The UK is Smitten with Molly in Copenhagen…

At long, long last the months of speculation, rumours and leaks have come to an end, and the United Kingdom’s artist for Eurovision 2014 is confirmed as Molly Smitten-Downes. Molly’s song in Copenhagen is a song called Children of the Universe, which Molly wrote herself. I’ve just heard the song for the first time and it goes without saying that I love the sound of it.

Us UK Eurovision fans have had to put up with all sorts of stories over the past weeks and months, we’ve heard countless names being mentioned – everyone from Geri Halliwell to Roubix and Paloma Faith to Nina Nesbitt. There were reports of leaks last night that Molly will be our artist for Copenhagen, finally now those rumours have been confirmed as true.

Molly Smitten-Downes will represent the UK at Eurovision in 2014

Molly Smitten-Downes will represent the UK at Eurovision in 2014

My god, am I happy or what! At last, the BBC has gone down the road of sending a little-known artist to Eurovision, rather than pulling out an aging big-name international superstar in the hope of winning support and ultimately votes. I sincerely hope this is the start of a long and successful career for Molly and that the UK really gets behind her, I know for a fact that I’m solidly behind her… but of course, I would say that because I’m British!

I am one proud British Eurovision fan right now! Go on Molly, give it your best shot in Copenhagen. The whole country is behind you!

Join Us. Martin.

Malmö 2013 – farewells, memories, highlights and more…

If there’s one thing I will forever remember about my time in Copenhagen and  Malmö living my Eurovision Song Contest dream, it’s that I learned a lot about myself when I was away from my natural home in Scotland.

I learned to adapt to the culture, lifestyle and most of all, the currency of another country. I survived in an environment which was alien to me. I guess though the biggest thing I took from my time at Eurovision is that even at 27 years old (as I was then), you’re still never too old to fall in love.

Farewell

I won’t lie, it was incredibly hard for me to say goodbye to Malmö before I left there for the last time on the Thursday night immediately following semi-final 2. One of the things I didn’t share in my mammoth Eurovision story is that on the Thursday afternoon between the dress rehearsal and the live show, I accidentally left a pair of sunglasses in the toilet at the Emporia shopping mall.

At the time, I was gutted about it… but when I think about it now, I actually feel quite nostalgic and proud, almost as if I left a piece of me in Malmö. It was my gift to Malmö for being so nice to me.

Saying goodbye to Copenhagen on the Friday morning was even harder. The city had been my base camp for the entire trip and also a city with which I had fallen in love. The love affair I made with Copenhagen last year is the main reason why I’m so excited to be going back there in May this year for Eurovision 2014.

Memories

It’s hard for me to just pick out one memory from my time in Malmö and Copenhagen, because the whole trip was a blast, but if I had to push myself to pick out a moment I’ll never forget it would be walking up the stairs from Malmö Hyllie train station for the first time on the Tuesday afternoon before the 1st semi-final dress rehearsal and finally seeing Malmö Arena for real.

I can’t describe without getting emotional just how special that arena is. Malmö Arena will forever be known as the place where my Eurovision dream finally came true, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

Highlight

If I struggled to pick out a memory, I certainly didn’t struggle to pick out a highlight. My love affair with Estonia has been documented previously and is well-known to the Eurovision friends who know me best, but when you build up a love affair with a beautiful Estonian girl called Birgit Õigemeel, then fly more than 800 miles to see her live in your first ever Eurovision, that’s something you don’t forget.

Birgit gave me two magical performances and 6 minutes of my life that I never want back. Being in Malmö Arena on that gorgeous Tuesday will live with me forever.

Birgit, I love you forever, thank you so much for bringing your wonderful music into my world. I have never had an idol like you and I never will again.

Lowlight

There were a few songs that didn’t live up to expectation for me in Malmö, but the one that let me down the most was Croatia’s Klapa s mora with their song, Mižerja. In my interview for SVT before the Tuesday dress rehearsal, I had picked them as a contender to win the whole Eurovision.

