Who would have thought that what started as a childhood hobby would turn into something which would have such an impact upon my education and, essentially, my professional development? Not me – at least, not then!
Every year as I was growing up, Eurovision would always be on in our house, in the background, with really only me really watching it. My parents used to live in Malta and so my mum often paid attention to see what the Maltese had come up with, but that was about it. I have vague memories of Johnny Logan’s song and of Emma, but the first contest I clearly remember was 1993.
I was sent upstairs to watch it on the TV in my parents’ room, since they were having a dinner party. I loved Sonia as a kid and was convinced she would walk it. At one point in the voting it looked like she might just do it. Cue shrieks of excitement from me.
My Dad must have heard what was going on and trundled up the stairs thinking I was watching Match of the Day. I can still see the picture of bemusement (and mild disappointment) when he realised it was Eurovision! I didn’t do myself any favours when I cried after Sonia lost to Ireland’s Niamh Kavanagh either.
From that moment on I was hooked, but all the while thinking that I was the only one who liked this TV show. People at school watched it and talked about it the following Monday, but nobody seemed to share my passion and excitement for it.
Then came 1996 and I was 100% convinced that Gina G would storm to victory. I remember being most upset when my Mum needed to run an errand and bundled me into a car at the start of the show – with the only solace being that I could listen to it on the radio. The UK performed early that year and I still recall that sinking feeling when I heard Gina G sing, she had messed up! We hadn’t missed much by the time we got home and mum was able to listen to Malta’s song which was “quite good for Malta”. Whatever that means.
1997 was the first year I actually thought to record the show! This was when my interest in Eurovision really took off. That was also the year that we got the internet and all of a sudden I was connected with others who shared my peculiar interest! Many of those names I am still in touch with now. I joined the now-defunct Eurovision Network and attended my first convention in 1999.
In February 2000 I went along to the Top of the Pops studio to be part of the audience for ‘A Song For Europe.’ I was so excited since a singer I liked, Nicki French, was taking part! There was me standing there when I spotted a lady swaying happily to the other songs – it was Nicki herself. Who would have thought that the nice lady who sang our song would go onto become a good pal 12 years later?
Somewhere in this video, you can spot Paul… (try front of stage, on the right!)
I first attended Eurovision in 2000 and absolutely loved it. Again I was convinced that the UK would storm it, but, alas, it wasn’t to be. I think Stockholm will always be special to me because it was my first contest. It will also be unique in that I went in the days that I didn’t really drink alcohol!
After a break for my A-levels and first year of University, I attended again in 2003 and have been every year since. I can honestly say it’s my favourite hobby. It’s through Eurovision that I became interested in Estonia and Eastern Europe in general. I studied several history modules on the region as part of my degree and I think Eurovision definitely helped to develop this interest. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on Eurovision and then applied for a PhD scholarship. I didn’t think for a minute that the proposal would be accepted but it was. I learned Estonian and even interviewed the former Prime Minister and current First Lady!
People ask my “Why Eurovision?” and it can be a tricky one to explain. There is a spectrum of fandom I suppose. Some would say that I’m die-hard just for going. I don’t think I am when compared to others. My thesis turned Eurovision into a job for me and whilst I was incredibly fortunate to have that opportunity, it did change my view of the contest in a way. That said I still enjoy it immensely. The atmosphere is absolutely electric.
I liken it to the opening ceremony of the World Cup or the Olympic Games. Where else would you be standing in a queue talking to complete strangers from around the world who are just as excited as you are? Then, of course, there are the friendships that are formed. I have met some wonderful people who have become firm friends. It’s not all about Eurovision; these are friendships in the “real world”, too! It also takes me to countries that I might never have gone to. I honestly doubt I would have gone to Serbia or Finland. Similarly, this year, the opportunity to go to Azerbaijan is one which I hadn’t thought of in my wildest dreams – it’s amazing!
It’s funny… little did I think that when Estonia won the contest in 2001 it would plant the seeds which, ten years later, have turned into my PhD! I’m looking forward to the coming years and seeing what will happen with Eurovision in the future. 2012 is already shaping up to be a year to remember!