Host country: Denmark
Won by: Estonia - Everybody by Tanel Padar/Dave Benton/2XL
UK entry: No Dream Impossible by Lindsay Dracass
The dominance of English continued apace in the 2001 Eurovision. This year all but four songs were sung either entirely or partly in English - even the French song contained lines in English!
So once again the United Kingdom fared badly, scoring exactly the same - 28 - as last year, but finishing 15th, one place higher. Added with the fact that no one in Europe likes us, it proves the UK entry needs to be ten times as good as anything else. At least we beat Ireland...
After an astonishing run of success in the 1990s, Ireland scored a pitiful 6 points - 5 of which inevitably came from the British public. This means for the only the second time in over 35 years the Irish would be missing from the following year's contest. A change in the relegation system meant that only the top 15 countries were eligible to take part in 2002. You may think the UK only just scraped through then, but we're guaranteed a place along with France, Germany and Spain as those four put the most money into the EBU coffers.
Enough of the losers, what about the winners? My initial suspicion had been another win for Sweden - after winning with a very Abba-esque song in 1999 (and indeed a very Abba-esque song in 1974, but then that was Abba after all), they entered yet another Abba-sounding song, which might as well have been called 'Waterloo Part 3'. But this time they came only fifth. Meanwhile Greece finished third, their best ever placing, even without the guarantee of 12 points from an absent Cyprus.
Only Estonia and Denmark were really in contention for first place, and in the end Estonia became the first of the former Soviet republics to win, however quite what made the European public go for it in such a big way is a mystery to me. The winning duo Dave Benton and Tanel Padar subsequently fell out with each other.
Other than the ironically-titled 'You Got Style' from Lithuania, and the Russian entry Mumiy Troll who had evidently lost his marbles on the way to the stage, no one, not even wildcards Germany, really tried to send up the contest this year. Most of the entertainment value instead came from the presenters. Dubbed Dr Death and the Tooth Fairy by Terry Wogan, to which the Danes took great exception, they presented the show speaking entirely in rhyming couplets. Their bizarre routines were enough to render all those watching speechless, not to mention Dr Death's conjuring tricks...
Eurovision Song Contest 2002
Host country: Estonia
Won by: Latvia - I Wanna by Marie N
UK entry: Come Back by Jessica Garlick
This year's contest proved that Eurovision is nothing if not unpredictable. No one could have guessed beforehand that the contest would turn into a two horse race between Malta and Latvia.
It cannot be ignored though, that both countries were near the end in running order; over the past few years most winners have tended to have been performed in the second half. There were attempts to counter this; one by the reintroduction of juries in several countries, and by showing the songs in reverse order when it came to the reprise - and it's possible that did benefit one country in particular...
After three years in the wilderness, the United Kingdom made something of a comeback this year. Despite performing second, Jessica Garlick's entry 'Come Back' made it into joint third position with Estonia, albeit a rather distant third. Being a ballad, I feared her song would get swamped by the predominance of up-tempo disco songs; however the 111 points she knocked up was more than our previous three years' scores put together!
Once the first country had voted, Greece was in the lead. But that's not very surprising since it was Cyprus doing the voting... Malta and Latvia ran neck and neck all the way through the rest of the scoring, with neither country receiving more than four 'douze points' each. There can be little doubt, however, that Latvia's surprise win, with only their third entry ever, was more down to the outfit than the song, which, as far as I was concerned was forgotten immediately. But Marie N's strip routine towards the end of the song made Buck's Fizz's skirts routine 21 years earlier seem rather lame.
Some of the more memorable performances included some cyber-borgs from Greece who looked like they had escaped from Blake's Seven. Slovenia decided to enter three men dressed as air hostesses. Russia entered their Prime Minister...disappointly this in fact turned out to be an ageing boy band. And there was Sweden's silver-clad girl group Afro-Dite described by Terry Wogan as three 'oven ready turkeys'.