It goes without saying then that I was massively heartbroken when I heard them live in the dress rehearsal. Their sound wasn’t what I thought it would be, it wasn’t this beautiful arrangement of voices that I had listened to on the official Eurovision CD for the 2 months before the competition.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Croatia for doing what they did in Malmö. Sorry Croatia, it just didn’t work for me.

Surprise

One of the things I have come to learn most about Eurovision over the years is to expect nothing, and never was that more true than with Who See and Igranka in Malmö.

For months I couldn’t go near this song, I couldn’t bare the thought of even listening to it. Even when I got to the Thursday dress rehearsal I was dreading it… and then that all changed. When I seen the song live it was brilliant! The sound was perfect, the novelty factor was there and the crowd in the arena loved it. Rapping astronauts from Montenegro… only in Eurovision.

Thank you Montenegro. Because of you, I’ve learned never again to write off a Eurovision song before I’ve seen it live.

The UK

At this point, I’m allowed to be negative because it’s the UK in Eurovision I’m dealing with here! I’ll admit it, I was as surprised as I was delighted when I found out we were sending Bonnie Tyler to Malmö.

Like so many people my age, I had grown up listening to the twilight years of Bonnie’s peak music years. There was an air of excitement in me at the prospect of Bonnie singing for us.

Of course, when you’re British and a Eurovision fan you get used to disappointment… and that’s how it turned out for us again this time round. Don’t get me wrong, Bonnie gave it her best shot in Malmö and ultimately it wasn’t meant to be for her… but the upshot is at least we improved on finishing 2nd last the year before in Baku. Well done Bonnie.

Speaking of the UK, tonight we formally announce our entry for Copenhagen 2014. The UK Eurovision rumour mill has been in overdrive for months. My understanding is that the BBC has picked our artist for this year. Whoever it is, I’ll cover it here later tonight.

Join Us. Martin.

Malmö memories to last a lifetime – part 9…

The final part of this Eurovision journey to Malmö and Copenhagen is dedicated to Franciska van Waarden (@Fairytale0126).

Grand Final Saturday of any Eurovision Song Contest is the one day that I look forward to more than any other – even Christmas and my birthday. As I’ve grown older, the novelty factor of getting excited about Christmas and my birthday has worn off… but the excitement surrounding Eurovision Grand Final Saturday has never left me, and it never will.

Saturday May 18th 2013 was no different. Actually it was, because this year I had been to Malmö. I had seen 4 magnificent shows in that beautiful Malmö Arena. I had been to Eurovision this time round.

Television

It was always going to be a strange experience watching the Grand Final on television. After all, I had so desperately wanted to be there… but as you  know, it wasn’t meant to be for me.

It did feel weird watching the Grand Final on TV just 2 days after I had been in Malmö Arena watching the 2nd semi-final, but I loved it. Nothing could ever beat the sensation of being in the arena, and although I was more than 800 miles away from Malmö, in my heart I felt as if I was still there.

A triumphant Emmelie de Forest

A triumphant Emmelie de Forest

Celebration

That whole Saturday night was just one big celebration party for me. As I watched the same songs performed on TV that I had seen live earlier that same week, I was more relaxed than I had ever been. Months before the contest I, like so many others, had tipped Emmelie de Forest to win Eurovision 2013.

Her performance in the first semi-final had been flawless. Emmelie of course carried that form into the Grand Final and won in one of the tightest voting sequences for many a year. Denmark had won Sweden’s Eurovision, but more importantly Denmark had won my Eurovision.

When Emmlie was beginning to pull clear in the voting, there was a little spark inside me that started playing with the idea of being at Eurovision in 2014. True, I was half-drunk at the time and not entirely serious at first, but my wonderful time in Copenhagen and Malmö had left its mark on me. I had caught the Eurovision bug.

Drink

Even if the drink (and it wasn’t water!) was beginning to do the talking, by the time Emmelie was officially announced as the winner of Eurovision 2013, I had it firmly stitched in my mind that I would be relighting my Eurovision fire again in 2014. I knew even then it would be Copenhagen. The very same city wher I had spent the most wonderful 4 days of my life would be welcoming me back into its arms again.

I went to bed that Saturday night happy that the right person had won Eurovision 2013, while at the same time dreaming of what 2014 would throw at me.

