Meatballs and glitter

 

Are you excited? I can tell you’re excited. I’m excited… or maybe that’s just the two cups of stronger-than-death coffee I had this afternoon. YES, it’s Eurovision time. Again. Whoopee.

As ever, I am not watching this live, because the only way to get through this experience without slamming my head repeatedly into a lamppost is to reserve the right to resort to the fast-forward button. Also, I didn’t watch the semi-finals because there’s enough suffering in the world already. And finally, while I know this might be considered foolhardy, I am watching this stone-cold sober, although I do have paracetamol on hand and it’s a clear run from where I’m sitting to the bathroom.

While I am not watching this live, though, I have managed to remain completely spoiler-free. I mean, it’s safe to say that there’ll be glitter, fireworks, off-pitch screlting, and an almost transcendent absence of taste, but apart from that I’m in the dark. I haven’t even heard this year’s UK entry all the way through yet. It’s going to be a lovely surprise.

ANYway. So. We’re in Stockholm, because Sweden won last year. I have no memory of anything about last year’s winning entry, beyond that the staging involved the (bland) singer interacting with animated stick figures.The techno-ish music behind the opening procession of flags is loud enough that it almost drowns out Graham Norton. Boo. No actual flags this year – just projections onto a rear screen and a lot of people wearing bizarre paper costumes, accompanied by the kind of light show that makes a nuclear detonation look subtle and restrained.

Actually, the paper costumes are sort of fabulous, in a they-must-have-been-stoned-when-they-thought-of-this kind of way. Also, many, many nude bodysuits. It’s going to be that kind of evening.

And now it’s time to meet the hosts: last year’s winner, Mans Zelmerlow, who I still don’t remember even though I’m looking at him RIGHT NOW, and the faaaaaaaabulous Petra Mede, whose Swedish Smorgasbord interval number the last time Eurovision was hosted in Sweden is the best thing this show has seen since… well, since 1974. And we all know what happened at Eurovision in 1974, don’t we? They’re funny and charming, and you have to have watched a few of these to know how remarkable that is in this context.

Mr. Norton is explaining this year’s new voting process, which is quite complicated. I’d listen, but I don’t actually give a flying crap about the voting – except that the new formula apparently means it’s unlikely anyone will end up with nul points, which is a shame.

As usual, the contest kicks off with the presenters saying “May the best song win!” What the hell, there’s always a first time.

(I mean, since 1974.)

The theme this year is ‘come together’. Does everyone have tissues ready? Good. Let’s begin.

1. Belgium. Laura Tesoro, ‘What’s the Pressure’ (with no question mark. Three lyricists, but no question mark).

It starts off with an intro that sounds like a blatant rip-off of ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, and morphs into a slab of aimiably upbeat, slightly old-fashioned pop. I’ve no idea what the lyrics are about, but she’s clearly having a great time, and so are her backing singers. And it looks like silver hot pants are back this year, which is lovely. Good but not great voice, good but not great song, fun performance. She’s very young and very enthusiastic, and this isn’t bombastic enough to win.

2. The Czech Republic, in the Grand Final for the first time ever. Gabriela Guncikova, ‘I Stand’.

Mournful piano ballad, and she’s singing about the monsters in her head as the stage lights up in fuchsia pink underneath her. It’s terribly melodramatic and meaningful – or it might be meaningful if the sound system wasn’t obliterating half the lyrics – and she’s got a great voice. The song, though, is tedious Euro-sludge.

Oh. Now she’s shreiking and they’ve turned on the wind machine. Apparently nobody has ever won performing in the second slot in the running order. This isn’t going to change that statistic.

3. The Netherlands. Douwe Bob, ‘Slow Down’.

Gosh. They’re singing on a giant clock. I can’t imagine what this song is about, can you? Douwe Bob apparently never mastered the fine art of singing with your eyes open, and he has a very large tattoo of something at the base of his neck, with his shirt buttoned up just far enough that we can’t see what it is. The song is pleasant enough hipsterish country-and-western, the band’s grins are all slightly unnatural… and in the middle he stops for ten whole seconds and mouths ‘I love you’ – or maybe ‘please die soon’ – at the camera, which is quite creepy. He’s so confident of his chances, we’re told, that he’s placed a large-ish bet that he’ll win. Say bye-bye to your money, Bob, this is not your year.

