Eurovision never scores ‘nul points’ for NI fan Nicky

Life is about to get a little more sparklier this evening as Eurovision returns. One NI super fan tells HELEN MCGURK why he just loves the enormous musical spectacle

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 7:00 am
Nicky McElhatton at the Eurovision in Vienna in 2015

When he was a youngster, Nicky McElhatton’s family would gather round the television to watch the Eurovision Song Contest - the gleefully awful show that has been entertaining viewers since 1956 with dodgy songs and downright loopy acts.

“I’ve always been a fan of Eurovision,” said the 32-year-old, who hails from Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

“It was a family tradition to watch it. We had your flags out waving and supporting our favourite countries or we’d do a pool where everyone would pick a country out of hat and support that country. It was a bit of fun, something you didn’t really take too seriously.”

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Nicky with former Eurovision winner Linda Martin

Nicky recalls caravan holidays to Donegal and the family joining in the Eurovision frenzy in a pub in Bundornan.

“I think that year Eimear Quinn from Ireland won so we were all getting into it.”

Love it, or loathe it, Eurovision is back after a year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic and tonight’s event in Rotterdam will undoubtedly dish up some of the most cringe-tastic, bizarre acts Europe has to offer. But will they be any weirder than the baking Russian grannies of 2012? Or Ireland’s Dustin the Turkey in 2008, a creepy puppet, singing a twisted electro-rave version of Irish folk. There’s too many cheesy songs and freakshow Eurovision moments to recount, but that doesn’t stop Nicky, who works for a community finance company, loving it, blogging about it and even running events here in Northern Ireland to celebrate the showy show.

“The obsession just grew and grew and whenever I started blogging about the Eurovision in 2014 it has spiralled from there,” he said.

Eurovision host Graham Norton

“I’ve been to two of the contests - the 2015 one in Vienna and in 2018 I went to Lisbon. We were due to go last year and then it got cancelled and we were due to go this year as well, but with the travel restrictions we decided against it.”

But, despite not getting to Rotterdam, Nicky has cherished memories.

“In Vienna we went to the stadium for one of the rehearsal shows. It was just amazing to be really part of that buzz and to have all the Eurovision fans around you, who just love it as much. People were dressed up in their fancy dress and waving their flags and cheering on their country. People really come from all over the world for it. Nothing really beats that buzz of being there.”

In the last few years Nicky’s obsession has taken on a new “lease of life”. His Eurovision NI Facebook page has in excess of 1,000 members, and the events he runs are a massive hit with fans.

“We did screenings of the different national finals that are on from between January and March. We also do an annual awards show. The last one was in 2019 in the Crumlin Road Gaol and we had Linda Martin (Ireland’s Eurovision winner in 1992) performing for us. We had people from England and Denmark who travelled over that.

“We gave out awards in different categories, both positive and negative, so we had the likes of best song, worst song, worst dressed, that sort of thing. And then a disco afterwards.

“There weren’t really that many events for fans in Northern Ireland and that’s why I started doing my own events. A lot of people probably view Eurovision as just one night a year, on a Saturday night when the final is on. But for diehard Eurovision fans it’s a whole season from December the year before right through until the final, so it’s a good five or six months of lead up to it.”

Despite the Eurovision being cancelled last year, Nicky held an online watch party with the songs that had already been picked and attendees could vote for their favourites.

“It was just really to fill that void of Eurovision not being on. We wanted to put something on in its place and try to remain as true as possible to the actual contest.

“Tonight we are kind of limited in what we can do so it’ll probably be just myself and one or two friends watching it in the house because that’s just what restrictions allow, but at least it is on this year.”

The Eurovision was, for many, synonymous with the late, great, Terry Wogan. Introducing the 2007 contest from Finland he said: “Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? Actually, I do. I’ve seen the rehearsals.” And that would set the tone for an evening of Wogan: his risqué jokes, sharp one-liners, grudging praise and knack for saying what everyone at home was thinking.

Graham Norton took over the reins in 2009 and, said Nicky, both were always willing to “poke fun” at the contest or “point out any kind of tactical voting.”

During his tenure Wogan never tired of jokingly insinuating Eurovision was awash with voting cartels, about as close to a free exercise in democracy as a general election in North Korea.

Nicky is less cynical: “There is an element of politics to it, but I also think it’s not a case that you are voting for your neighbours, you are voting for countries that probably have a similar culture to you.

“Ireland and the UK tend to give each other points and that’s because the music that gets released is quite similar. For Scandinavia, you find that Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland tend to give each other points, but again that’s probably because the artists that are representing them are known in those countries and also the style of music they use would reflect the interest of the population of that country as well. But having said that there clearly is some politics involved as well. The big thing at the minute is what’s happening in Israel, so although the contestant this year has a really good song, it will be interesting to see if there’s any backlash in terms of international politics, because I think that’s what would prevent her from qualifying rather than the song or the performance.”

Nicky has an encyclopedic knowledge of Eurovision. Ask him who won in 1982, for example, and he’ll answer, quick as a flash, ‘Corinne Hermès’.

Unsurprisingly, he once applied to go on Mastermind with, naturally enough, Eurovision as his specialist subject.

“I didn’t get on to it, I just auditioned.”

As for favourite Eurovision songs, he finds it hard to choose.

“There was a song for Sweden in 2011 called Popular (by Eric Saade), that would be my favourite one, but there’s been so many over the years.

“One that gets quite a lot of hype, but I don’t really thinks lives up to it, is the 2017 Portuguese winner Salvador Sobral. His song was called Amor Pelos Dois, but it was just a bit too slow for me. I prefer the pop, up-beat tracks.”

In terms of winners Nicky believes tonight’s contest is a “wide open field”.

“The bookies are saying it’s between Italy (hard rockers Måneskin), France (French balladeer Barbara Pravi) and Malta (18-year-old Destiny Chukunyere), but I think there’s about another seven songs that you could easily throw into the mix.

“Personally, I could see someone like Malta winning just because it’s an upbeat pop song, it’s got a positive message, her staging’s good, she’s got a good voice and it would be nice to see a country that hasn’t won it before, win.

“Malta would also be a great host destination if they won and hosted next year.”

Ireland’s entry Lesley Roy, from Dublin, failed to make it through the semi-final stage with her song ‘Maps’.

*The Eurovision is on BBC 1 toight at 8pm

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