By British Billy, 48th Fighter Wing public affairs
/ Published May 10, 2011
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- One of the many great things about being in Britain is that we are so close to mainland Europe. Some might beg to differ, and there is much disagreement about how close we should be to our European chums politically and financially. All this aside, I think there's a lot to be said in favour of having so many vastly different communities, languages and cultures in close proximity. I note, for instance, that my food pouches have their flavours in several different European translations; it all broadens the mind, as well as the girth.
At no time is the curious phenomenon that is Europe more celebrated than at the Eurovision Song Contest. This year, the grand finale will be May 14 in Dusseldorf, Germany, following the German victory in 2010's contest by songstress, Lena.
The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the longest running television shows in the world. It was May 24, 1956, when Europe saw the first-ever Eurovision Song Contest. As it enters its 55th year, the contest has become a modern European tradition.
The rules of the ESC have evolved over the years, but essentially, all the countries vote for all the other countries and hope that they will not suffer the ignominy of ending the evening with "nul points" (French for "no points").
The contest is generally hosted in three or four languages, and there are now many more countries taking part than in the early days, which has led to the introduction of semi-finals. I have often wondered how Israel has managed to become part of Europe, but perhaps they love Eurovision so much, they couldn't resist the opportunity. Apparently Israel is lucky enough to be within the European Broadcasting Area.
There was much controversy back in 1998 when Israel won Eurovision with their song, "Diva." It was performed by a transsexual singer, Dana International, who narrowly beat off stiff competition from Malta to emerge victorious. The hot news is that Dana International is performing again this year with her own composition, "Ding Dong".
It might only be a song contest, but the internal machinations of European politics are evident in voting patterns. Other countries seem to take this competition much more seriously than do British audiences; for astute viewers, when the scores come in, it is clear just who wants to be friends with whom.
There is scandal, too. An investigation in Spain has uncovered skullduggery which claims to show that in 1968 the dictator, Francisco Franco, had the vote rigged, ensuring that the British singer, Cliff Richard, then a 27-year-old starlet, never had a chance of winning with his song, "Congratulations." The U.K.'s entry was pipped at the post by Hispanic entry "La La La." Such memorable song titles.
The tradition of musical outrages did not end with the 1960s. Some of the costumes and performances must be seen to be believed. This annual festival of song has delighted and appalled in equal measure. Thirty years ago, it sent Abba to international fame. It also presented the world with the Finnish heavy metal band, Lordi, who outraged certain religious elements of the Finnish and Greek religious communities with their wild costumes and stage performance. They brought the first-ever victory to Finland, however, and were greeted back in their homeland as heroes.
In case you're wondering, the last time the United Kingdom won was back in 1997 when Katrina and the Waves were victorious with "Love, shine a light." The band is better known for their international hit "Walking on Sunshine." Katrina Leskanich, the lead singer, was a student of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system here in the U.K.; her father, Theodore, is a U.S. Air Force retired colonel. He served in the Vietnam War from 1971 to 1972 and was stationed in various parts of the U.S. and Europe, including RAF Mildenhall.
My top tip for an unforgettable evening is to join together with some British friends, have some nibbles, switch on the Eurovision Song Contest, and try to work out who will be the new champions. This year's entry is the boy-band, Blue, who'll be performing their song "I Can". Whether they can or not, of course, we'll have to see. Over recent years, the U.K. has not had a glorious track record in Eurovision. Blue has some tough competition, including X Factor rejects, Jedward, who are representing Ireland. No doubt the fur will fly.
If you decide to watch the contest, then you may well feel at the end of the experience that you have merely lost three hours of your life. It depends on your sense of humour and taste - or lack of it. Personally, I find the mixture of insanity and banality, with the occasionally morsel of musicality, quite delicious.