18 November 2018

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Eurovision Song Contest 2017

Review: 'One of the most cheering in years'

Praise be for the harmless daftness of the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 (BBC One). The annual extravaganza of kitsch musical cabaret provided a welcome dose of levity in this post-Brexit era of simmering pan-European strife.

The champion was one to cheer. Portugal had never finished in the top five, let alone won. However, hirsute and sickly Salvador Sobral changed all that with Amar Pelsos Dois (Love For Both) – a stripped-back, jazz-tinged ballad written by his sister.

The endearingly unassuming Sobral called it “a victory for real music with feeling” after gently edging this year’s youngest contestant, 17-year-old Bulgarian prodigy Kristian Kostov, into second place.

Teen singer Kristian Kostov
Teen singer Kristian Kostov CREDIT: MICHAEL CAMPANELLA

Live from the International Exhibition Centre in Kiev, the epic broadcast clicked in at a stamina-sapping, bum-numbing three-and-three-quarter hours. It was expected to be watched by 200m viewers across Europe, making it the planet’s most-watched non-sporting event.

The slogan for this year’s contest was the worthy “Celebrate diversity” and the 26 finalists certainly ticked lots of boxes. Present and correct were such oppressed minorities as hippy brides, horses stuck up ladders, estate agents on treadmills, schizophrenic tenors, matador milkmen, yodelling rappers and dancing gorillas.

Eurovision 2017 highlights

The build-up had been dogged by controversy, with fears of a backlash against the UK and Russia’s entry being banned due to the ongoing conflict with host country Ukraine. With its sub-plots of politics and patriotism, Eurovision has become much more than a cheesy sing-off. This was diplomacy with backing dancers. A karaoke contest with shameless bloc voting

Flying the UK flag was X Factor alumnus Lucie Jones. The brunette Welsh belter only needed to rank higher than third from bottom to improve on last year. Barefoot in an unflattering gold frock, Jones pluckily did us proud with her soaring voice on pumping power ballad Never Give Up On You. She came 15th, our best showing for six years, and can consider herself unlucky.

Belarus's entry, Naviband
Belarus’s entry, Naviband

For the first time, proceedings were presented by three males, which wasn’t terribly diverse: the spellcheck-challenging trio of Volodymyr Ostapchuk, Oleksandr Skichko and Timor Miroshnychenko. They resembled a boyband kitted out by Moss Bros, then rolled in glitter. Their stilted links and creepy flirtations with any passing female were rare mis-steps in a show which was glossily staged and slickly produced, with many performances resembling pop videos.

As always, the pace sagged horribly during the interminable half-hour wait for the jury results. The other bum note was a brief stage invasion from a mooning Australian fan. Serves us right for letting the far-off nation gatecrash the party. Then again, they did give the UK 12 points.

Our own guide was Graham Norton, who has grown into the gig superbly since inheriting the BBC commentary booth from his Irish compatriot Terry Wogan. With Norton’s gently mocking asides delivered in conspiratorial tones, it was like having a waspishly witty companion on the sofa.

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