Eurovision memories: Oh, what a night!

By Emma Saunders
Arts and entertainment reporter

image captionIn the early days, performers were accompanied by a live orchestra

It is 60 years since the Eurovision Song Contest was born as the "Eurovision Grand Prix".

Although the format has changed over the years, and the number of participants have sky-rocketed, the principle has remained the same: Every country submits a song, then battles it out to be crowned the most popular.

With the 2015 edition nearly upon us, we take a trip down memory lane and speak to some of the former winners and runners-up to find out how Eurovision changed their lives.

Nicole - winner in 1982 for West Germany with A Little Peace

image captionDuring the winning reprise, Nicole performed her song in four languages, German, English, French and Dutch

Germany scored its first victory 33 years ago, when 17-year-old Nicole won by a clear 61 votes as the UK hosted Eurovision in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

A Little Peace went on to become a big hit in many countries including the UK, where it became the 500th number one single in the charts.

"I remember '82 very well, it was a great day for me," says Nicole. "I was the last one who went on stage. It was wonderful.

"But the most important victory (was) that a German girl gets 12 points from Israel with a song about peace. I got an invitation from the Israeli government to go to Tel Aviv to sing in front of the soldiers. So I went. I was sitting on a chair outside the barracks [when] suddenly they came out, very young people with their weapons, and sat down in front of me on the hill. And when I started singing A Little Peace, something happened I will never forget in my life. They put down their weapons, took each other by the hand and listened to me for three minutes. It was such a great moment.

"The weirdest question I get asked is how many times have you sung this song? And I say, not often enough. Look around the world, what's going on, in Syria, Ukraine. I won't get tired of singing this song as long as I know deep in the hearts of all mankind is the wish for peace."

Natasha St-Pier - came fourth in 2001 for France with Je n'ai que mon âme

image captionNatasha St-Pier's power ballad reached number two in the French singles chart

Canadian Natasha St-Pier wasn't even aware of the Eurovision Song Contest when she was asked to represent France in 2001. She scored a very respectable 142 points in Copenhagen.

"I remember how stressed and nervous I was... My awful red dress and an awful hair-do!" she laughs.

"I was really young at that time, people could do whatever they wanted to with my image.

"I sang in half French, half English. Whose decision was it? I don't know, I was 18, I couldn't even decide if my make-up was going to be red or pink.

"I always thought to have an international career you had to sing in English but after Eurovision, I could sing in French in as many countries as I wanted.

"I have good memories of Copenhagen, the energy - but the three minutes my performance lasted? I have no memories at all!"

Brotherhood of Man - won in 1976 for the UK with Save All Your Kisses For Me

image captionBrotherhood of Man still go on tour around the UK

The famous four-piece brought home the Eurovision crown 39 years ago and went on to score a number one hit in 33 different countries.

Nicky Stevens recalls: "The one thing that really sticks in my mind is how we constantly rehearsed because of our dance routine. When we opened that song, we all had our backs to the audience and Martin had to turn round first and sing his lead and I'm always so grateful I didn't have to sing that lead!

"In the early days we went through checkpoint Charlie. We've been to Czechoslovakia, Berlin, it was very exciting. And we thoroughly enjoyed it. The one lovely thing about the success of the Eurovision is the countries then invite you to come and perform.

Martin Lee adds: "There are 40 countries this year, all together in harmony. Where are the politicians? They should be doing that."

Loreen - won in 2012 for Sweden with Euphoria

image captionLoreen only became aware of Eurovision two years before she entered the contest

Loreen stormed to Eurovision victory in Azerbaijan with 372 points for her upbeat dance track Euphoria.

"I didn't realise I'd won until much later. I said to my producer: 'When do we get the people's votes?' and he said: 'You already won, get up there!'

"The whole experience was so wonderful, the people of Azerbaijan, too.

"I'm a huge fan (of Eurovision). It's so accepting of minorities, of different types of music and people. It's serious to me - it's disrespectful to say it's a joke. We're all creators."

Conchita Wurst - won in 2014 for Austria with Rise Like A Phoenix

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionConchita also auditioned for Eurovision in 2012 but missed out that year

Conchita, the self-styled 'bearded lady', took top spot in last year's contest in Copenhagen, and will be hosting the green room this year in Vienna.

