Your Country Needs You, Friday 12th March, BBC 1

Pete Waterman If you’re not a Eurovision fan you maybe won’t understand the intense feeling of excitement and expectation when it comes to choosing your country’s Song For Europe. Last year UK fans were spiralled into another stratosphere with the extra effort that the BBC put in (in other words, they made a bit of an effort for the first time in years), and thus this year our expectations have been high.

Then they announced it would be Pete Waterman masterminding the process (not Gary Barlow, shame) but still there were high hopes as we re-evaluated all the SAW hits of the past 100 years.

Alexander RybakThen in the run up to the contest, I began to smell a rat. Confirmation of the date of the show was being withheld by the BBC, even though Alexander Rybak had told everyone he would be there on 12th March weeks before. Confirmation of how the voting process would work was also not forthcoming. Information about how you would get tickets was on the quiet side. I remember seeing the Making Your Mind Up shows in 2005 and 2006 and we had our tickets in the post I’m sure two weeks before the event. Two weeks before this show and we had barely registered our interests with SRO Audiences. (I’m really not fussed by all this out-sourcing. Call me old-fashioned.) This all made me think that they really weren’t quite on the ball this year.

Much to my dismay, we were unsuccessful in getting tickets. Even people I didn’t know were Eurovision fans who live in the same town as me got tickets. I resorted to sulking. Mrs Chrisparkle thought it was an unattractive trait. She was right. I decided to meet up with an old pal for lunch on Friday and therefore ruled going to London out of my options. Instead we sat in front of the TV with a rather cheap bottle of vintage cava and some olives. And then the car crash came on.

Graham NortonIt looked ok on tv but the sound was appalling. I was sure that at least the first two acts couldn’t have sung that badly but that the “levels” were wrong. And Graham Norton has his autocue failure. I guess that can happen any time but here it just added to that feeling of total lack of preparation. Then in the “second round” Esma forgot her lines. And said “Sorry”. So although she had made a complete mess of it, at least she was still polite.

Josh DubovieWe voted for her anyway. Not because she was a dependable singer. But because she was the only one who had any real attack to her performance. Josh was/is a much better singer but he looked a bit lost on the stage. I hereby want to wish Josh all the success in the world and the very best of luck for Oslo; and I hope he takes full advantage of any offers of improving his stage presence. Acting classes; dance classes. It will all help.

Mike Stock has said that the song will get a major upgrade. Good. It needs to go from cargo class to balcony suite.

So on the whole I’m glad we didn’t get tickets. I’ve heard some pretty appalling things from some people who went as to how they were treated. Bullying staff; queueing outside after you’ve had to surrender your coats; they all add up to a lack of respect for the individual punter. I have a friend who cannot stand for any length of time, and the tickets say “standing only”. Well that’s discriminatory. They don’t even do that at football anymore.

My friend questioned this and the tickets people confirmed that of course they wouldn’t discriminate against her and that seating would be provided. And indeed it was. An uncomfortable plastic chair set at the back of beyond from where she couldn’t see a thing. And she would also have been miles from anyone else had it not been for a couple of friends staying beside her – with the result that they didn’t see anything either. So the BBC complied with the letter of the law but the spirit of the law went out the studio window. The whole idea of attending is to be part of the audience, to share the camaraderie, not to be plonked as far out of sight as possible. Come on BBC, this is not playing fair! In previous years I know that everyone other than 22 year old blonde girls were sent to the remoter parts of the studio despite their being early in the queue to get in. It just offends my sense of natural justice. Did you know that 22 year old blonde girls constitute a remarkably small part of the average Eurovision demographic?

So I’m afraid this year the BBC does not get a big round of applause from me for this show. I have high hopes for next year. There’s not a lot further for it to plummet.

Pete Waterman. Oodathortit.

Pete Waterman So. Pete Waterman. How very kind of you to volunteer for this exacting role. You will be under the spotlight of up to 600 million viewers worldwide. Even more arduous, you will be nitpicked by UK Eurovision fans in their tens. Maybe even hundreds.

I’ve seen your CV. It’s pretty impressive. I note the first hit single you were involved in was “Rock and Roll Parts One and Two” by Gary Glitter. I’m not going to say anything inappropriate about that at this time.

Gary BarlowLooking to the future then, you have a big act to follow. Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber is a very well known composer. I would venture to suggest he is actually more known worldwide than you are. Another slight problem is that you are not Gary Barlow. We were all expecting him, you know. So were half of Europe. But let that not be a problem for now. The big question is the song.

For last year, although Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has written “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “The Phantom of the Opera” and surely his crowning glory “He Whistled at Me” from Starlight Express, he didn’t deliver a song of that stature last year.Rick Astley Most Eurovision fans agree that “It’s My Time” had probably been mouldering at the bottom of a drawer for ages as he realised it didn’t fit in to any of his musicals.Kylie Minogue So the big issue for this year is PLEASE WRITE A DECENT POP SONG and not give us something that was Xeroxed in the 1980s and has been lurking in some dark cabinet until now. Give us a “Never Gonna Give You Up” or an “I Should Be So Lucky” and not a “Success” by Sigue Sigue Sputnik (never heard of it myself but apparently you were responsible for this in 1988).