Germany, who in recent years had tended to pursue the comedy vote, this year went for the sympathy vote, with singer Corinna May who had been blind from birth. They were one of the favourites to win - but came third bottom. On the other hand, Romania, favourite to come last with the most dreary song of the contest this year, finished in ninth position - the first time they hadn't found themselves in the relegation zone.
All going to prove that you can never predict the outcome of the Eurovision Song Contest. (Apart from the bit where Greece and Cyprus give each other twelve points, of course...)
Eurovision Song Contest 2003
Host country: Latvia
Won by: Turkey - Every Way That I Can by Sertab Erener
UK entry: Cry Baby by Jemini
Every single year I shake my head in bewilderment and disbelief following the result of the Eurovision Song Contest, and this year was no different. The event ended in a very close three horse race which left Turkey the winner, with a song which some felt bore more then a passing resemblance to Holly Valance's hit song, 'Kiss Kiss', although that itself was based on a Turkish song - with the same writer as the Euro entry. Admittedly, Sertab Erener's performance did possess one of the more memorable dance routines this year - presumably that's what swung it for them.
However, 2003 will be chiefly remembered for one thing - and that's not the presence of the notorious Russian girl duo tATu. Already famous across Europe, and with a UK number one under their belt, tATu were giving Eurovision organisers enough hot flushes to consider running a recording of the dress rehearsal if their performance turned too racy. Plus there were doubts whether one half of tATu, Yulia Volkova, who had reportedly been taken to hospital with damaged vocal chords, would make it on stage. In the event she did, and the performance passed without any controversy at all - although they did not prove too popular audience in the Skonto Hall. Their rendition of their song bordered on tuneless, and it's probable that it was only their fame that helped them secure third place - a mere three points behind Turkey.
But Eurovision fans in the UK will remember 2003 solely for the being the year that we notched up our first ever 'nul points'. War in Iraq, coupled with an appalling vocal performance from Liverpool duo Jemini, who were orginally known as Tricity until they presumably decided that having a pop group named after a fridge wasn't the best idea in the world, sent us right to the bottom of the table. As it was, I wasn't expecting great things with a particularly weak song chosen for us this year - but then Gemma Abbey and Chris Crombey managed to sing it completely out of tune. The UK has fared poorly four times in the last five years - the BBC needs to look very closely at the way our entry is chosen in future to avoid any more disasters like this.
As with last year, this year's contest proved that the ballad is an endangered species, with just a smattering of them between the up-tempo songs. But we did have all of the usual recurring Eurovision stereotypes. We had the nutty entry, usually Germany's responsibility, but this year brought to us by Austria's beret-clad Alf Poier - the 'eejit' - who sung one of the most bizarre, and rather mickey-taking, songs in recent Eurovision history, and came on stage with some stuffed animals. Inexplicably, he finished sixth.
One country always tries to go hip and happening on us every year in an attempt to drag Eurovision into the 20th century - and this year it was Romania's Nicola who attempted to mix us up some vaguely junglist flavas in a area. 2003's pointless gimmick was courtesy of the Ukraine who marked their debut into the contest by bringing a contortionist onto the stage! The gravel voice contribution this year was from bright red haired Michal Wisniewski from Polish group Ich Troje; and the stereotypical Eurovision song title was brought to us by Slovenia with 'Nanana'.
And the accordion/traditional instrument element was this year contributed by Belgium's Urban Trad, who also threw in some bagpipes for good measure. (They also took the 'free language' rule to a new level - by making up their own). Recognising that world music/folkish vibes have tended to do well in Eurovisions of recent years paid off, as they almost won; but they had to make do with second place, just two points behind Turkey.
The contest itself seemed to take an inordinately long time to get going. This year's hosts, Marija Naumova and Renars Kaupers, who were both former Latvian entrants, continued the trend of recent years of attempting to bring us some hilarious comedy moments. We were also treated to a tour of Latvia's capital Riga, a message from the space station - and then, if that wasn't bizarre enough, a message from Elton John!
