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It’s A Heartache For The United Kingdom Written by on March 7, 2013 | 16 Comments

The puns are easy enough to write, but then again, with such an iconic back catalogue it’s a relatively easy target to hit. Following on from last year’s experiment with a singer of statue (Engelbert Humperdinck), the BBC have went for more of the same. Bonnie Tyler (61) last appeared in the UK Top 40 in 1984 (with ‘Holding Out For A Hero‘) and the Welsh singer will be flying the flag in Malmö with a new song from Desmond Child (who has an impressive roster of songs, including Cher’s ‘Just Like Jesse James‘, Ricky Martin’s ‘Living La Vida Loca‘, and Michael Bolton’s ‘How Can We Be Lovers?‘).

I just wonder what lesson the BBC learned from last year’s adventure with ‘The Hump’ that has led them down a remarkably similar looking road? In a year when Macedonia are sending an honest to goodness ‘National Treasure’, when Spain are sending a group who easily wear the label ‘current’ and ‘successful’, and many countries are aiming for the younger demographic with their singers… the BBC have went for another ‘historical’ name.

Yes Bonnie Tyler is back out on tour, yes there’s a new album, and yes she has a fan base in Europe… but haven’t we heard these justifications before on a left field internal choice for the UK?

Bonnie Tyler in Action

Holding out for a mic stand

Okay, perhaps people are thinking about Germany and Cascada, who have been around since the turn of the century. But they’ve never really went away, always being around the dance scene, and topped the UK singles chart as recently as 2009. Compared to Tyler, Natalie Horler is as current as a Girls Aloud track.

What’s upsetting is that the choice of artist seems to be from the same mindset as 2012 – a year where the United Kingdom was perilously close to being at the foot of the table. Only Tooji’s off-key singing prevented that (and arguably if Sofi Marinova had qualified instead of Tooji, the Balkan cultural vote would have meant the UK would have had another 26th place trophy to display alongside Jemini’s).

Tyler can still command the stage, as footage from her current tour ably demonstrates, but the Eurovision Song Contest is more than the time on stage. It’s not a place where you can rely on the old standards to warm up the crowds and get them onside. A song needs to be instant, a performer needs to be charismatic and connect to the audience in the arena (for the atmosphere) and down the camera lens (to gather the votes). It’s an intensive two weeks of rehearsals, interviews, PR moments, and TV spots. You might be healthy going in, but as many singers have found to their cost, your health can be your own worst enemy (or is that the result of enjoying too much Euroclub?).

It’s not your average music tour, and a Eurovision song is not your normal three minute song.

When you look through the line up this year, not one song has the rock-star arrogance to stand up and say ‘Eurovision belongs to me’ (although in the opinion of this author, ‘Glorious’ does come close). Frankly, the United Kingdom were being presented with a clear opportunity to do something special. While there could be no guarantees, a big star name would command a running order placing very close to the end. A stormer of an up-tempo number, professionally performed and marketed, would click with the viewers, and would be fresh in their minds as voting opened.

With the best will in the world, in 2013 Bonnie Tyler is not a star name who can close out a running order.

Would it have been a risk for performers such as the aforementioned Girls Aloud to take to the Eurovision stage, risking their legacy for a clear shot at victory? Yes…but the upside of the gamble would have been immense. A platform of over 100 million TV viewers; the resulting career boost of a successful appearance with a modern song (and while Loreen is the obvious comparisons, Ivi Adamou’s charting around Europe shows that you don’t need to win to see the positive benefits); and the honour of winning for your country. We’ve no doubt here at ESC Insight that Tyler will do her best, and the same spoils of victory are on offer, but it’s a much harder task for a Tyler to win than a Cole.

Jessica Garlick ran second, and finished third

Never has a song had a more appropriate title…

Every year the UK fans head out to the Contest, wrapped in the Union Flag, standing behind and supporting the chosen act. Maybe they thought that this year they could put a bit of hope and glory into their support, but it looks like the best 21st Century UK entrant trophy is going to stay with Jessica Garlick for another year.

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (

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16 responses to “It’s A Heartache For The United Kingdom”

  1. Zolan says:

    (“singer of statue?” 😀 )

    So, leaning heavily on the Legend side of the ledger again. I confess, a part of me was hoping the Langford rumour was true.

    It’s a good song lyrically and melodically, but the relaxed tempo and understated treatment (again) will be a difficult sell. I think a passionate live delivery is going to be the essential ingredient.

    Aside: The BBC’s description of ESC caught my attention –
    “Annual European song contest in which countries’ songs are performed before the results of each country’s telephone vote is announced.” (
    Not quite there yet, I think.

    Curious to know whether people feel the leak was well timed, or a longer delay would have been better.

