The Eurovision Song Contest 2023 is underway – and taking place in the UK for the first time since 1998. All eyes turn to Liverpool, as the nation pins its hopes on Mae Muller, whose I Wrote a Song has already broken into the pop charts (a promising sign).
A win may be unlikely, but she should at least escape the feared “nul points” given to our 2021 entry, James Newman. Or will she? To find out, tune in to BBC One for the Grand Final at 8pm on Saturday May 13.
The UK’s Eurovision track record has always been contentious. Dodgy double-acts and spurious voting tactics have seen us finish anywhere from first place (last clinched in 1998) to dead last (most recently in 2021).
Here, we look back at all 65 UK entries to see how they hold up, from the ridiculous to the sublime.
65. Jemini, Cry Baby, 2003
Now notorious for its “nul points” last-place result, every part of this song is a mess. The Liverpool pop duo have since admitted that their performance was out of tune. They claimed they couldn’t hear the backing track. Unfortunately, we could.
64. James Newman, Embers, 2021
In other hands, this could have been mediocre. In Newman’s it was a car-crash. Flanked by giant trumpets (a nod to the tune’s parping synth-brass), and wearing a collection of zips held together with faux-leather, Newman sang like a dad having a go at karaoke after a few pints, not a contestant for the world’s most-watched musical event. Seemingly short of breath and struggling to hit even the few notes the song required, he deserved every one of his nul points.
63. Ryder, Runner in the Night, 1986
Just listen to that horrible, squelching synth bass. Led by charisma-vacuum Maynard Williams, this manufactured sextet were an unprecedented flop in the pop charts. Unlike our previous Eurovision entries, Ryder’s offering couldn’t even crawl into the UK Top 75. No wonder: it sounds like a rejected Survivor B-side.
62. Daz Sampson, Teenage Life, 2006
This misguided hiphop effort paired ageing rapper Daz Sampson with a group of girls in school uniforms. Their catchy “kiddie” chorus aims at the youthful rebellion Pink Floyd captured in ‘Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)’, but combined with Sampson it sounds more like Tim Westwood freestyling over a primary-school assembly.
61. Joe and Jake, You’re Not Alone, 2016
Pasteurised leftovers from The Voice, Joe and Jake were as thrilling as low-fat yogurt. I loathed the bland, corporate greige of this by-the-numbers pop effort at the time, but listening to it years later – after all those pandemic-era reassurances that “you’re not alone” – it now seems an innocent relic of a simpler time. Still dull, though.
60. Blue, I Can, 2011
Until 2011, nobody thought they’d be looking back fondly at the “good” days of Blue. But this synth-y sprawl was a new low for the once successful boy band. “I know I can… get back up again,” they sang. They couldn’t. The song came an undistinguished 10th. In the years that followed, every member of the band revealed themselves to be not only musically but also financially bankrupt.
59. Scooch, Flying the Flag (For You), 2007
Everything that felt fresh about Gina G’s 1996 disco hit was regurgitated here as electropop. Desperately angling for camp classic status (which they have, regrettably, since achieved), Scooch had one of the laziest gimmicks of any UK Eurovision entry: “Let’s dress as airline stewards! Because we’re singing a song about flying!” An eight-hour delay on Ryanair would be more fun than this.
58. Nicki French, Don’t Play That Song Again, 2000
The title says it all.
56. Black Lace, Mary Ann, 1979
It may not be Black Lace’s worst crime against humanity (that would be ‘Agadoo‘) but this country-inflected rock flop was still tripe. A generous listener might call those growling vocals a nod to London’s then-vital punk scene, but this wearisome, nudge-wink performance is closer to George Formby than Johnny Rotten.
56. Emma, Give a Little Love Back to the World, 1990
Almost as bad as Black Lace’s humour was Emma’s queasy earnestness. “We should be proud of all the great things we’ve achieved,” this environmental mope begins, like a particularly woolly episode of Thought for the Day. Don’t blame the 15-year-old singer, who gives a solid enough performance. Blame the song’s writer, one-man Europop factory Paul Curtis, who – after penning The Shadows’ excellent 1975 entry – has churned out more than 20 Eurovision contenders (mostly rejected in the A Song for Europe contest).