4. Azerbaijan (don’t mention human rights). Samra, ‘Miracle’.

Lyrics about burning fire, sequinned nude jump suit, and apparently it’s going to take a miracle for her country’s regime to stop imprisoning people without trial. She can sing, and this is pleasant, inoffensive, unmemorable pop, and I suppose she isn’t responsible for the fact that her country is run by some truly awful people. There are fireworks, of course – if you don’t vote for her, her dancers will come round and barbecue your goolies.

5. Hungary. Freddie, ‘Pioneer’.

Freddie seems to have sandpapered his vocal cords daily since about 1997. He has a Tibetan monk onstage with him, and three Gap-clad male backing singers. Once again, you can’t hear the lyrics at all, although the title suggests he’s singing in English. It’s bonkers, but not bonkers enough. Fast-forward time.

6. Italy. Francesca Michielin, ‘No Degree of Separation’

She’s very pretty, and has a very pretty voice… and the staging has her standing on an island in the middle of a (projected) pool, making lots of overwrought hand gestures as if she was delivering the keynote at a political rally. She’s singing in Italian, despite the title, so I’ve no idea what she’s singing about; given the pool and the big projected tree behind her, it possibly has something to do with nature, or possibly the director was on painkillers. Lots and lots and lots of painkillers.

7. Israel. Hovi Star, ‘Made of Stars’.

Mr. Star looks like the love child of Marc Almond and Alan Cumming. It’s another Terribly Meaningful piano ballad, and two acrobats are circling the stage in a spinning hoop behind him. There’s a full-on power ballad climax worthy of Céline Dion, except he doesn’t have Céline’s voice. It’s all very sincere, and he does hit all the notes dead on, but the song itself, even by Eurovision standards, is Not Very Good.

8. Bulgaria. Poli Genova, ‘If Love Was A Crime’. This performance, we are told, contains flashing images and strobe effects. You have been warned.

She’s wearing all the eye makeup in Bulgaria, plus polystyrene earrings, and it’s another slab of European dance pop – rather a good one, actually. Fun, catchy, completely disposable, and it says a great deal for Ms. Genova that she holds your attention against the ridiculous lighting effects.

Oh. Her shoulder-pads and knees light up on the final chorus.

9. Sweden, our hosts. Frans, ‘If I Were Sorry’.

Also known as the please-don’t-make-us-pay-for-this-next-year entry. He’s bland, his song is bland, his outfit is bland, his voice is lousy, and he has slightly less charisma than a plate of meatballs in the cafeteria at IKEA. I lasted forty seconds. Moving on.

“What can we say?”, asks Petra as the Swedish contestant leaves the stage. How about, “thank Christ that’s over”?

10. Germany.  Jamie-Lee, ‘Ghost’.

Jamie-Lee sounds a bit like Bjork, if Bjork didn’t have a personality and actually sang in tune, and she seems to have come dressed as some nightmare cross between Hello Kitty and the contents of a Cath Kidston shop, complete with tinsel deely boppers. Weirdly Tim Burton-esque projections around her, as if they just decided to make the entire performance look as strange as possible because they knew the song wasn’t very good.  Sadly, while her performance is completely ridiculous, it lacks the great unifying stupidity of the best Eurovision kitsch-fests.

11. France. Amir, J’ai Cherché

Standard-issue Francophone chart pop with a ridiculously catchy hook in the chorus. He grins a lot, the light show is completely loopy, and he’s obviously having the time of his life. It’s fun – for once, for the right reasons.

He’s a dentist, apparently. That might be why he grins a lot. He can use this as an ad clip if his pop career goes down the dumper next week.

12. Poland. Michal Szpak, ‘Color Of Your Life’.

Sorry, anyone using the American spelling of ‘colour’ in Eurovision, in which the US does not participate, should automatically receive nul points and be sent to bed without dessert. His song is very, very anguished, his red tailcoat has more charisma than he does, and Bernadette Peters would like her hair back. Moving swifly on.

Don’t worry, says Petra. We still have fourteen songs to go. Yay.