I had done it. My first ever live Eurovision experience was complete and the wonderful memories it gave me will live with me forver.

Malmö memories to last a lifetime – part 8…

This, the penultimate part in the story of my Eurovision 2013 journey to and from Malmö is dedicated to my dear Eurovision friends, Franciska van Waarden (@Fairytale0126) and Mila Kovalj (@LoreenatorDK). 

Franciska, there is nothing to say about you that I haven’t already said. I love you. Mila, I was never meant to have so much fun in your country’s capital… but like so many chapters of my life, it was one of those things that ‘just happened’. You and I will have memories to last forever this year. I love you.

Friday May 17th 2013 is a day that will go down in personal history for me. It’s a day that I will always look back at with a mixture of great fondness and great sadness.

Edinburgh

As I woke at 5am, ready for my 10:30am return flight to Edinburgh and still wearing the bruises from my heavy fall at Tivoli on the Wednesday, I got a quick breakfast down me before checking out of Danhostel Copenhagen City (where I had slept the past 4 days) and making the now-familiar walk between there and Københavns Hovedbanegård (Copenhagen Central) to take the train out to Copenhagen Airport.

The spacious concourse at Copenhagen Central train station

The spacious concourse at Copenhagen Central train station

On the way to the train station, I took the opportunity to get those last few mental shots of Copenhagen and to breathe in the Danish air one last time. Malmö had given me so many wonderful memories, but in the 4 days I had spent in Copenhagen I had fallen in love with the city. Every article I had read about Copenhagen, every thing that I had been told about the city… it had all been so true – and more. Copenhagen had thrown open its arms to me and I grasped the invitation – and that’s something I will never, ever forget.

Flight

The flight back to Edinburgh was horrible – but in a good way. I wanted to stay in Copenhagen, I didn’t want this beautiful Eurovision dream to end, but I knew it would have to.

As the plane took off and I said my final goodbyes to my new-found love, in a way I was glad to be going home. I had a wonderful time in Copenhagen and Malmö, but 4 days away from home was long enough – especially in 2 countries I had never been to before.

Arriving back in Edinburgh was fine, I had time to kill before my bus home to Dundee and so, as with the outward trip, I grabbed a coffee before the bus. I left Denmark at 10:30am CET and arrived home at around 4pm GMT. My body had done 7+ hours across 2 time zones, but at last I was home.

Appreciate

I was a different person when I got home. I had learned more than ever to appreciate the true beauty of the Eurovision Song Contest that I had grown up loving and one day dreaming of being at. I had finally lived that dream… and loved every last second of it.

Little did I know on that Friday that when Grand Final Saturday came round the following day I would be planting the seed for a return trip to Copenhagen…

Malmö memories to last a lifetime – part 7…

The latest part of my Eurovision journey through Malmö is, as with the previous 6 parts, dedicated to Franciska van Waarden (Fairytale0126). I also want to dedicate this to my dear friend, Aleyna Gümüşsoy (@aleynazj).

Franciska, you inspired me to take that next step and you never left my heart in all the time I spent in Sweden and Denmark. Forever We Are One.

Aleyna, I have no words to say other than you’re a special friend and I love you more than words can ever describe. Seni sonsuza dek seviyorum.

I had been in Copenhagen and Malmö for 3 days now. Thursday was both my 4th day and my second last day in the two cities. I knew I would be going home tomorrow, but that was never going to stop me having a hell of a lot of fun.

For some reason, my memory of second semi-final Thursday has always been somewhat blurred. Even now, when I watch the Eurovision 2013 DVD, I still struggle to remember what actually happened. I’ve never been able to work out why but it’s something which, even in Eurovisions past, has become ingrained into me.

Copenhagen Central

As with the Tuesday 2 days earlier, the moment that I remember most about Eurovision day was the train journey from Copenhagen Central over the Öresund to Malmö, but one other memory that sticks out so beautifully in my mind is when I had some down time before the dress rehearsal, I took a walk down one of the side streets outside the Emporia shopping centre next to Malmö Arena. From there I was able to get the most beautiful mental image of the Öresund. It’s an image and a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

The beautiful Öresund Bridge

The beautiful Öresund Bridge

Weak

I knew in advance that the second semi-final was relatively weak, certainly much weaker than the first semi-final (which, of course, produced the eventual winner in Emmelie De Forest), but nothing was ever going to spoil my fun. This live semi-final was going to be my last experience of my first ever Eurovision and I was determined to go out in style.

