EEurope don’t hate UK after all, they were just waiting for a decent song. That’s what seasoned Eurovision watchers concluded after watching Sam Ryder take a triumphant second place on Saturday night.
It was a second-place finish that felt like a win, given that Ukraine was expected to win and – in the larger scheme of things – to win the competition.
After a long and emotional evening in Turin, the Kalush Orchestra won for Ukraine with their folk/hip-hop anthem Stefania. The band members had received special permission to leave the country and will be back involved in the war effort in two days. The victory led President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to defiantly promise that the contest would be held “one day” in Mariupol.
It was a remarkable and important moment. The next question, certainly for the British fans, was who would come second? And given the UK’s recent dismal record – including draws last year – how low would its vote be this year?
Instead, Ryder and his song Space Man finished second with 466 points.
“It puts firmly to bed the argument that the UK didn’t win because of Brexit or because of what Europe thinks of us,” said TV critic and Eurovision pundit Scott Bryan. “It’s because our entry wasn’t interesting or good enough.”
He added: “The song was fantastic but just as important, the performance was fantastic…it was a real pleasure to watch.”
Ryder is the UK’s biggest hit since Imaani was runner-up to Israel’s Dana International in 1998. In the years since, UK fans have seen a succession of flops, including Engelbert Humperdinck finishing 25th on 26, Electro Velvet 24th and, for the last two contests, one last place of national pride.
Repeated failure is down, people have said it time and time again, to countries voting for their friends and allies and the UK never being part of it.
That was rubbish, BBC Eurovision host Graham Norton said after Saturday’s contest. “All these people who don’t care about Europe hate us. I kept saying, ‘No…it’s possible that with the right song, the right performer in the right year.’ We can do it and we have done it.
Bryan said the problem for the UK in recent years had been the assumption that the entry should be “Eurovision-ey”. “It has to be about a particular sound, rather than an artist or a song that could be a big-selling artist in its own right, he said. by Sam Ryder was on Capital Radio this morning.It seems a strange thing to say, but Capital Radio does not broadcast Eurovision entries.
Ryder was already a star, in that he is the most popular British musician on TikTok, thanks to his home-recorded versions of songs from everyone from Adele to Justin Hawkins to Michael Jackson. Her performance of I Ain’t Got You led Alicia Keys to remark, “Yo. He killed that. It’s hard for me to sing.
TikTok gave him 12.6 million followers, which helps. But what really mattered on Saturday, Bryan said, was the strength and memorability of the song, co-written with Ed Sheeran collaborator Amy Wadge. And the brilliance of live performance. “Plus the order in which we appeared, a few steps from the end, it helped us stand out,” he added.
The contest was watched by a global audience of 183 million and in the UK by an average of 8.9 million, peaking at 10.6 million. Last year, the “null points” audience figure was 7.4 million.
According to the experts, it was a very strong contest, even the weirdest entries – Subwoofer’s Give That Wolf a Banana for Norway – had something about them.
Ryder said afterwards that her performance was all “about the love of singing, the joy it brings you”. The whole team was positive, he said. “Being in that arena and witnessing that tangible energy of life was amazing.”
He predicted that next year the UK would do better, telling Radio 4’s Broadcasting House: “Next year is going to be crazy. I can’t wait to see it… I hope with all my heart that the plethora of talent, the diverse pool of talent that exists in the UK, will kick down the doors to be part of Eurovision next year.