks the last time that a French language song won the Eurovision Song Contest. Whilst Celine does not perform Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi in concert, it was included on her French language greatest hits album, On Ne Change Pas, released in 2005. It would be some years before Celine Dion took the world by storm but the Eurovision Song Contest was a crucial part of her journey.