Among the highlights for me from another magical Eurovision night were Valentina Monetta for San Marino, Finland’s Krista Siegfrids, Eythor Ingi Gunlaugsson from Iceland and how can we talk about the Eurovision 2013 second semi-final and not mention Cezar from Romania.

They all, as with all 17 artists in the second semi-final, delivered quite brilliant performances that night. Farid Mammadov from Azerbaijan stood out for me that night too because of his quite magnificent stage routine.

‘Home’

For all the fun I had during the day, the best part was saved for the train back ‘home’ to Copenhagen. The train was packed, so I found myself standing, but as it happened, I was standing next to a lovely family who were all wrapped in their Icelandic flags.

They were obviously happy because their Eythor had just qualified for the final, they were singing away and, as luck would have it, they gave me a 5 minute crash-course in mastering Ég á líf. It took me about 3 weeks post- Malmö to become 100% fluent in the song, but I never gave up and in a funny way, I owe it to that family.

My time in Malmö had come to and end. My Eurovision journey was almost over. Tomorrow I would fly home to Scotland to prepare myself for watching the Grand Final on TV. It was the flight I didn’t want to take, but ultimately I knew I would have to…

Malmö memories to last a lifetime – part 6…

In keeping with the previous 5 parts of this story, this post is dedicated to Franciska van Waarden (@Fairytale0126).

I’ll never forget waking up on the Wednesday morning. I can’t remember exactly what time I woke up, but one thing I know for certain is that when I woke up on that glorious Wednesday morning, I was no longer a Eurovision virgin.

Tuesday May 14th 2013 had been the day when the dream that had burned so long and hard inside my heart finally came true and even now, 9 months on from that magical day in Malmö, I still can’t help but smile and shed a little tear when I think about how happy I was that day. I had never been happier in my entire life.

Wednesday was a day away from Eurovision for me. I had deliberately planned it to be that way before I flew to Copenhagen, simply because I didn’t want to get too caught up in the Eurovision bubble. I knew the experience of the Tuesday would consume me (and I was ultimately proven correct), I needed a day away from Eurovision just to settle myself down.

Tivoli's iconic Star Flyer is the place to go if you have a head for heights

Tivoli’s iconic Star Flyer is the place to go if you have a head for heights

Tivoli

One of the things I had looked at beforehand to do on my day off was to experience Tivoli Gardens, or Tivoli as it is known locally. I had read good reviews about the place and noted the fact that it doubles up as a pretty impressive theme park. I may have been 27 at the time, but in my heart I’m still just a big kid… so it seemed like the perfect thing for me to do. After all, Tivoli was the first thing I had seen when I walked out of Copenhagen Central train station for the first time 2 days earlier.

I got to Tivoli around 11:15am local time and spent the whole day walking around the park and taking in many of the rides. Some of them, such as the Dæmonen (‘Demon’) rollercoaster, the Monsoon and the Star Flyer, I went on several times (you know that way when you’re at a theme park and you come off a ride then run round and queue again for the same ride… that was me!), others I didn’t bother with at all.

The ride I enjoyed most that day was the Rutschebanen. I must have went on it at least 15 times over the course of the day, but one time stood out more than any other.

Messy

It was around 2:45pm, I remember it well. As the car came towards a stop at the station, I stupidly decided to jump out while the thing was still moving. As you can imagine, the result was a messy one… my momentum carried me forward in such a way that I had to hit the deck, it was the safest way that I could possibly injure myself. I elbow planted the wooden platform and took a hell of a bump into the bargain.

I drew a fair bit of blood from both of my elbows, but fortunately I am quite good at First Aid… so I was able to go to the toilet and clean myself up. It took about 20 minutes and I still had the scars 2 weeks after it, but it was worth it. Over the course of 2 days, I had spilled my blood, sweat and tears… and all in the name of the Eurovision Song Contest that I so dearly love.