55. Samantha Janus, A Message to Your Heart, 1991
Song-smith Paul Curtis was back in Bob Geldof mode with this preachy power-ballad, reminding the audience that “through politics and ignorance / half the world’s in need”. Janus made more of an impression on TV viewers a few years later as Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders.
54. Josh Dubovie, That Sounds Good To Me, 2010
It might have sounded good to you, Josh, but it didn’t to anyone else.
53. Lindsay D, No Dream Impossible, 2001
Actually, Lindsay, one dream is impossible: a UK Eurovision win this century. This would have been merely disappointing (rather than gnawingly awful) if it weren’t for the bandana-wearing meathead who interrupted Ms D to offer motivational titbits such as “be strong” and “keep pushin’ on and on”, all while pretending he knew how to play the synth.
52. Michael Rice, Bigger than Us, 2019
Meh. This serviceable but uninteresting entry was second-hand, fell-off-the-back-of-a-lorry pop. It was written for Sweden’s Eurovision entry John Lundvik to perform at a different contest, Melodifestivalen. Lundvik wisely decided he didn’t want it, so we took it. X Factor reject Michael Rice placed last in the whole contest, which felt a little harsh: there was nothing distinctly wrong with Rice or the song, albeit nothing right either.
51. Rikki, Only the Light, 1987
This drab ballad – a flop in both the contest and the charts – was a grim foreshadowing of things to come. Listen past the Eighties synth, and in those overwrought vocals you’ll find the germ of every cringeworthy, sub-X-Factor number we’ve put forward in recent years. Utterly hopeless.
50. Precious, Say it Again, 1999
Alright, I’ll say it again: utterly hopeless. Unlike Rikki, however, Precious had a future – one member of the girl group, Jenny Frost, went on to release three number one singles with Atomic Kitten.
49. Prima Donna, Love Enough for Two, 1980
Billed as “a group specially formed for the competition”, Prima Donna was the Frankenstein’s monster of Eurovision, bolted together from a former New Seeker, a future Bardo member and the brother of someone in Bucks Fizz. They were introduced on the night by Noel Edmonds, and even he – a man who believes in melon-sized, invisible karmic orbs – seemed skeptical about their chances. The song may have been rubbish, but the early Eighties fashion (block colours and high-waisted trousers) was on point.
48. Electro Velvet, Still in Love with You, 2015
Electro-swing had a brief moment of popularity at the beginning of the 2010s; ‘We No Speak Americano’ was a number one hit in 2010, and genre acts like The Correspondents were earning critical acclaim. But by 2015, that moment had passed. The same year that hipster bible Vice magazine labelled electro-swing “The Worst Genre Of Music In The World”, we put forward an electro-swing duo as our Eurovision entry. Despite their razor-sharp dress-sense, Electro Velvet were like a pair of guests who turn up to a party after midnight, sober and uncomfortable, just as everyone else is leaving.
47. Co-Co, The Bad Old Days, 1978
“I was lost for learnin’ like a song without a key…” Indeed. That lyric was a little on-the-nose for this wobbly, unmemorable performance. It came in 11th place, at the time Britain’s worst Eurovision result to date. Co-Co’s Cheryl Baker would find a better vehicle for her talents three years later, in Bucks Fizz.
46. Sandie Shaw, Puppet on a String, 1967
All right, yes, this was our first Eurovision winner. But it shouldn’t have been. Shaw looks dead behind the eyes throughout this wretched oompah nightmare. “I was instinctively repelled by its sexist drivel and cuckoo-clock tune,” the barefoot pop star has since confessed. She’s not the only one.
45. Lulu, Boom Bang-a-Bang, 1969
Our second winner was better, but not much better, sounding like the score to a Bavarian children’s cartoon. After her excellent work on ‘Shout’ and the title tune to 1967 film To Sir, with Love, Lulu let herself down here. This is the way the Sixties end, not with a bang-a-bang but a whimper.
44. Live Report, Why Do I Always Get it Wrong?, 1989
Another weepy ballad, sung by a bald man barely clinging on to his ponytail. Despite the lacklustre performance and questionable fashion choices (shoestring tie, leather tuxedo jacket, beige trousers), the judges still found something to admire here: it came in second place, with the most perfect 12 scores of the evening.