I do have some concern also that you apparently revealed your involvement with the UK Eurovision entry on your radio show last week. It’s very concerning that no one picked up on this fact – so either, no Eurovision fans listen to your show (in which case are you the kind of person to give them what they want), or no one cares about the UK Eurovision entry (that can’t possibly be true, can it…), or that no one actually listens to your show anyway (which can hardly be a vote of confidence either.)

I do wish you well. I really really do. I really hope you are closely involved in the procedure to select the performer(s) – whatever that procedure may be as we still haven’t been told. I am sure you aren’t the kind of man who would put a lot of effort in to a project only for it to be second-best, a disappointment, an underachievement, a failure. So put that effort in; don’t allow yourself to be swayed by any negative impressions of “Eurovision”; do it from the heart; make a dream come true. Impress the televoters and juries of Eastern Europe; make us all proud. I am optimistic that you will do all that we require of you.

And welcome to the Eurovision family.

It’s that time of year again and I am officially excited

Eurovision The Eurovision Song Contest. Let’s look at it objectively. It’s probably the world’s largest live light entertainment show. Up to 600 million viewers according to some estimates. And with its being broadcast online since 2000, it additionally has a very large number of people following it in countries where it is not televised. It has given ex-Soviet states a chance to shine on the global stage and certainly contributed towards the Baltic States growing closer to the rest of Europe. It has created stars in the world of music. You know their names.

Let’s look at it from the heart. It’s an opportunity for all those countries who used to go to war with each other to vie for superiority, to do so safely from the pizzazz of a glitzy stage. Games without frontiers, war without tears. It’s a feast for the senses – an overwhelming amount of colour, light, sound, audience, competition – it’s live, it’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s emotional, it’s just a marvellous, wonderful thing.

And although it’s just light entertainment, it deserves to be taken seriously. Not po-faced: that’s not entertainment. Not anorakky: that’s alienating. I simply mean treat it with the same respect you would have for any other Saturday night entertainment show. Don’t deride it. Don’t be ashamed of it. Unfortunately I think the BBC over the years has simply come to the conclusion that it doesn’t know how to deal with it.

Graham Norton Last year could have been a turning point but I fear we’re not going to capitalise on the extra interest it created. Graham Norton was a vast improvement on Terry Wogan. He still made it funny, he still stuck the critical boot in where it was needed; but at the same time he did show that he had done some research, did give relevant background facts about some of the people appearing, without being an anorak about it. We had a pre-selection contest that had been well trailed (with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “People of Britain” broadcasts), conducted over several weeks, eliminating contestants X-Factor/Pop Idol/Strictly/Maria style, sweeping the UK viewers along with it and encouraging, legitimising their enthusiasm for the contest.

By this time last year we were well into the pre-selection period. But what of this year? This year we have only just started watching “So You Think You Can Dance”, and it’s no doubt got a few more weeks to go. Eurovision, that show that only clocks up 600 million viewers, has been sidelined again.

I feel the BBC don’t know whether it is something to be taken jokily, whether it deserves to derision heaped on it, and to mock its followers; or whether they think it has any credibility and should therefore be supported, promoted and financed – not only their contribution as one of the “Big 4” but also financing a big lead up pre-selection series.

They should also take responsibility for our subsequent performance and our result. No more of this blaming Europeans for our disappointing results. How much more assertive and productive to say, “We chose to put forward this song, this singer, it was the wrong choice, we offered the public the wrong options, we didn’t approach the right performers and writers and we didn’t publicise it sufficiently – it’s our fault and it’s up to us to put it right”. How unlike the usual Eurovision moaning, which admittedly came mainly from Terry Wogan, but which the corporation seemed to lap up with glee.

Quite rightly, many Europeans think of the UK as the birthplace of great music. This year they will be thinking Lily Allen, Robbie Williams, The Killers. When we send someone considerably below that level of entertainment value they get annoyed with us. Andy Abraham In 2008 Russia sent Dima Bilan. UK sent Andy Abraham. Je reste ma valise. And yes, I know, people will say Lily Allen and Robbie Williams won’t enter because they’ve got “too much to lose”. But surely the same applied to Dima Bilan and Patricia Kaas, and probably at least half a dozen others over the past few years. There’s also “an awful lot to gain”.

Oh and look at the top 5 last year:

1) Norway
2) Iceland
3) Azerbaijan
4) Turkey
5) UK

That has to put paid to the argument that only the East wins nowadays because “they all vote for each other”. Three of the top five are from the west. In the past few years the winning song has been one from the East that has appealed to voters from the West. Javine Last year it was reversed, a song from the West that appealed to voters from the East. But that appeal has to be subtle. Much as I enjoyed the charms of Javine in 2005, her song was trying to be Turkish. Norway’s winning song this year had an instant appeal, but it wasn’t trying to be anything other than it genuinely was, upbeat, from the heart, honest. Iceland’s highly regarded song that came second was as simple and honest and straightforward as it is possible to be. Me, I couldn’t write a song for toffee, so I plead with you Eurovision songwriters out there, just write a good song. One you can be proud of to stand alone as a good, honest, lovely song. It’s good songs that win and are remembered.

Phew! That’s a lot off my chest. I only say it because I care. I care very much how the UK perform in the Eurovision. I want us to be proud of our entries; to be able to say that we offered the rest of Europe the best we had. Other countries do. We used to.

And I should add that we don’t yet officially know what the BBC propose for this year. They might surprise and delight me. I really hope so. But if it is a megastar it would have been great to have known earlier. The excitement would have been building around Europe too and that could only have been to our advantage.