hump and nort
Thursday, 17 May 2012

National anthems…

Can it be true? Is it possible that the cool, hip swinger himself, Engelbert Humperdinck, will win Eurovision for the UK? Richard Barber meets him and then calls in on the show’s irreverent commentator, Graham Norton

Written by Richard Barber
He's sold over 150 million records worldwide in a career that has spanned some 45 years. He has four Grammy nominations to his name, a Golden Globe for Entertainer Of The Year, 63 gold- and 24 platinum-selling records. And now, at a stately 76, Engelbert Humperdinck has reached the acme of his remarkable career.

On Saturday 26 May, in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, the Hump (or 'Enge', as he's sometimes known) will warble the specially written ballad, Love Will Set You Free, and, it is hoped, bring the Eurovision crown back to the UK.

Certainly, no one is more determined than the man himself. 'I have my eye on the prize,' he says. 'I'm very proud of the song and, with the nation behind me – not to mention my fans spread across Europe – I look forward to the roller coaster that is Eurovision.'

There have been many high points in his seamless career. Knocking The Beatles off— the Number One spot with Release Me in 1967, and spending a total of 56 weeks in the charts was certainly one of them. But so was his version of the theme song to 1996's › lm, Beavis And Butt-Head Do America. Its title? Lesbian Seagull, which went platinum and proves that Mr H must have a sense of humour.

Always open to new ideas, Engelbert was thrilled when approached by the BBC asking if he would represent his country in the Eurovision Song Contest. 'It was overwhelming,' he recalls. 'I was very honoured and said yes immediately.'

His good cheer went up a notch when he heard the song he'd have to sing. 'It has real quality,' he says, 'and longevity. The team who put together the lyrics and melody has done an outstanding job. It's a real pleasure to sing, although it also works well as an instrumental.

'I've been called the King of Romance,' says the man who started life as Arnold George Dorsey, one of 10 siblings of a Leicester-based soldier and his opera singer wife. 'Well, this is a beautiful, romantic song. I've represented romance all my life and it's something you can't fake. It has to be within you. Romance is what makes the world go round. And songs like this make people fall in love.'

Choreographer and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips has been hired to stage Engelbert's Eurovision performance, in front of what is predicted to be a TV audience in excess of 120 million viewers worldwide. 'It's a huge challenge,' he says, 'but one I'm ready to accept.

'Nobody knows what will happen on the night but all I can do is my very best. To be honest, Eurovision has long seemed a perfect platform for me, so it's fantastic that I can finally be a part of it and particularly at this stage of my career. I'm now hoping that my fans across Europe will remember all the songs I've sung over the years and give me their vote. This is a prize I plan to bring back to Britain.'

 


 

GRAHAM NORTON

According to the man who will once again act as irreverent commentator for the British small-screen audience, the Eurovision Song Contest is 'event television'. And he's a genuine fan.

'While some feel it's easy to laugh at,' says Graham Norton, 49, 'others take it far too seriously. I fall somewhere in the middle. I love the whole spectacle of the occasion, but I also like the fact that every year there is a handful of really extraordinary performances and beautiful songs.'

So how does he rate Engelbert's chances? 'The man's iconic,' he says. 'Everybody knows who he is and he's sold a hell of a lot of records. And we have a real chance of winning if viewers and juries like the song and his performance. It's a quality piece of work and, despite what some people think, at the end of the day, Eurovision is a song competition.'

That said, he's the first to acknowledge that nobody can predict what will happen on the night. 'Who would have thought Azerbaijan would win it last year? And here we are oΠto Baku at the end of the month. Eurovision is always full of surprises. Already Engelbert's claim to be the oldest Eurovision contestant has been trumped by the Buranovo Grannies, six women from the Ural Mountains who'll be representing Russia. You couldn't make it up.'

The man who made the contest what it is – for British audiences, anyway – was of course Sir Terry Wogan. He   rst picked up the Eurovision microphone in 1971, only finally relinquishing it after the 2008 competition in Belgrade.

Graham Norton needs no encouragement to sing Terry's praises. 'I really look up to him,' he says. 'I've never forgotten him once, saying that having an Irish accent helps on British television because it's classless. The audience can't pigeonhole you and that's very liberating.'

But not in his wildest dreams did he ever imagine that he'd be inheriting a national institution like Eurovision. 'When Terry headed oŒ to commentate his first contest in Dublin, I doubt anyone was jealous. He's the person who single-handedly made it what it is.' But Graham wasn't intimidated, he says, by the prospect of replicating Wogan's ready wit. 'I only say things I'd say if I'd been sitting at home. Come to think of it, I'm not quite sure why I need bother going all the way to Baku. Why can't I just watch it on the telly in my ™ at with a little microphone to hand, the dogs beside me and a box of wine?'

He's aware that Terry Wogan grew weary of the block voting, whereby countries that are natural allies vote for one another, no matter whether the song has any merit.

'One of the good things about Engelbert is that he's known in every country taking part. So that immediately puts him at an important advantage. I really believe the UK could win it this year.'

The Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast on BBC One on Saturday 26 May.


20 THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT EUROVISION (OR MAY HAVE FORGOTTEN!)

  • The first Eurovision Song Contest took place on 24 May, 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland.
  • Johnny Logan won the contest for Ireland three times – twice as a performer in 1980 and 1987, and once as the writer of Linda Martin's 1992 winning entry, Why Me?
  • Norway has come bottom 10 times.
  • Abba went on to become the most successful Eurovision winners, picking up their crown with Waterloo in 1974.
  • In 1964, a demonstrator reached the stage of the contest in Copenhagen.
  • In 1969, four countries tied for the prize: The Netherlands, Spain, France and the UK.
  • In 1986, Sandra Kim won for Belgium. She claimed to be 15 but she was actually 13.
  • In 1988, French Canadian singer Céline Dion won for Switzerland.
  • In 1998, Dana International, representing Israel, became the first – and only – transsexual to win Eurovision.
  • Lena, the German winner in 2010, decided to defend her title in last year's Eurovision – only the second person to do so in the contest's history.
  • Domenico Mudugno's Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu is the most covered song from the Eurovision song contest.
  • The UK has won five times.
  • Ireland has won seven times – more than any other country.
  • The Ukrainian singer Ruslana, who won the contest in 2004, was later awarded a seat in parliament.
  • The song Norway entered for the 1980 contest was about the construction of a hydro-electric power station.
  • The largest audience to attend the Eurovision Song Contest was in 2001 at Copenhagen – 38,000 gathered to watch.
  • In 1977 the UK contest was postponed due to a strike by BBC cameramen.
  • In 1968 Spain won with their song La, La, La... The word La was repeated 138 times.
  • The second song to be performed has never won.
  • More than 1,000 songs have already featured in the contest.


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