Eurovision 2022: Sam Ryder is 'ignoring the hype' as the UK's odds improve

By Mark Savage
BBC Music Correspondent

Published
Media caption,
Ahead of the final on Saturday, the BBC put Sam Ryder's Eurovision knowledge to the test.

Something strange is happening at Eurovision: bookmakers are predicting a good result for the UK.

After two years of finishing in last place, and more than a decade since we made the top 10, Sam Ryder is second favourite to win with his uplifting power ballad Space Man.

But Ryder is trying to ignore the mounting excitement.

"I don't want to get to a point where I start believing the hype," he says. "I just want to do everyone proud, and do the best job I possibly can."

Former winner Conchita Wurst is more willing to speculate on his chances.

"The buzz in the Eurovision community is, 'Oh, the UK is participating again,'" she told the BBC last month.

"No offence to all the other artists who have come before... but this year it feels like, 'They mean business.'"

Media caption,
Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014. How does she rate Sam Ryder's chances?

Ryder appeared at last night's Eurovision semi-final in Turin, but he did not have to compete to secure his spot in Saturday's final. Free passes are given to the "big five" - France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK - who pay the most towards keeping the contest going, along with the host nation.

A former construction worker, the 32-year-old was already a huge sensation on TikTok before the contest, with stars like Alicia Keys, Sia and Justin Bieber reposting his videos.

He was then selected for Eurovision by TAP Management, the management company behind Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding, who helped the BBC choose this year's entry.

Since then, he's been on a whirlwind tour of Europe, building up support for his song - which was co-written by Amy Wadge, whose other credits include Ed Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud and Camila Cabello's First Man.

It's a long way from his childhood in the countryside, near Malden in Essex. "It was proper Huckleberry Finn vibes," he recalls, "swimming in rivers and building dens."

Before Saturday night's grand final, we grabbed him to chat about his chances in the competition, his favourite Eurovision memory, and the injury that nearly ruled him out of the competition.

Image source, EBU / ANDRES PUTTING
Image caption,
The singer has one of the most ambitious stages of any Eurovision acts

Hey Sam, how are you feeling?

You know what? I feel good.

I'm ready to soak it all in and be there and be present for the experience. Because if you let nerves get the better of you, or you start overthinking everything a bit too much, you can miss this gorgeous thing you're lucky enough to be involved in.

What was your first experience of music?

My parents weren't musicians, but they played records constantly: Earth Wind and Fire, Beautiful South, Queen. Even now they listen to the same records full blast. And I mean full blast. My neighbours will know, if they were mowing the lawn, they'd play the records so loud they could still hear it over the lawnmower.

You must have been popular with the neighbours.

I mean, God bless my neighbours because I used to practise guitar in the garden of that house, and I'd sing my head off with the windows open over lockdown. But everyone was so patient. I often thought I could hear them shouting requests.

You first found fame on TikTok. What made you start posting videos there?

I'd been working in construction for years, and then I started singing at weddings. And it took lockdown to happen for me to think, "I want to I don't want to stop singing just because the weddings are cancelled".

And I guess TikTok was kind of a digital way of me flicking through my record collection. There was no strategy or anything like that. Singing into my phone brought me the same amount of happiness as playing a live show.

The first video was Hit Me Baby One More Time by Britney Spears. I sang it as high as I could in my mom's kitchen. And it all started snowballing from there.

Image source, Sam Ryder / TikTok
Image caption,
Ryder has more than 12m followers on TikTok

How did you react when Sia and Justin Bieber commented on your videos?

That was mind blowing. I was in my shed trying to sing Chaka Khan's I'm Every Woman and it was boiling hot, so every 10 minutes I'd have to run out and put my head in the freezer before I filmed another take.

And it was in one of those freezer breaks that I got a DM from Justin Bieber saying he'd just sent my video to Sia. And I looked at Sia's account, and she'd posted my cover of [her song] Elastic Heart with this really lovely kind, encouraging comment underneath it.

That was just incredible, because Sia is a vocal hero.

Until Ed Sheeran joined TikTok last year, you were the app's most-streamed British artist. How much do you hate him now?

Oh, you can't stop Ed! Ed is a force. If ever there's a silver medal to take, I'll take this one.

What prompted you to write a Eurovision song?

Actually, the song was written a year and a half ago with no intention of Eurovision in our minds. It was a gorgeous, boiling hot day in London, so naturally, we were in a studio with no windows and Space Man just seemed to come out of space… man.

I heard it only took you 10 minutes.

Yeah, we smashed it! As a songwriter you sometimes get those hole-in-ones, and I'm just so grateful because it's not overdramatic for me to say that it changed my life.

People were really encouraging about my covers on TikTok and Instagram, but it wasn't enough to open any doors. Record labels want to see that you can write songs, and have your own sound - and Space Man was the song that did that.

The fact you didn't write it for Eurovision feels significant. For too long, the UK has tried to work with a preconceived idea of what a Eurovision song "should" sound like.

Yeah, if you get given a brief, sometimes you hit it too on the nose. As a songwriter, I prefer to write whatever is coming to you on that particular day.

How did the song get selected, then?

I got a call from the BBC in January, and they said, "Hey, we heard your song Space Man." God knows how, but they said, "How do you fancy singing it at Eurovision" and obviously I'm a big fan, so I said yes.

What's your favourite Eurovision memory?

It has to be when Lordi won it for Finland with Hard Rock Hallelujah. Do you remember Lordi, with the prosthetics and the bat wings and platform boots and the battle axes? In any other context, it would be bonkers - but because it's Eurovision, it's like yeah, bat wings, whatever.

Image caption,
Finnish hard rock band Lordi won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006

You've been performing Space Man all over Europe… but it nearly came to a sticky end, didn't it?

I know! I've been go-karting and surfing and snowboarding and skydiving while we toured - but the thing that got me was a scooter in Madrid!

We'd just done a performance and I was going back to the hotel, wind in my hair, big smile on my face, when I came down this hill into a tight turn. And I thought, 'OK, I need to brake now' but the brakes were dangling off. There was no way I could stop. It was too fast to put my foot down. And I came off and crashed straight into this metal bar.

That sounds awful.

I was really, really lucky because it hit my neck on my chest and then my knee. But if it had got me in my jaw, I wouldn't have been in the competition any more.

Well, thankfully you're here… But what's it like after 10 days in Eurovision-land? It must be overwhelming.

That's definitely something that you need to watch out for. Sometimes you are in it so much that you can't see the wood from the trees, it's good to take breaks.

You need to get distance from all this to regain your focus and remember what it's all about. And that is that three minutes of singing and sharing your song and connecting with a stranger in the audience.

The UK has come last twice in a row. Does that put more pressure on you, or give you complete freedom, because you can't do any worse?

I think if you tell yourself you're under pressure, you're starting off on the wrong foot. It's hard to break out of that. So instead, I'm telling myself I'm excited and grateful and thankful to have the opportunity.

Anyway, singing, song-writing and performing shouldn't be about a scoreboard. The celebration of music can exist without that.

Watch the Eurovision Song Contest Final on BBC iPlayer and BBC One, at 20:00 BST on Saturday 14 May.

Follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.