The scoreboard, for the first time, rearranged itself into ascending order of points as the voting went along. However at one point things were thrown into confusion when the Bosnia-Herzegovinan spokeswoman decided not to award six points to anyone, causing host Renars to lose his temper a bit...
One interesting point to note: last year's top three Latvia, Malta and the United Kingdom - were this year's bottom three...
Eurovision Song Contest 2004
Host country: Turkey
Won by: Ukraine - Wild Dances by Ruslana
UK entry: Hold On To Our Love by James Fox
If the last few Eurovision Song Contests have proved anything, it's that performance is everything if you want to make an impression on the viewing, and voting, public. So it wasn't too surprising when this year's victor ended up as Ruslana, the Xena Warrior Princess of the Ukraine, with her warrior posse, stomping about the stage with whips and leathers. The song itself seemed merely incidental.
Others that had clearly learnt the lesson included FYR Macedonia's Tose Proeski who, following Sertab's ribbon-resplendent performance in 2003 that had brought this year's contest to Turkey, decided to try a similiar trick, while Greece's Sakis Rouvas fell back on the now rather cliched strip routine. Then there were Russia's multi-coloured dancers, Bosnia's Deen who looked like he'd just been dragged from the nearest nightclub, and Athena from Turkey who had evidently just discovered ska music. Meanwhile France's Jonatan Cerrada won the gimmick of the year award with the appearance of a baldy woman on stilts for no apparant reason.
So many countries want to play Eurovision now that for the first time the contest was dragged out over two nights - a qualifying round on Wednesday, followed by the traditional final on Saturday. Even more fun for Eurovision fanatics - or over-egging the pudding? Terry Wogan clearly felt it was the latter, and so eschewed the semi-final in favour of handing over commentary duties to BBC3's Paddy O'Connell.
The semi-final was not without its difficulties - the show was dogged by sound problems throughout, and then when it came to voting, the scores for songs in positions 11-22 had to be adjusted the following morning when it transpired that Croatia had given four points to itself, while apparently no phone votes at all had been received in Monaco!
Monaco? Yes, they were back in the contest after making their last appearance in 1979. However they were to be disappointed, as were another tiny country who were making their debut this year, Andorra - both their scores were virtually on the floor. But not as low as Switzerland's, who inherited the 'nul points' mantle from Jemini, thanks to Piero and the Music Stars whose dance routine was frankly naff even by Eurovision standards; Piero even managed to hit himself with his microphone stand at one point. A manic drumstick-less drummer couldn't help the caterwauling thirty-something girl group Neiokoso from Estonia to the final. Also unsuccessful was Denmark's Tomas Thordarson and his backing singers who, being all dressed top to toe in red, looked as if they had escaped from a BBC1 ident
But the UK were safely guaranteed a place in the Grand Final, despite Jemini's infamous performance in 2003 - however James Fox managed only 29 points better. Unfortunately he got lost in a preponderance of solo male singers with middle-of-the-road songs, most of which scored low, although for some reason, Serbia-Montenegro's solo male singer, Zeljko Joksimovic, with a middle-of-the-road song came second (and indeed, won the semi-final).
Other than that, there were plenty of the usual up-tempo disco numbers making full use of the drum machine, and then of course those over-the-top song-and-dance shows - and it was inevitable that, just like last year, it was one of the latter that proved triumphant.
And yet when the scoreboard arrives the songs are all forgotten, and all the usual voting trends come to the fore - and it's getting worse, exacerbated this year by allowing all 36 countries to vote regardless of whether they were in the final or not. And so the Balkans all voted for each other, as did the Nordic countries, Greece and Cyprus, and no one voted for the UK. So let me correct the statement I made in the opening paragraph. If you want to make it in Eurovision, have a memorable performance - and represent a country with lots of friendly neighbours.
Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © the respective broadcasters