43. Lucie Jones, Never Give Up On You, 2017
“Siri, sing me a Celine Dion B-side.” Welsh model Jones tried in vain to inject any energy, humanity or warmth into this sluggish anthem-by-numbers. Its lyrics were roundly mocked on social media due to its unfortunate timing; this was our first Eurovision entry since the Brexit referendum, when Britain told Europe that we were, in fact, quite happy to give up on you.
42. Scott Fitzgerald, Go, 1988
Inhale deeply. Breathe in that cheese. Like a fine Camembert, this slice of overblown schmaltz has only ripened over time, and now has a perverse kitsch appeal. Written by Bruce Forsyth’s daughter Julie, it unbelievably came within a whisker of winning, reaching an undeserved second-place. As his Gatsby-writing namesake once put it, “Nothing is as obnoxious as other people’s luck”.
41. Olivia Newton John, Long Live Love, 1974
As John Travolta would later sing, “Why, Sandy, why-yi-yi?” Before she found big-screen fame in Grease, the fabulous Olivia Newton John gritted her teeth through this choppy marching tune. Snapping out the words “HAP-PY PEO-PLE”, she sounded like she was planning to bite open their jugulars. The song is ostensibly about the Salvation Army, and that military rhythm gives it a strangely oppressive feel. It’s like something they might play over a tannoy at Disneyland North Korea.
40. Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson, Sing, Little Birdie, 1958
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a husband-and-wife double act. Carr and Johnson gawp inanely as the little birdie flies past their gaze (brought to life by the orchestra’s piccolo). “Sing, little birdie up above / Sing a song of love!” Those with the highest tolerance for twee might enjoy it; for everyone else, it makes a strong case for the benefits of bird flu.
39. Ronnie Carroll, Ring-A-Ding Girl, 1962
This starts off with such promise. With his dark good looks and strong, even tenor, Belfast-born Carroll seduces us through the opening bars – before launching into a chorus so irritating it has been proven to give listeners mumps. Ring-ding-a-do? Ring-ding-a-don’t.
38. Ronnie Carroll, Say Wonderful Things, 1963
Back to make amends for 1962, Carroll returned to Sing Forgettable Things flanked by three identical chorus girls. It’s an improvement on his previous effort (though both songs came in fourth place). A nice walking guitar-riff elevates this above mere slush.
37. Cliff Richard, Congratulations, 1968
It may still be popular, but that insufferable earworm of a tune is really nothing to congratulate. Still, Sir Cliff’s knee-popping dance moves deserve a smattering of applause. They certainly made an impression at the time: after one particularly impressive backward hop, his female fans could be heard shrieking with excitement.
36. Vikki, Love Is…, 1985
Vikki’s under-powered power-ballad may not have been prize material, but her hair stylist certainly deserved a trophy. After Eurovision, the song sank without a trace. Vikki has since renamed herself Aeone, and relaunched her career with more success as an LA-based ambient folk singer.
35. Belle and the Devotions, Love Games, 1984
It may be mediocre, but ‘Love Games’ didn’t deserve the booing it received on the night. Really, it was the England football team that the Luxembourg audience were booing, after the fans’ atrocious behaviour at a match in the Duchy the previous year. Not for the last time, an otherwise innocuous Eurovision entry was sunk by politics.
34. Clodagh Rodgers, Jack In The Box, 1971
A tune so relentlessly perky it needs medical sedation. Northern Irish singer Rodgers throws herself into it heartily, but neither her vocal talent nor her eyeball-itching pink outfit can make this novelty jingle a classic. Not great, but at least it’s not Puppet on a String.
33. Jade Ewen, It’s My Time, 2009
By the end of the Noughties, not even Andrew Lloyd Webber could lift the UK out of its decade-long Euro-malaise. He not only wrote this disappointingly un-hummable tune, but also played piano for Ewen at the contest. Despite the beige lyrics (courtesy of Diane Warren) and competent but unremarkable melody, Lloyd Webber’s international cachet and some canny pre-competition promotion elevated’It’s My Time’ to a very respectable fifth place.
