Host country: Ireland
Won by: United Kingdom - Love Shine a Light by Katrina and the Waves
UK entry: Love Shine a Light by Katrina and the Waves
The UK ended its fifteen year Eurovision drought in 1997. The experience of the past two years had convinced the BBC's Eurovision music executive Jonathan King that trying to be hip and trendy (Love City Groove, Gina G) was really not the way to win the thing. So instead the UK chose to send a song that had not even been originally written for the contest - and it was sung by Katrina and the Waves who had been enduring their own chart drought of over ten years.
US-born Katrina Leskanich and her band never really had any competition when it came to voting - they received no fewer than ten 'douze points' and five 'dix points' - meaning it was some time before the end of the voting that the UK's victory was assured, finishing on an unprecendented 227 points; the second place Ireland were some 70 points adrift - the contest had finally been dragged away from their clutches after four wins in five years.
And what of the competition? Denmark had clearly yet to learn that being hip and trendy was not the way to go, and entered the first ever rap song in Eurovision history - Kolig Kag finished sixteenth. Croatia brought us their answer to the Spice Girls, (ENI), Sweden's boy band Blond brought us the archetypal mid-80s Eurovision pop song some twelve years too late, while Norway's Tor Endresen brought 'nul points' back to the country for the fourth time. Iceland entered Gary Numan-look-a-like Paul Oscar, whose performance was thankfully shown well past the watershed.
There were a few changes in the rules this year - five countries used televoting for the first time, the UK, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. After last year's pre-selection, the relegation system was reintroduced, but this time it was the countries with the lowest average scores over the past five years that did not qualify - although no country was forced to miss a contest for two years in a row. In addition, the 'Big Four' rule was introduced, meaning the UK, Germany, France and Spain could not be relegated. Complicated or what?
To watch back the 1997 contest today it feels dated compared to today's showbiz extravanganzas. The much smaller stage would have meant that the big dance routines of Sertab Erener and Ruslana simply could not have taken place. Eurovision was still a long way removed from 'real' pop music - however things were about to change. The BBC were going to get their hands on Eurovision, and bring it kicking and screaming into the twentieth century.
And as for Katrina and the Waves? Their win would prove to be such a springboard to success that they split a year later and Katrina became a Radio 2 DJ.
Eurovision Song Contest 1998
Host country: United Kingdom
Won by: Israel - Diva by Dana International
UK entry: Where are You? by Imaani
The Eurovision came back to the UK in 1998, for the first time since 'Where's Harrogate' in 1982. Luckily, everyone managed to find the Birmingham Indoor Arena all right.
So what do the BBC do when they get their hands on the contest? Get an Irishman and a Swedish woman to host it! This year Terry Wogan performed the unique dual role of co-hosting the contest with Ulrika Jonsson, which meant viewers got to see Wogan speaking in French for possibly the first and last time ever, while they were also treated to the usual Wogan witticisms for the BBC1 commentary.
Eurovision 1998 would prove to be one of the most unforgettable contests in recent years, along with one of the closest finishes with at least four countries vying for victory. And it would have been another win for the UK if it hadn't been for Israel's Dana International. The UK entry, 'Where are You?' by Imaani finished second, lagging a mere six points behind the victor. But it somehow seemed inevitable that Israel would scoop the prize, given the amount of pre-publicity surrounding Dana International, who was once a boy called Yaron, no matter whether the song was any good or not. The song was called 'Diva', and was certainly memorable if nothing else, and somehow seemed to circumvent the language rules one year before the free language rule was reintroduced.
There was also controversy surrounding the German entry - the maniac Guildo Horn and his band The Orthopaedic Stockings were something of an embarrassment to the German people and had faced demands to withdraw from the contest. He didn't, and instead brought us one of the most flamboyant performances ever seen at Eurovision. He rang bells, climbed all over the stage and generally clowned around, even approaching Katie Boyle in the audience at one point. To the Germans' relief, Guildo never came close to winning, but he would certainly go down in Eurovision history.
Following the confirmation of her victory, Dana International (the only airport ever to win Eurovision) kept Wogan and the crew waiting around for several minutes, before finally appearing dressed as a bird. But 1998 is the year of another of my favourite Eurovision moments. We're all used to Greece and Cyprus swapping 'douze points', but it became all the more blatant this year when Greece managed to score absolutely nothing all evening - apart from its usual 12 points from Cyprus. Cue booing from the audience...