  2. Karl Ágúst says:

    I usually agree with you – and I do think that we might be going back to Germany next year – but I’m not sure I agree with you regarding Bonnie. She certainly hasn’t had a hit in years but she is much more current then Humperdinck last year and this song is much more accessable than his was. Also, she can still sing live, something Engilbert couldn’d.

    I personally love the song, it was very instant for me and it’s the first song this year I’ve been able to say that about. I believe they can make a great stage show around it.

  3. Marc Panozzo says:

    A well-written and thought-provoking article.

    It’s clear that the BBC have either well and truly lost the plot when it comes to Eurovision, or they simply don’t care anymore. Whilst I acknowledge that picking a current, established act would unfortunately have proven a near impossibility for the BBC, they could have easily launched a new-comer, but hey – that wouldn’t provide the media buzz that the BBC seem to use in lieu of an actual promotional campaign. Bonnie Tyler may have been representative of the British music scene in the 1980s, but in the context of today’s music, she is nothing but irrelevant, and judging by the video above, vocally she leaves a lot to be desired. “Believe In Me” sounds like it should be a pleasant enough, yet woefully dated pop-ballad, which should have no trouble in keeping the UK out of the top twenty for another year.

    With Bonnie Tyler, the UK will flop in the competition come May, the BBC will get the ratings bonanza they were looking for, the UK media will return to their “it’s all political, innit” stance with a vengeance and the reputation of Eurovision in the UK will be damaged even further

  4. Anthony says:

    While I do Like the song, for another year I struggle to see how the UK can send another act who hasnt charted for 29 years. I was honestly expecting the BBC to learn from last year and send someone current and up tp date. The only upside I see this year is that she isn’t as out of date as the hump. Now if only the BBC would spend money to promote her outside of the uk.

  5. Ben says:

    This has been said time and time again, but it’s true: the BBC need to open their eyes, realize they can’t win with an older singer resurrecting his/her career, and follow in the footsteps of the rest of Europe in picking something with continent-wide appeal. Bonnie can sing, but the song is underwhelming and borderline cheesy IMO. The UK has a lot of talented singers, and more to be discovered, but the BBC know the public won’t take them seriously after their performance, whether they finish in the top 5 or bottom 5. It won’t be easy to shift the public’s view, but if they can get someone younger and respected, the ESC’s reputation can gain some credibility back slowly.

  6. Ewan Spence says:

    Sing live? Perhaps, but it’s a more talky rather than showy style. Oh and singing is not enough, it;s about performing as well. She can;t do that amble around the stage a bit as her choreography. Also, I seem to recall we were told that Humperdinck could sing live, and we all believed that for… some time.

  7. Ewan Spence says:

    Marc, perhpas the BBC plot is simply ‘get the ratings bonanza, and don’t spend too much money doing it’. In which case this is the perfect pick. If we put aside the idea that the BBC are ‘in it to win it’ and ‘in it for the taking part’ then it makes a lot more sense.

  8. howard a says:

    The real problem is that the contest has no street cred in the UK, so no quality contemporary acts would want to risk their reputation. Instead we end up sending wannabes like Josh Dubovie or has-beens with nothing left to lose.

  9. Anthony says:

    Now will the BBC be promoting Bonnie in Europe or are we going to be spending the next 2 months promoting her back in the UK and end up with just 1 week of coverage at the contest.

  10. Ewan Spence says:

    You might want to check the release date of Tyler’s album in e UK to answer that (hint, it’s May 6th)

  11. Ben Charles Gray says:

    I feel like I have a slightly different impression of our entry this year than others. Since I was getting a bit unhealthily fixated on the Facebook speculation on BBC Eurovision’s page (thank god that’s over!) – I was one of the very first to get the news. Bonnie Tyler was speculated for weeks and was a name that just didn’t go away, until Graham Norton gave us the “played in the last 4 weeks” hint. He didn’t actually specify his own playlist, but she wasn’t on his. Might be why he closed the show with her. This led the Facebook sleuthers to count her out as she was played after the hint, so to speak.

    Anyway, the day before the papers leaked Bonnie, somebody posted the live with band performance of “Believe In Me” in Berlin filmed by an audience member and pointed out there was a 3 minute version of that song on her album as a bonus track. So we didn’t really know what to think. Suddenly we had a name nobody could disprove apart from the questionable presence on Graham’s list AND a 3 minute song which even matched up with what that Kickdrum blog said.

    So for a whole day, I was watching that performance a good few times not even knowing if it was our entry or not and I was enjoying the song, impressed by her vocals too! I then heard a snippet from a YouTube album sampler I actually did think the studio version sounded a bit thin in comparison, and it certainly does. This is probably why people such as Marc and my namesake above get this impression of our entry as underwhelming. I heard it live before I heard the recording and I thought it was much more powerful live.