Mans is in the stadium next door with two past Swedish winners and 10,000 tanked-up fans. Past Swedish Winner #2, Loreen (not Soreen, Loreen), is dressed entirely in black, as if she’s attending a drunken wake for music… which she more or less is.

13. Australia… which is not in Europe.  Dami Im, ‘Sound of Silence’. No, not THAT Sound of Silence.

There are no sequins left in Australia, they’re all on Ms. Im’s dress. She has a hell of a voice, it’s a great big thumping power ballad, and for some reason known only to her and her director she’s sitting four feet above the stage on a big glittery black box. Her song isn’t bad, but it’s not as interesting as her bionic glitter hand. The light show is insane, and probably visible from space.

14. Cyprus. Alter Ego, ‘Minus One’. Again, a (redundant) warning about strobe lights.

Killers-esque stadium rock, with everyone except the lead singer locked up in cages. It’s catchy, although the singer is a bit pitch-approximate, and it’s a welcome relief from the steady stream of power ballads and Eurodisco stompers we’ve heard so far this evening. It’s compentent enough, although the lead singer’s tattoos have more attitude than he does, and it doesn’t have a hope in hell of winning. In the middle of the song he tries howling like a wolf, which is a hell of a lot funnier than he thinks it is. Never mind.

15. Serbia. Zaa Sanja Vucic, ‘Goodbye (Shelter)’

A serious song about domestic abuse and violence, according to Mr. Norton.Stressed-metal voice, black rubber dress with tassels in all kinds of unlikely places, bearded male backing dancer wearing a black skirt and a see-through black T-shirt, and unfortunately the worst song of the evening so far. It isn’t even entertainingly strange. It’s just plain bad. Taxi for Ms. Vucic, please.

16. Lithuania. Donny Montell, ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night’. Haven’t we all?

Another song with a drippy verse leading into an overwrought chorus, but it’s not bad, and he can sing. Shame he can’t open his eyes at the same time because he looks constipated, even as he does a somersault off a trampoline in the middle of the song.

17. Croatia. Nina Kraljic, ‘Lighthouse’.

Ms. Kraljic seems to be wearing an architect’s model of the tent-like main terminal at Denver Airport, or perhaps something you’d throw over your car to protect it from bad weather. It’s got helpful grip-handles on each shoulder, hopefully so someone can yank her offstage when her song gets too unbearable, which will be in about fifteen seconds. Oh no, they just removed her top layer of clothing. She’s still there, and now she’s wearing a recycled skyscraper with tassels. Her clothes, unfortunately, are far more interesting than her song or her voice. She seems to have only the most tenuous relationship with whatever note she’s supposed to be singing, and her demeanour rather strongly suggests that she isn’t entirely convinced by her own act. The only way to get away with this kind of full-on batshit-insane Eurovision staging, I’m afraid, is to commit to it completely, and do it with a completely straight face. Adios, Nina, it’s been real.

18. Russia. The favourite, apparently. Sergey Lazarev, ‘You Are The Only One’.

It’d be fun if the gayest international TV event on the planet took place in Russia next year, wouldn’t it, given that Mr. Putin has enacted some of the most repressive anti-gay legislation on the books anywhere outside of Uganda. Like last year’s winner, Mr. Lazarev performs interacting with projected images on a screen. It’s cleverly directed and choreographed, the song is a decent-enough chunk of 6/8 Eurodisco, and the staging in the middle of the song, where he appears to climb up projected images on the screen behind him, is undeniably spectacular, and the best we’ve seen so far, albeit blatantly ripped off from Mans Zelmerlow’s ‘Heroes’ last year. The song isn’t the best we’ve heard so far, but the best song almost never wins. Well, apart from that one time in 1974.

(The wall is apparently set up at a slight angle and covered with rubber, which is how he climbed up it. Now you know.)

19. Spain. Y viva Espana. Barei, ‘Say Yay!’

OK, Barei. Yay.
Barei is wearing a thigh-length chainmail wifebeater, or maybe a minidress, and a lot of bracelets, and we’re back in Eurodisco-land.Better song than the last one, I think, but the staging isn’t anywhere near as inventive. She has a great pop voice, and this is great fun, but this competition – yes, despite the title – isn’t just about the song. The crowd loves it, though.