32. Jessica Garlick, Come Back, 2002
The exact mid-point of the Eurovision spectrum. A song neither brilliant nor awful, entirely without distinguishing features. Written by Martyn Baylay, an airline pilot from Birmingham, this ballad is a kind of pop yardstick: the relative success of any song on this list can be measured against it. In other words, from here on things can only get better.
31. Bryan Johnson: Looking High, High, High, 1960
Ah, the tale of a charming baritone stalker, hunting high and low for his runaway woman. Barring an unsuccessfully whistled interlude, and its questionable sexual politics, this is actually rather fun. Out-of-work stage actor Johnson serves up ham with relish. When he sings “You sure could have knocked me down / With the proverbial feather,” he looks like he means it.
30. Kenneth McKellar, A Man Without Love, 1966
“A man without love is only half a man…” Audiences were treated to a rare glimpse of the lower half of a man, as McKellar – then king of the Scottish panto circuit – took the stage in a kilt. He gave an impassioned performance of this earnest tune, lent a little sauce by the occasional glimpse of a Caledonian kneecap.
29. The Allisons, Are You Sure?, 1961
It’s the Sixties, baby! Pop had arrived, albeit in the meekest form imaginable. Erzatz brothers “John and Bob Allison” (Brian Alford and Colin Day) smile politely through this soapy clean, barbershop-flavoured duet. Lovely voices, though – so smooth they glide in one ear and straight out the other.
28. Javine, Touch My Fire, 2005
Now, some cynics have claimed that Javine Hylton only won the televised pre-selection contest due to her unfortunate, Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction. But that does her a disservice. ‘Touch My Fire’s saucy, bangra-infused R&B was miles better than the song tipped by bookies to represent the UK that year, Katie Price’s Auto-tune train-wreck ‘Not Just Anybody’. Still, when it came to the actual Eurovision Song Contest it flopped badly, coming in 22nd out of 24.
27. James Fox, Hold On To Our Love, 2004
A likeable, and refreshingly simple, mid-tempo acoustic guitar song (with Fox’s brother Dean on drums). Disappointingly for the UK, it only came in 16th. His unexpectedly low ranking sparked accusations of voter bias from such expert pundits as Terry Wogan, Bucks Fizz singer Cheryl Baker and, erm, Fox’s mum. In hindsight, though, the result was perhaps down to their unglitzy performance rather than any fiendish tactical voting.
26. Frances Ruffelle, We Will Be Free (Lonely Symphony), 1994
The funky slap-bass and sultry vocals of the verse made this a decent, even enjoyable entry, while the note-bending chorus allowed Ruffelle to show off lung-capacity that would land her star roles in several West End musicals. And yet, the two halves never quite gel together, making this a near-miss rather than a smash hit.
25. Mae Muller, I Wrote a Song
Hopes are high for this year’s entry, a tale of revenge told in faintly Latin-tinged club-pop. The lyrics boast of how the singer has got her own back on the ex who dumped her, by writing a kick-ass song about it (this very song, in fact). Now, I love a bit of self-reflexive meta-pop as much as the next chap, but as the song builds and builds, Muller’s precision-tooled hooks – at least, in the music video – never quite deliver the wild abandon they promise. But the live performance might just take flight. Keep your fingers crossed.
24. Andy Abraham, Even If, 2008
The first X Factor reject to represent us, but by no means the last. A groovy, cheeky, upbeat soul number with a head-bobbing rhythm, Even If was our best Eurovision entry of the Noughties, and yet – undeservedly – came at the very bottom of the table. Perhaps there is something to those rumours of tactical voting, after all.
23. Sweet Dreams, I’m Never Giving Up, 1983
Dressed in primary-coloured sportswear and chunky headbands, teenage trio Sweet Dreams couldn’t have looked more Eighties if they tried. With its anthemic opening chords and up-tempo chorus, it’s aged far better than anyone would have expected at the time (the song placed sixth, and failed to make a splash in the charts).
22. Brotherhood of Man, Save Your Kisses for Me, 1976
This was, at the time, the biggest-selling Eurovision winner in history. From those syrupy I-love-you’s to the unambitious dance routine (check out that synchronised hand-holding!) this is a relic from a simpler age. You’ll find no better example of wide-eyed romantic love… until the punch-line comes: the beloved “baby” is actually a baby. A three-year-old. Surprise!