    When the leak and (forced, I’m sure) confirmation came from the BBC and they put the video up for us, I definitely thought hearing the studio version in its entirety did not do the song or Bonnie justice. I know this won’t happen but I find myself wishing so so much that they would “jujj it up” a bit, get some proper backing singers in, swell the choruses up. Hell, if I had the stems, I could and would do it!! But we have to remember this song wasn’t made for Eurovision, (which IS one step in the right direction!)

    So I know first and foremost that Bonnie CAN deliver this song live. The question is – will the BBC stage this properly. They need to pick the camera angles carefully, put on a good light show, get Bonnie lots of vocal support, and she needs to sing right down the camera and own it. She can’t fall into Engelbert and Anggun’s trap of underestimating Eurovision and just going through the motions in Malmo. Judging by the Radio 5 Live interview yesterday, she’s clearly happy to be doing it but she doesn’t seem particularly spirited and competitive. Richard Bacon was right to try and encourage her, even if he was ignorant as hell towards the contest. I can’t believe some people here actually think you can enter Eurovision and sing a song that’s been world famous for over 20 years. What part of “Song Contest 2013” does he not understand?

    Anyway, as long and drawn out as all this has been. I believe top 10 is possible this year but ONLY if Bonnie really nails it live. Yes the studio version is frankly dull as dishwater but I, and many others I’m sure, thought exactly the same about Kaliopi, and look what happened there. The woman shone like the star she is. I sincerely hope Bonnie will do the same.

  12. Anthony says:

    So we are getting 1 week of promotion then.

  13. Zolan says:

    Crawling out by the friction of their fingertips. Can’t afford any distractions.

  14. Nick says:

    Ah, the UK. Always the enigma of the Eurovision season. At first, I was disappointed that the UK hadn’t done something daring and modern because this really was their year to lose. Nothing, except maybe for Denmark, Germany, or Malta, was really heralded as a favorite, which left the door wide open for them to seal the deal.

    But, like Ewan said, this seems to be the ideal pick for a “we just want the ratings” approach that the BBC seems to have adopted. Since Blue did Eurovision 2011, which seems to be the first instance of this selection process, we’ve seen on 11th place and one 25th place. I think this year will either make or break this concept. And, if my (terrible) prediction skills are any indicator, Bonnie should do okay. There are too many uptempo songs this year, so a ballad should stand out. However, “Believe in Me” is just too… bland to make an impact on stage. She’ll probably end up around 15th or 16th. Personally, I enjoy the song and it’s in at 10th on my list. But that really doesn’t mean anything.

    …Sigh. I really hope that the UK changes its ways. It’d be amazing to see modern British artists on the ESC stage…

  15. Vorty says:

    In a year when no-one seems to want to win, I had hoped the BBC might have changed their approach. I actually don’t mind the replacement of our national selection with a pre-ordaned artist – for we have sent some shocking duffers via our televote – I just thought that having had a bounce-back boy band and an iconic crooner the selction of a solo female artist might have tended towards a more contemporary or up-and-coming act. Despite last year’s low placing I thought Engelbert did us proud – there was nothing to be ashamed of in ‘Love will Set Us Free’ and likewise Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Believe in Me’ is a highly credible album track, it’s just that the similarities to 2012 make this year’s selection a little… well, unexciting.

    I understand that the British music industry thinks Eurovision is irrelevant, I get that Auntie struggles to find credible artists to engage with the annual songfest, I accept that Eurovision is more about one evening of campery on primetime BBC1 rather than an exposition of new British music BUT are things really that bad? Is there really not one decent contemporary act interested in having free reign over three minutes of primetime European telly time? Not one act whose reputation is bigger than any damage participation might bring via the tabloid press? Not one group or performer that would do it just for the hell of it rather than the resurrection of a career?

    I was sort of suspecting the BBC might turn to a ‘Voice’ reject – fine by me as they could, in the main, belt out (and hold) a good few notes. But no, alas it wasn’t the second, third, fourth or even last placed singer – it was an eighties songstress currently on tour somewhere in Europe. What puzzles me though is why the BBC just couldn’t turn to a completely left of centre choice (insert Radiohead as an example but by no means the definitive recommendation) and say “Here, here’s three minutes… do what the hell you like… do something bizarre… do something original… let’s do it and see what happens… and if it doesn’t work no one will care… but we’ll promote it a bit and wave the Union jack a lot… at least we know you can sing… and at least we know you can write… and at least it will be a darn sight more interesting than if we sent Bonnie Tyler.” Oh, they have sent Bonnie Tyler. Are things really that bad that no-one would do that? Or have we just got the wrong people managing this process (whilst selecting the playlist for Radio 2) back at the Beeb? I would love to know.

  16. howard a says:

    Agree with Ben Charles Gray – Kaliopi came to my mind, too. Similar staging and a powerful performance, and who knows?

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