Petra reminds us that we’re watching Eurovision, and informs us that the CD of this year’s entries is available for us all to take home and treasure forever, along with a Eurovision straitjacket. Your bonus question for this evening: which of this year’s contestants already owns one, but managed to chew through the straps?

20. Latvia. Justs, ‘Heartbeat’.

Justs is apparently intending to open an ‘alternative music school’ at some point in the future, so obviously it’s time to abandon all hope. It starts off sounding like an odd cross between A-ha and mid-80s Depeche Mode. He has a great voice, but the song meanders a bit, and the mean-and-moody posturing seems as calculated as his designer leather jacket and carefully-ripped black drainpipe jeans. He’s certainly throwing himself into it, though, and a team of stagehands have just been sent to scrape his tonsils off the back wall of the arena.

21. Ukraine. Jamala, ‘1944’. No political content there, then.

Sincere, compelling, oddly moving performance of a song that is obviously very deeply personal to her (she wrote it herself). If only the song itself was better. It’s an arresting statement, though, and it does get better when the full orchestra kicks in towards the end. It’s apaprently about Stalin’s deportation of Tartars – including Jamala’s great-grandmother – from the Crimea in 1944. The middle 8 is basically just Jamala keening in 4/4 time. It’s on an entirely different plane to everything else so far, and it gets a surprisingly emotional response from the crowd.

(Eurovision entries are supposed, in theory, to be apolitical, and this one is right on the line. It got by because the lyrics apparently deal exclusively in verifiable historical fact – though of course, given that it’s about Russians driving Ukrainians out of Crimea, it doesn’t take a genius to apply a more contemporary interpretation.)

22. Malta. Ira Losco, ‘Walk on Water’.

She’s pregnant. Aww. First we see her projected face singing out of the stage floor… and that’s the most interesting thing in her performance. Nice sequinned gold dress, nice dancer behind her, nice enough song, nice voice, and nice doesn’t win this competition. Never mind, Ms. Losco, the cruise-ship circuit is beckoning.

23. Georgia. Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz, ‘Midnight Gold’. Contains prolonged strobe lighting effects, we are told, so have a cushion ready if you need to take cover. Duly noted.

Are you ready to RAWK? Of course you aren’t, this is Eurovision. Never mind. One of their guitarists obviously really wants to be in Oasis, or he thinks he’s going to a fancy dress party as Liam Gallagher. The lighting effects amount to a declaration of war, the song isn’t very good, and the feeling that it’s a welcome change of pace from the stream of power ballads and disco anthems we’ve been hearing all night only lasts until about halfway through the first verse.

24. Austria. Zoe, ‘Loin d’ici’

She’s very pretty. Her song is very pretty. Her dress is very pretty.Poppies grow on the screen behind her every time she raises her hands, she seems to be singing from the middle of a projected Yellow Brick Road, it’s surprisingly danceable, and it has a catchy chorus. She has a nice voice, too. It’s absolutely charming, and probably better than whatever is going to win, which won’t be this.

25. Royaume-Uni. Joe and Jake, ‘You’re Not Alone’.

Yes, they look a bit like a cross between Jedward and Ant and Dec. In an evening full of songs with catchy hooks, this is one of the catchiest. It’s a great big endearing slice of guitar-led summer pop, and they sing it really well, although there are better voices in the competition this evening. It’s the best thing we’ve entered in about a decade and a half, and one of the few recent UK entries that doesn’t make you want to hide behind the sofa. Joe and Jake – no I don’t know which is which – give it their all, and it gets a good response from the crowd.

26. The last one. Armenia. Iveta Mukuchyan, ‘Lovewave’.

It starts with her muttering into the microphone, and it’s never a great sign when the wind machine has been switched on before the song begins. She’s wearing a few twist ties and a long black cape, and it’s all very overwrought. We’re on planet rock rather than planet disco, and it’s quite a finale. She has a spectacular voice; it’s a shame the song itself isn’t better.