I left Tivoli around 8pm that night… tired, sore and by that time bored because I had seen enough. I’d had my fun at Tivoli… and then some. Besides, I was back on the Eurovision trail to Malmö tomorrow… so I needed to be 100% fresh for another day of Malmö memories to last a lifetime…

Malmö memories to last a lifetime – part 5…

As with part 4 this morning, part 5 of my Eurovision journey to Malmö is dedicated to my wonderful friends Franciska van Waarden (@Fairytale0126) and Ninni (Ninni_ESC). It’s one thing love your friends for being your friends, but to love Franciska, Ninni and indeed my entire Eurovision family as if they are my brothers and sisters is a truly special feeling, one that will never be replaced.

Walking up the stairs from Malmö Hyllie to the sight of the magnificent Malmö Arena was too good. I had read so much about this beautiful building in the build-up to Malmö, and now I was seeing the very place for myself.

My first ever live Eurovision experience was to be the dress rehearsal for semi-final 1 later on that Tuesday evening – I also had a ticket for the live semi-final. I deliberately arrived at Malmö Arena about 2 hours before the dress rehearsal started, because I wanted to soak up the atmosphere of Malmö. I was well and truly trapped in the Eurovision bubble and there was no way of escaping it.

Interview

As I walked around the square outside the arena draped in my Union Jack flag, I was approached by a journalist for SVT who wanted to interview me for their website. She was a nice lady, I told her it was my first live Eurovision and that Eurovision in the UK is seen as a bit of a joke… an excuse to have a party and laugh at the other countries, then I have my predictions about who I thought would do well in the live semi-final – I picked Denmark, Estonia and Croatia, before giving a full performance of Et Uus Saaks Alguse in the middle of the street. It was a little awkward, but I didn’t care… I did it anyway.

Time passed and once the doors to Malmö Arena were open I found a spot on the floor (I had a standing ticket for the dress rehearsal.) I had known for some time that Austria’s Natália Kelly would open the show, but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagine the beautiful opening that would come before Natália. 79 children from Malmö schools gave the most beautiful sign language performance I have ever seen in my life… and then she walked down the bridge and into the arena.

It was Loreen. The very reason I was in Malmö on this special day. She joined the children in performing Euphoria, and I will forever remember bursting into tears as Loreen made her entrance. Even today I still struggle to describe how beautiful that opening intro sequence was. You can really only appreciate how special it was if you were there. Luckily, I was.

Shine

I was in tears for most of the show, but my emotions hit a new high when Natália Kelly took to the stage. Her song, Shine, had really grown on me since I first heard it. She gave a solid dress rehearsal performance. I was no longer a Eurovision virgin.

For most fans, Natália Kelly will be a name better best forgotten. For me, Natália Kelly will always hold a very special place in my heart for being the first artist I ever seen perform in a Eurovision event which I was at.

Birgit

If Natália’s presence was special, the next artist to take the stage during the dress rehearsal was someone who had become an inspiration for my life, Estonia’s Birgit Õigemeel. My Eurovision love affair with Estonia is legend, Birgit Õigemeel is the embodiment of that love affair.

I had fallen completely in love with Et Uus Saaks Alguse months before Malmö, and travelling more than 800 miles to see Birgit’s magical dress rehearsal performance made the whole trip worth it. My idol was stood about 20 feet away from me singing in the most beautiful language in the world. I watched and sang along to a song that meant so much to me, and still does today.

Highlights

There were so many highlights from that dress rehearsal, not least for me personally when Anouk from The Netherlands had just finished her performance. As she was walking off the stage I waved at her, she looked back at me and said ‘thank you’. My heart melted in that moment.

The dress rehearsal had been an incredible experience. The live semi-final later that night was special too. I didn’t have the same view being in the seats near the back of the arena, but I loved the experience all the same… if not, even more because I knew the semi-final was live on TV. My first ever live Eurovision experience had been unforgettable and I had embraced every single second of it.

I had a day away from the Eurovision bubble on the Wednesday, but even that too was eventful…