21. Bardo, One Step Further, 1982
Underrated at the time (it only reached seventh place), this punchy duet from Crackerjack presenter Sally Ann Triplett and her real-life lover Stephen Fischer benefited from the couple’s palpable chemistry. It’s upbeat pop with hooks aplenty, and would sit well on any Eurovision mix-tape.
20. SuRie, Storm, 2018
You won’t find a better example of “keep calm and carry on” spirit than SuRie, who was interrupted in the final by a stage invader, who wrenched the microphone out of her hands. The classically trained singer carried on valiantly nonetheless, winning the goodwill of the crowd. The song itself was good – an optimistic, club-friendly anthem – but it’s the performance on the night that earns this one a place in the top 20.
19. Imaani, Where Are You, 1998
Imaani Saleem’s soulful vocals gave ‘Where Are You’ a real emotional punch, but the backing track – and flat drum machine effects – have dated the song terribly. On the other hand, it has since taken on a symbolic importance as the last song that gave the UK a chance of winning: Imaani came in second place, a feat we haven’t matched since.
18. Michael Ball, One Step Out of Time, 1992
Another guilty pleasure, made all the sweeter by Ball’s shameless dad-dancing. Terry Wogan raved about it, your parents probably love it, and after a few drinks it’ll have you pumping your fists at any Eurovision party.
17. Bonnie Tyler, Believe in Me, 2013
If it didn’t quite reach the heights of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, this was at least a Dark Afternoon of the Kidney. Tyler struggled audibly on the first line, but soon recovered for a powerful and impassioned performance, with a lifetime’s worth of feeling: “You never see the rainbow, you just curse the rain”. The critics certainly saw the rainbow, giving this two Eurovision Song Contest Radio Awards for best song and best singer, but the actual contest voters rained on her parade – ‘Believe in Me’ placed a disappointing 19th.
16. Engelbert Humperdinck, Love Will Set You Free, 2012
Much like Bonnie Tyler, this was another attempt to win Eurovision with a fine-but-weathered singer dredged up from your mum’s record collection. If poor old Engelbert had sung this for the UK back in the Sixties, he would have easily made it into the top five. Sadly, this beautiful Latin-tinged waltz number arrived several decades too late. Tastes had moved on, and the septuagenarian crooner was cruelly snubbed by voters, placing second-last.
15. Matt Monro, I Love The Little Things, 1964
Sadly, no video footage survives of this performance. But the audio proves Matt “The Man with the Golden Voice” Monro lived up to his moniker. Despite the uninspiring lyrics (“My love, I’m so in love with you”), he sings this upbeat tune with the same warmth he brought to 1963’s ‘From Russia with Love’. It came in a well-deserved second place.
14. Sonia, Better the Devil You Know, 1993
Proof that everything sounds better on a keytar. Liverpool’s Sonia should have won with this irresistible, dancefloor-filling rock’n’roll froth, but came in second to Ireland’s Niamh Kavanagh.
13. Gina G, Ooh Aah… Just a Little Bit, 1996
This was perhaps the first time that our Eurovision entry was ahead of the pop curve. With its pumping disco beat, computerised backing track and hyper-athletic dance routine, it looks ahead to Noughties hits from (at best) Girls Aloud and (at worst) Scooter. A fun fact: that tiny dress Gina wore for the contest was originally designed for Cher.
12. The New Seekers, Beg, Steal or Borrow, 1972
From billowing sleeves to velvet tuxedos, The New Seekers had their Eurovision look nailed to perfection. Their song wasn’t half bad, either, with its neat harmonies and catchy singalong chorus. Another second-place result for Britain, and a far-better-than-second-rate entry.
11. Molly, Children of the Universe, 2014
People love to gripe about the UK’s diminished status at Eurovision, but the last few years (Joe and Jake excepted) have been a vast improvement on the Noughties. Young Molly Smitten-Downes wrote this rabble-rousing anthem herself – the first UK act to do so since Katrina and the Waves – and the results were surprisingly very good. That “power to the people” refrain packs a wallop, even if the political statement underpinning it remains vague.
10. Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran, Rock Bottom, 1977
Not just a fun, honky-tonk tune, but also a rather memorable performance. Moran and de Paul were dressed in fetching Edwardian morning-suits, sat back-to-back playing a pair of duelling grand pianos. Not everything has to be a life-or-death love ballad: ‘Rock Bottom’ proves a little light amusement can go a long way. The duo deserve bonus-points for somehow making the whole thing look understated.
9. Love City Groove, Love City Groove, 1995
Our first foray into Eurovision hip-hop was widely mocked at the time. And yet, two decades on, it’s hard to resist that funky chorus. It may not be typical Eurovision fare, but who can argue with Q-Tee’s logic when she raps, “You know I’m the one to rock your world, because… honey, yeah.” ‘Love City Groove’ is in fact an unappreciated Euro-gem – because honey, yeah?
8. Cliff Richard, Power to All Our Friends, 1973
By 1973, the hippie movement was dead – except at Eurovision. Sir Cliff’s backing band included a guitarist in round John Lennon glasses and an oversized bongo. Extolling the virtues of the simple life (“ploughing in the valley”), Richard segues confidently between soft, earnest verse and brassy, rocking chorus. “Power to the bees!” Who can argue with that?
7. Patricia Bredin, All, 1957
A nostalgic delight. The lyrics promise “all the joy of living” and “all the golden dreams of yesterday”; half a century on, this Vera Lynn-esque number serves them up on a silver plate. An amateur opera singer from Hull, our first ever entry was clearly pleased as punch to be there. Bredin’s vowels may be cold as glass, but she performs with a smile and a glint in her eye.
6. Mary Hopkin, Knock Knock Who’s There, 1970
There’s an oddly poignant edge to this sweet, upbeat number from Welsh siren Hopkin. Paul McCartney was a big fan, and it’s easy to see why. Her shimmering vocals took her to second place, pipped to the post by Irish singer Dana.
5. Bucks Fizz, Making Your Mind Up, 1981
Colourful, cheeky and exactly the right kind of naff – there’s a reason our winning 1981 team are still so popular among Eurovisionistas: it’s everything we want from the competition. That skirt-ripping dance routine (the big reveal timed to match the lyric “if you want to see some more”), deserves a place on any list of the contest’s most memorable moments. Let’s overlook the fact that (whisper it) Fizz’s actual singing was more flat than sparkling.
4. The Shadows, Let Me Be the One, 1975
Cliff Richard’s one-time backing band were better off without him. They were the first proper rock group to represent the UK, and couldn’t have looked more laid back about the whole thing. When singer Bruce Welch briefly flubbed his words onstage, he might have got away with it unnoticed – but he chose not to, leaning into the microphone to joke with the crowd “I knew it”. Not only does this loose-limbed, Beatles-y number succeed as a song in its own right, but it also has that most elusive quality: authenticity.
3. Sam Ryder, Spaceman, 2022
We’d spent most of the 21st century in the Eurovision doldrums, but found an unlikely space-faring saviour in Sam Ryder – looking uncannily like Sam Rockwell’s Zaphod Beeblebrox, in the much-maligned Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Film. I’m still riding the giddy high of last year’s result, which saw the UK rocket up to second place – just behind Ukraine – with our catchiest entry in decades. “I’m up in space, man,” is a jet-propelled earworm for the ages, from a likeable chap with serious rock chops and an ecstatic falsetto. A pan-galactic gargle-blaster of a hit.
2. Kathy Kirby, I Belong, 1965
Blonde bombshell Kirby’s wide-eyed zeal on this self-empowerment anthem brought her cult fame as an enduring gay icon. Bold and fiery, it was our first Sixties entry that actually sounded like the music the kids were listening to, and would have been a worthy winner – if it weren’t nudged down into second place by Luxembourg’s equally radical entry, the Serge Gainsbourg-penned ‘Poupée de cire, poupée de son’.
1. Katrina and the Waves, Love Shine a Light, 1997
Sometimes, the simple ones are the best. In 1997, Katrina and the Waves’ peak (with Eighties hits like Walking on Sunshine) was long behind them. They had nothing to lose, and threw themselves into this optimistic anthem with utter conviction. In other hands it might have been pure cheese, but Katrina Leskanich’s breathy, all-or-nothing performance gives it an unexpected power.