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Martin Kelner, Journalist, Author and Radio Presenter.
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The Glory of Eurovision
By Martin Kelner on Mar 10, 2021 - 3:24:48 PM

There won't be too much dismay, I suspect, over the absence of Poland and Portugal from next month's Eurovision Song Contest.   Both countries have withdrawn for fear of winning, which would oblige them to stage the pageant next year picking up a £20 million tab they can ill afford - although looking at past form, there was about as much chance of that happening as I have of being voted Rear of the Year.


There will still be 39 countries lining up in Malmo, including similarly economically stricken Greece and Cyprus who wavered, not so much over the huge bill awaiting the winners, but the 100 grand it costs to enter.   As it turns out, they've managed to dredge up the entry fee, and will leave worrying about winning till later, the kind of astute financial planning that may have got them where they are today.


The good news for my Hellenic friends is that I have listened to Despina Olympiou, standard-bearer for Cyprus, and despite having a sweet voice, her song doesn't really go anywhere, and at 100-1, she does not seem overpriced.   Nor does Greece at 40s.   I have in fact listened to all 39 songs on (whatever they're paying me, it's not enough), in the cause of our making some money, or at least lessening the tedium of what can be one of the longest night's TV of the year.  


Even without Poland and Portugal, the festival of kitsch, including uncomfortable polyglot banter between hosts and remote presenters - who knew so many countries in Europe had their own Alan Partridges - is likely to come in at slightly longer than the moon landing.  


And the contest will not only fill an unforgiving Saturday night.   If you care to join me on this sequin-strewn path, you need to commit to the Thursday and Friday preceding the contest as well.   On each night there is a semi-final, shown on BBC3, by the end of which 12 semi-finalists will be eliminated.  


That's worth remembering.   Last year I settled down for the Saturday night with a plate of Euro-snacks (essential; grilled Haloumi, Knackwurst, nothing too messy), only to find Holland, in whom I had a small each way interest, not amongst those present.


There are, however, five nations that qualify automatically for the final; Germany, UK, France, Italy, and Spain, spared qualification not through any seeding system based on quality - as Engelbert vividly illustrated last year - but purely because, as Eurovision founders we pay the most, making this the only contest where you can buy your way through, apart from some Italian football.


But my advice - and here I make my debut as a Racing Post tipster - is that it's a false economy to go for one of the automatic qualifiers - old Europe, if you like - as the contest is about politics as much as music. Most of the bigger nations will have screwed over the smaller nations at some time, and while this might be forgiven and forgotten most of the year, it becomes an issue once those Euro-vote lines open.


Take Germany for instance.   Its song Glorious, warbled by a pneumatic blonde wearing what I can best describe as a glittery basque, is a real crowd pleaser, but with Angela Merkel stomping round Europe telling fun-loving Mediterraneans their Dolce Vita is over, its prospects are diminished.   It's a shame, because "We're young and free, and we can be Glo-ri-ous," is a manifesto we can all sign up to, with the possible exception of Frau Merkel.   I'm still having a little on it, though, each way at 16-1.


As for the UK, anyone who has backed us in football tournaments knows the bookies like to have a laugh when setting odds for patriotic punters, and our 20-1 should be around 50s.   Let's be honest, wherever in Europe we haven't sent our troops, we've sent our lager louts, so we're unlikely to be top of anybody's pops.   Our chances I should say are roughly equivalent to those of Lenny Henry being booked for the cabaret at the Ku Klux Klan annual hot pot supper.


Look for a nice country with an unimpeachable c.v. like Denmark - apart from the Vikings, obviously, and Aqua - the hottest favourite for some years at 9-4 with Only Teardrops.   It sounds like a winner to me; so if you can get 5-2 or better, pile on.  


I don't know whether any bookies will lay odds on the winner being sung by someone in bondage gear, but there is a lot of that about this year.   Finland's song Marry Me, for instance, is performed by a woman who seems to have been fitted out entirely by Ann Summers.   It's 50-1 and could grab some attention.   I also like San Marino each way at 25-1, partly for its dramatic ballad, but also because they have never invaded anybody and are never likely to.   If ever they were involved in an international incident, I suspect they'd suggest a game of rock, paper, scissors.


Finally, I give you Malta.   Its song Tomorrow at 80-1, about "a boy called Jeremy, who works in I.T." is reminiscent of an old Kinks number, Well Respected Man, and is the only song I've ever heard with the words "risk assessment" in its lyric; clever writing, and possibly a timely reminder to all of us to assess the risk before putting actual money on these songs.




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