So that’s it. Surprisingly little OMGWTF this year. Mans and Petra are back to introduce a short bonus scene from ITV’s un-hilarious sitcom ‘Vicious’. I hope Mr. Jacobi and Mr. McKellen got paid a LOT of money for this. Again, we’re told about the new voting system; it’s still a relatively recent innovation that the lines don’t open until after all the acts have performed, which should probably tell you everything you need to know about the integrity of the voting process, which I’ll mostly be fast-forwarding through, because really, do I need to spend an hour and a quarter watching that?

The lines are open. Or were, I’m watching on catchup so I don’t need the 26-song recap of all the acts we’ve seen. Fast-forward time.

And now we have a special guest appearance from that well-known European icon, Justin Timberlake, who is here on the comeback trail chasing the show’s enormous global audience in order to flog his latest putrid heap of decaying shit new single.He almost sounds sincere when he says he wanted to perform at Eurovision. Almost. It’s particularly wince-inducing watching him condescend to this evening’s contestants – all of whom, even Mr. Boring from Sweden, sing better than he does – about how well they did. There’s just never a giant anvil hanging precariously from a fraying rope when you need one, is there?

And now buckle up,says Petra, because we’re heading back to 1974 to begin a survey of Swedish pop music since the dawn of time. Hello, Abba. And also Bjorn Skifs, Tommy Korberg, Roxette, and Neneh Cherry, with a whole second and a half of ‘Gold Can Turn To Sand’ from ‘Kristina fran Duvemala’ thrown in for good measure.Fun, though it’s a pity Robyn isn’t represented by ‘Konichiwa Bitches’. Sadly, our tour of unforgettable moments in Swedish musical history did not include Petra Mede’s Swedish Smorgasbord. Swiz.

And heeeeere’s Mr. Timberlake, who I’ve been really looking forward to not watching this evening. I gave him a minute, and that’s generous. It’s like a Superbowl half-time show, only crap.

Another recap. Fast-forward time. And now the winner of last year’s Junior Eurovision – Destiny, from Malta. She’s sweet. And the lines are still open to vote… unless you were too chickenshit to watch this three-and-a-half-hour glittergasm live, like I was.

And now Petra and Mans are trying to find a common thread between all the previous winners. Cue a gloriously over-the-top production number ripping to shreds every single common Eurovision performance trope. It’s smart, sly, funny, and Petra and Mans find just the right not-quite-winking-at-the-audience tone. Of course it’s the best thing we’ve seen all evening. It even includes special appearances from Lordi lookalikes,  a gaggle of Russian-looking grandmas and a man running in a hamster wheel. It ends with all the fireworks in Sweden, and the audience goes wild.

Unfortunately, Sarah Dawn Finer’s Lynda Woodruff isn’t as funny as she thinks she is. Just like last time. Her appearance is mercifully brief. The magnificently deadpan documentary film – Nerd Nation – about Sweden’s obsession with Eurovision is better (guess what the ‘esc’ key on Swedish computers stands for?), but it goes on a little bit too long, presumably in order to give Mans time to make a costume change and get to the main stage.

45 seconds until the votes close and I can start fast-forwarding a lot. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, finito. Buh-bye. Just time for a quick number from Mans before we get into the points. He and his dancers are performing on hoverboards. Well, they don’t actually hover, but that’s what the kids seem to call them. I hope someone checked all the batteries. In THIS show, if something exploded, nobody would notice. Mans, of course, is a better singer than Justin Timberlake (really, who isn’t?). His first number segues into a reprise of his winning entry from last year, ‘Heroes’, and this is better than a lot of what we’ve seen this evening, partly because he’s won already so he can just have fun with it.

And we’re into the results. FINALLY. Good evening Europe, hello Stockholm, blah blah blah. The Austrian lady appears to be wearing something by Clarice Cliff. Why?

Petra gets special regards from the Icelandic representative’s dog. Nice. Iceland gives the Netherlands 12 points, because presumably their antidepressants haven’t kicked in yet.

San Marino’s points are announced by a very, very white rapper. I mean whiter than Justin Timberlake. Whiter than John Major. Whiter than fresh snow before a dog pees on it. He’s so white, he could be the ‘after’ in a toothpaste ad. Yikes.

So far each country is only announcing their 12-point awards, and everything else is being added to the points table automatically. They should have done this years ago.

Malta gives us 12 points. Whoopee. At this point, the voting is all over the place, with no clear winner. Fast forward time.