Eurovision Song Contest 1999
Host country: Israel
Won by: Sweden - Take Me To Your Heaven by Charlotte Nilsson
UK entry: Say It Again by Precious
The year 1999 saw two fundamental changes at the Eurovision Song Contest, the first to be held outside of Europe for twenty years. Firstly, the producing broadcaster was no longer obliged to provide an orchestra - so they didn't. And secondly, there was the reintroduction of the 'free language' rule, not seen since 1977.
These two factors combined to produce a contest with a much more contemporary pop feel than in previous years. So it was slightly ironic that the winner should end up being a song that seemed to owe rather a lot to the winner of 25 years earlier. Sweden's Charlotte Nilsson sung 'Take Me To Your Heaven' which might just as well have been called 'Waterloo Part 2'.
Sweden's fourth victory denied a first victory to Iceland - Selma sung a bouncy upbeat song which turned out to have prophetic title 'All Out of Luck', as their early lead was eventually eroded by Sweden and Germany, the latter who made a shameless attempt to curry local favour with 'Journey to Jerusalem'.
Meanwhile, for the UK 1999 was the start of the dark period, which we have yet to really emerge from. No more first or even second places for us - the group Precious singing the distinctly unmemorable 'Say It Again' only managed 38 points.
For the first time, Eurovision had three presenters - and one of the longest introductions ever, dragging on for about fifteen minutes, including a personal appearance from the previous year's host, Terry Wogan, in his commentary box. Another first for 1999 was a commercial break, which was filled by a song by the presenters. The end of the show was also something of a protracted affair, concluding with a mass sing-song of 'Hallelujah', Israel's winning song from twenty years earlier.
Eurovision Song Contest 2000
Host country: Sweden
Won by: Denmark - Fly on the Wings of Love by The Olsen Brothers
UK entry: Don't Play That Song Again by Nicki French
It seems the introduction of phone voting across Europe has only served to make the voting even more bizarre and biased than ever before. The 'grey' vote, as Terry Wogan put it, meant Denmark romped home in the 2000 contest, with the only real competition coming from Russia. The Olsen Brothers sang a pleasing, if forgettable song, though with an annoying vocoder effect used to equally annoying effect on Cher's hit 'Believe'.
But 2000 was the year the Europeans stopped taking Eurovision so seriously. Following Guildo Horn's antics two years earlier, Germany tried sending up the contest once again, this time with the gold-suited Stefan Raab singing 'Wadde Hadde Dudde Da?'. And this year they were joined in pursuing the comedy vote by host nation Sweden, with Roger Pontare and his Red Indian friends. Both scored inexplicably well.
As for the other entrants Ireland finished highly as ever, with yet another of their usual ballads, while France scored traditionally low, putting as little effort as possible into their entry as usual. Latvia scored impressively in their Eurovision debut, coming third, and so did Turkey, despite entering the same song they do every year. Norway didn't score 'nul points' - they got 57, entering a song called 'My Heart Goes Boom' which, thankfully, bore no relation to Lulu's 1969 winner. Finland's entry 'A Little Bit' was nothing like Gina G's 1996 UK entry, and Estonia's 'Once in a Lifetime' was not a Talking Heads cover, thank goodness.
Israel and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia both entered groups singing way out of tune, proving that Jemini is not a new phenomenon. The United Kingdom fared very disappointingly, coming sixteenth - our worst placing so far (until 2003!) It seemed the rules that now allow countries to sing in any language - and so half of them sing in English - has been to the UK's detriment, our traditional advantage having now disappeared.
But, of course, politics crept into the voting. All the Scandinavians voted for each other, Iceland and Denmark giving top marks to each other, and same for the East European countries. UK received no points from Ireland or France as usual. And, sadly, there was no Greece this year, which meant that Cyprus were not even guaranteed twelve points.
Meanwhile the presentation of the contest itself was getting showbizzier than ever - this year there was a massive live audience of 13,000, and the first of the wisecracking presnters. The year 2000 clearly set the tone for the contests that followed - the only way was up.
Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © the respective broadcasters