"Two weeks after the win, my dad called me up - [my parents] have a little hotel in Austria - and said 'thank you'. Because of me, there were so many tourists in their hotel!

"I get lots of messages. From gay teenagers saying 'now I've got the strength to come out of the closet', to a lady who's been in an office for years, she watched Eurovision and decided to be a bearded lady so she could quit her job and do something she really loved.

"If she'd asked me before, I'd have said, 'Don't quit your job, get a great hobby!' But she wrote to me after [she'd quit] and said she was very happy.

"I'm just representing myself. I am what I am. If this is inspiring for anyone, that's a huge honour."

Lordi - won in 2006 for Finland with Hard Rock, Hallelujah

image captionLordi's albums include To Beast or Not to Beast and Babez for Breakfast

At their 40th attempt, Finland finally took top honours at Eurovision when Lordi stomped to victory with Hard Rock, Hallelujah.

"Eurovision is not a heavy metal competition, we were the wrong band in the wrong place at the right time," says their frontman, who still goes by the name of Mr Lordi.

"I don't have a competitive nature at all. Whenever we hit the stage, we own it, whether it's three minutes in Eurovision or 90 minutes for our own show.

"My life didn't change at all, I'm still the same dude, the band are still doing the same thing before Eurovision and after.

"The only change was the awareness of the band. One night we got such huge media exposure. That is really special and uncommon for any band in our genre. There are not many heavy metal bands that are known around Europe. In our genre, that's quite special."

Johnny Logan - won three times for Ireland, with What's Another Year? in 1980, Hold me Now in 1987 and Why Me in 1992

image captionLogan also won in 1992 as the writer of Ireland's winning song by Linda Martin, Why Me?

Johnny became the first person to win twice at Eurovision - but after struggling to be taken seriously in the UK, he moved to Germany.

"The Eurovision I grew up with was a gateway... the way for someone like myself to land a career that spans outside of Ireland.

"When I went into it, it really wasn't about fame. But I didn't think about winning, what I thought about was making the people proud.

"[Shay] Healy [who wrote What's another Year?] said to me: 'Well, you can't have sung it better than you've sung it now', and that made me happy. Then I knew I could go home.

"But you weren't taken seriously by the UK - the establishment, not the people. In '87, there were ads on the underground with artists they wouldn't play, and they included Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton, myself… Why bang your head against a wall? Germany welcomed me with with open arms. I've sold something in the region of 16m records.

"I never got that involved [in Eurovision afterwards]. I've always found it a bit embarrassing, it's as if people think I'm a fountain of knowledge on Eurovision.

"The night of Eurovision is not about the old farts like me, it's about the winner and Conchita handing over the crown. To be seen hanging on the coat tails of Eurovision would be embarrassing for me as an artist. I think it would be the wrong thing for me to do."

image captionSonia is still finding work related to Eurovision over 20 years later

Sonia - came second in 1993 for the UK with Better the Devil You Know

Sonia was a well-known act from the Stock, Aitken and Waterman stable prior to her Eurovision adventure 22 years ago. She is presenting a show on Radio 2's Eurovision pop-up station this year called The Winner Isn't.

"I had a ball. I went with my boyfriend [now husband] and my sister [who sang backing vocals]. A real family affair. I was signed to Simon Cowell at the time, so he came out for a few days. I felt so proud to be asked.

"Every single year I do the festivals around Eurovision... I got Sandy in the West End in Grease after Eurovision. My gay following is unbelievable since the contest.

"But I was completely and utterly devastated [at coming second]. I was saying, 'don't drink the champagne, we'll have to get up and sing again', I was so convinced! We came so, so close.

"Everyone else was out celebrating and I was in my own room with a bowl of soup consoling myself!"

The Eurovision Song Contest 2015 takes place in Vienna, Austria, on Saturday 23 May. The semi-finals can be seen live on BBC Three on Tuesday 19 and Thursday 21 of May at 20:00BST. The grand final will be broadcast live on BBC One and BBC Radio 2. A pop-up digital radio service celebrating all things Eurovision will also run on BBC Radio 2 between Thursday 21 and Sunday 24 May.

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