Cyprus gives 12 points to Russia. I’m sure we’re all shocked.

Quick tip to the green room, because we’re milking it this evening. Australia are in the lead at the moment, because Europe. Ukraine in second place, and she sings the chorus of Mans’s winning song from last year back to him, which is rather sweet. She’s nervous, she’s charming. What would it mean for her to win Eurovision? A giant one-finger salute to Russia, but that’s not the answer she gives (“It would mean Europe understands me.”).

Norway’s points are presented by a Bobbysock. Let it swing. Ooh, 1985 flashback.

And I fast-forwarded to the end of the jury points because the tension was just too much to bear. Or something. Australia is first, followed by Ukraine and France. Public vote still to come, as Petra reminds us. Whoop-de-frigging-doo.

OK. Public vote time. The Czech Republic got nul points from the public – deservedly – and we’re second from the bottom. Someone at the BBC is very, very happy – we don’t have to pay to host the show next year, so that’s another kind of win for us. We’re still going to end up near the bottom of the pile. Meanwhile, there’s an enormous gulf between the jury vote and the popular vote, which means the voting process, for once, is a bit interesting – at least if you fast-forwarded through half the last hour. Austria, for example, scored big with the public but not with the juries. Sweden also did inexplicably well in the public vote. That’s bizarre and slightly scary. And Poland got dick-all from the juries and are in the top four with the public. People obviously really loved his long red tailcoat, or maybe his constipated grimacing just scared them. Unlike the way the votes used to get announced, this is actually fun to watch.

Aaaand the winner is… wow. Russia won the public vote, but not the juries, leaving him in third place. Ukraine wins. Yes, UKRAINE. Jamala is heading back to the stage, armed with three light-up bracelets and a Ukrainian flag. I kraine, you kraine, he kraines, we kraine, you kraine, they kraine… we all kraine. She really wants peace and love for everyone, which is nice. For once, something sincere and heartfelt won. It wasn’t the best song, and I don’t need to hear it again, but it’s interesting. This is not the way this contest usually goes.

So… overall, disappointingly subdued – an odd thing to say about an evening whose light show resembles Armageddon with a larger budget and less restraint, but this is Eurovision – and the absence of any novelty acts in national costume performing with strange props is disappointing. Petra and Mans’s interval act was inspired, Sweden put on a terrific show, and the new method of tabling the results led to a surprisingly tense finish. As for the winner, next year should be quite special. I hear spring in Kiev is lovely, and let’s all pray the 2017 Russian entry doesn’t involve tanks.

Here’s Jamala:

 

 

 

 

Oh, Vienna…

Brace yourselves. It’s here again. Like many of you, I can hardly contain my excitement. Eurovision is back. Back! BACK! There will be glitter, there will be dry ice, there will be whimpering behind a cushion until the scary parts have finished (you think the Weeping Angels are scary? They have nothing on Ukraine’s 2007 entry, which looks like what would happen if Rosa Klebb found herself at the epicentre of a silver lamé explosion), and since the show is being staged in Austria there will probably be dirndls. There will be Graham Norton muttering in the background, there will be a weird interval act, and there will almost certainly, before this is over, be multiple snarkgasms.

I’m ready for the cheese – I have crackers, I have a cushion, and I am only about twelve feet from the nearest bathroom. As ever, I am not watching this live – since I don’t drink and therefore can’t use Margaritas to dull the pain, I need to be able to resort to the fast-forward button in the event of it all getting too much, which usually happens less than twenty minutes into the show. Also, really, who has the patience to sit through the more-than-an-hour-long voting process? I certainly don’t. I mean, I could use the time constructively and read a book or something, but by the time the voting begins, on past form, my IQ will have temporarily dropped by about forty-five points. Best to just get it over as quickly as possible.

No, I did not watch the semi-finals. There is a point at which pain stops being pleasurable; if I’d watched the semi-finals, that point would likely have arrived at about 8.25pm on Tuesday, and we wouldn’t be here now. Judge for yourselves whether or not that would be a bad thing. I have – by dint of very selective viewing of Facebook and Twitter for the past three hours – managed to remain relatively spoiler-free, so that’s nice. I only have to sit through this once… unless there’s something really ghastly, in which case I reserve the right to pause, rewind, and watch it over and over about twenty times until my brain finally implodes in disgust at what I’m forcing it to witness.

