In the 24 years since the UK last took home the Eurovision trophy, many Britons have taken a somewhat cynical approach to the competition, suggesting international politics stand in our way of ever winning again.
We’re happy to report that this does not include this year’s British entrant, James Newman.
The singer-songwriter is currently in Rotterdam ahead of the live final, where he says he’s “living a crazy life” that’s divided between “performing in front of a full arena with an audience and a huge buzz” and half “sitting in my room, ordering room service”, as a result of the contest’s strict Covid restrictions.
He’s also, needless to say, getting tested for coronavirus on a frequent basis, which he admits is “the most scary thing you’ll ever do when all you want to do is get to the grand final”.
So, what of those cynics who so often dismiss the UK’s chances at Eurovision?
“No one says that about football, do they?” he tells HuffPost UK with a laugh. “We haven’t won the World Cup since 1966! We’ve won Eurovision five times, we’re among the top three winners. People think we never win, but we’ve won loads! So why can’t we win again?
“It’s because we need to put in a good effort. The Netherlands didn’t win for 44 years – so you can win, it’s all about putting in a good effort, showing you care and representing your country. And I think we are doing that.”
With days to go until James competes in the live final, we spoke to the singer about being part of the “light at the end of the tunnel” and his hopes that his positive thinking can carry him all the way to Eurovision glory...
Were you always a fan of Eurovision, and has your opinion of it changed over time?
Growing up, we used to have it on, and it always looked like so much fun, a really good night of entertainment. But then, when I got into it, I realised there’s a whole world behind it, and I learned about how much people love it, and live and breathe it.
It’s such a big amazing community of people, which I love. Everyone’s been so nice to me, and I’ve had nothing but positive comments from people and people saying that the UK are putting out their best entry in years and stuff, so I’m just enjoying being in it! And I’m definitely a lifelong fan now. I’m a convert!
What’s your first memory of watching Eurovision at home?
I think Gina G! [sings Ooh Ah Just A Little Bit] – and that’s a great song, I love it.
How does it feel to be following in her footsteps? I never thought anyone would ask that! It’s great, it’s fun to be part of something so massive, that means so much to so many people.
Do you have a favourite memory of being a part of Eurovision?
Stepping on the stage when I finally got to Rotterdam. It’s been nearly two years in the making, so getting on that stage, it was quite emotional. I was like, “I can’t believe I’ve actually made it here, I’m actually walking on that stage – this is real now”.
And then performing in the arena in front of three and a half thousand people on Wednesday, and feeling that energy, that was another highlight. I’m still riding that high now.
It’s amazing to be part of something where it’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Now we can see that – with precautions in place – a huge event like this can go ahead. It definitely gives hope for more things like this to happen soon.
Who are you rooting for at Eurovision this year?
Well, obviously I’m rooting for everyone, because we’re all in it together. But I really like Destiny from Malta, she’s got a wicked voice. I really like Victoria from Bulgaria, she’s got a song called Growing Up Is Getting Old that’s really cool.
I’ve just done a duet with Blas Cantó from Spain of his song, so I’ll be cheering for Blas. And Portugal, I really like their song Love Is On My Side. It’s really nice, really soulful – and they all dress really sick, they’ve got some really cool outfits.
What are your three all-time favourite Eurovision songs?
Waterloo, obviously. Every time I hear it, it’s like “come on!”. And ABBA are the coolest band in the world.
Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw is a great song. Such a modern banger of a pop song.I just think it’s an absolute banger. It’s a really modern pop song and you can tell why it won Eurovision. The lyric is really inspiring and it’s just my kind of pop song. It’s a song about hope, I like songs with a bit of hope in them.
And my third one would be Birds by Anouk from The Netherlands. I just think it’s a really cool song, it kind of reminds me of The Carpenters. And that was the song that changed the journey for The Netherlands, that was the first time they started getting good results, by putting in an artist like that.
When the BBC first asked me to do Eurovision, they used that song as an example of how a country has turned it around [at Eurovision]. Obviously we weren’t doing too well in the competition, and they were like, “this is what The Netherlands did and this was the first song that got them on the journey to eventually winning”. So for me, that’s a really important song.
Why is Eurovision so important?
I just think it’s a really big celebration of music. It’s so entertaining, it’s so fun, people love it – and people live and breathe it. It’s so diverse and welcoming, it’s just a great little world to be a part of. Well, a great, massive world to be a part of!
What would winning mean to you?
I’m a firm believer in the power of positive thinking. So I’m like, “why can’t I win the Eurovision Song Contest?”. Obviously I would love to win. When I started doing this, the idea was to get onto the “left-hand side of the board”. I’d love to come top 10 – but I’m also visualising winning. So who knows? If I nail it on the night, anything could happen.
And winning would be the greatest thing ever – I’d become like a Euro legend, wouldn’t I? It’d be brilliant. And it’d show that anything is possible – we’ve come from the middle of the Yorkshire dales, in the middle of nowhere, and now we’re in the Eurovision Song Contest. If you just work really, really hard you can do the things that you want to do.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.