ANYway. So. Thanks to the victory last year of the faaaaaaabulous Conchita Wurst, we are in Vienna this year. I like Vienna. A long time ago, as an undergraduate, I sang in both the Karlskirche and the Stephansdom as part of a tour of Eastern Europe with my college’s chapel choir. I think it’s a reasonably safe bet that nothing we hear this evening will much resemble the programme of English choral music we performed on that trip. Of course, on that trip I also saw The Phantom of the Opera at the (very beautiful) Raimund Theater – in German, so I didn’t have to suffer the English lyrics. I may flirt with the highbrow from time to time, but it seems I usually end up back wallowing in the cheese.

I spoke too soon. We’re beginning with the Vienna Philharmonic getting their Mozart on in the grounds of the Schonbrunn palace. Have I mentioned that Vienna is a gorgeous city? Don’t worry, the sequence only lasted two minutes. That’s the last natural beauty you’re going to be seeing tonight.

And heeeeeeere’s Conchita! Mr. Norton is telling us we can go online and download a scorecard – or at least, you could if you were a) watching it live and b) gave a shit about the scoring.

Now we’re seeing lots of happy Austrians standing in a circle and releasing balloons. No idea why. Inside the arena, the first thing we see is a giant glittery ball – not a glitterball, that wouldn’t be classy enough – dropping from the ceiling to a solo violinist, backed by a full orchestra, giving us the melody of Conchita Wurst’s ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’. And guess how Ms. Wurst enters?

(I’ll give you a clue, it involved a trapdoor and a lift. Geddit?)

The opening number is called ‘Building Bridges’, because of course this entire event is supposed to be some kind of celebration of international cooperation and peace and love and mutual understanding and all that crap. Conchita is flying on a wire above the audience while the orchestra plays a generic slab of Europop. If you were watching anything else, you’d think it couldn’t possibly get any more kitsch, but this is Eurovision. Sure enough, they immediately wheel on a choir of children.

The opening number passed without anyone letting off any fireworks, though, which is disappointing. Maybe there’ll be some later.

(“Maybe”? Yeah, right.)

Now all the contestants are parading into the arena. It looks like a cross between a Primark fashion show and the entrance of the athletes in an Olympic opening ceremony, if the entrance of the athletes in an Olympic opening ceremony was staged in a gay nightclub in Benidorm.

I’ve forgotten what this year’s British entry looks like. I’ve forgotten what it sounds like too, which is possibly no bad thing. Our recent form in this competition is not good.

And just in case we missed the point, everybody’s singing a slowed-down reprise of ‘Building Bridges’. You can just feel the love, can’t you?

Never mind.

Our Austrian presenters are welcoming this year’s special anniversary contestants – Australia, because why should anyone expect any of this to make sense? – and telling us a little more about the theme of building bridges “between countries, cultures, musical styles” and so on blah blah blah. Film montage of people around the world backed by a Russian power ballad about people coming together as one. Sweet.

The Austrian presenters are Not Very Good, and I think I missed most of their names. One of them might be called Arabella, and all of them might be robots. We are told, once more, that you can’t vote until all contestants have performed – this is a recent-ish innovation – but you CAN, this year, vote via an app, assuming you can be arsed to download an app in order to vote in Eurovision. Since the whole thing is over now because I’m not watching live, it’s a moot point.

So, entry number one. Slovenia. Maraaya, with a song called “Here For You”. She’s wearing enormous noise-cancelling headphones, possibly so she can’t hear herself. The song is hipsterish pop, she sounds like the love-child of Duffy and Basil Brush, and a black-clad dancer with white Christmas tree baubles sewn onto her jumpsuit is playing air violin next to her. It’s bizarre, but not bizarre enough. The lyrics are completely incomprehensible, but it’s got a catchy chorus. It won’t win, but it’s a decent start.

Two. France. Lisa Angell, “N’Oubliez Pas” Black-clad woman with smudged eyeshadow singing a prettily doomy ballad while images of an urban wasteland are projected on an enormous LED screen behind her. She has a nice enough voice but no presence, and the song is sludge.

Oh. Now there are four military drummers drumming alongside her. She does at least hit all the notes, and she has a bigger voice than you’d guess, but that wasn’t France’s finest hour.

Three. A screen caption warns us the next performance contains flashing images and strobe effects. Duh, this is Eurovision. Israel, Nadav Guedj, “Golden Boy”. Not, sadly, by Charles Strouse. He’s apparently 16, but could easily pass for 40. It’s basically a slightly Middle-Eastern boyband song – he’s got three backing singers/dancers behind him – and it’s good, energetic, clean fun. And there are fireworks. See? I told you there’d be fireworks. We only had to wait until the third number to get them. At Eurovision, that’s what passes for delayed gratification.

Four. Estonia. Elina Born & Stig Rasta (there’s some kind of accent over the first A in his surname but I can’t be frigged to look up the ASCII character), “Goodbye to Yesterday”. Moody Johnny-Cash-meets-rockabilly, beautifully staged with spectacular projected shadows behind the two performers. They’re sexy, they can both sing – her better than him – and it’s quite a good song. Once again, though, the sound system is obliterating the lyrics. They probably aren’t very good, but that’s not quite the point – the sound is so bad that if I didn’t know these people were singing in English, I possibly wouldn’t guess.

Five. Us. The UK. Electro Velvet, “Still In Love With You”. Now I remember. Fun slab of electronic swing music, nicely performed, staged like a 21st-Century Art Deco hallucination. There’s black lighting AND their costumes actually light up. It’s not remotely subtle, but it’s also not remotely embarrassing, which puts it several steps above about half our last dozen entries. It won’t win, but it’s got as good a shot as anything we’ve entered in a while.

Six. Armenia. Genealogy, “Face the Shadow”. There are six singers, and they’re all smiling like they’ve drunk a little bit too much Robitussin. I have no idea what they’re singing about because the miking, once again, is crap, but it all seems to be terribly meaningful. And they’re using the wind machine, and it’s building to an overwrought climax. It ends with fireballs shooting into the air behind the singers, because Eurovision.

According to Mr. Norton, we have now, having seen the Armenian entry, plumbed the depths of tonight’s contest. That, apparently, is as low as we go.

Pity.

Seven. Lithuania. Their singer has apparently attempted to enter Eurovision several times before, so of course the pre-song introductory film shows the poor woman doing a bungee jump. Monika Linkyt & Vaidas Baumila (which sounds like something you’d put on a cold sore), with “This Time”. It’s one of those very, very peppy, enthusiastic acoustic guitar-driven pop songs that leave you thinking nobody could possibly be so high on life. The melody is absolutely forgettable, the staging is big and bright and colourful – there’s a projected deco sunburst behind them – and as the song progresses, it gradually starts to dawn on you that their fake smiles might actually be sincere, which is frightening.

Eight. Serbia. Another warning about flashing images and strobe lights. Bojana Stamenov, “Beauty Never Lies”. Silver ballgown, sequinned cape, glittery hair, four white-clad masked figures behind her waving flags. It’s All Very Dramatic, and a minute into the song the masked figures whip their masks and overalls off to reveal contemporary party clothes. Ms. Stamenov has a hell of a high belt, the lighting is completely bonkers, it’s camper than a whole stack of Canvas Holidays brochures, and it’s probably the most genuinely entertaining entry so far.

Nine. Norway. Morland & Debrah Scarlett, “A Monster Like Me”. This time you can hear the lyrics. Unfortunately the first lyrics you hear are “I’m telling the truth/I did something terrible/In my early youth”. His vocals are upsettingly Chris Martin-esque; she looks a bit like a young Bernadette Peters and sounds like a backed-up drain. It’s one of those songs that’s probably going to end with some kind of suicide pact involving either both singers or the entire audience.

Oh no, we’re still here. That was a bit traumatic, wasn’t it? Let the healing begin.

Ten. Sweden. The favourite, apparently. Mans Zelmerlow, “Heroes”. Very clever staging which has the singer interacting with stick-figure projections behind him. It’s a decent song, he can sing, and the staging is a knockout. It’s not the kind of compelling, charismatic turn that won it for Conchita Wurst last year, but it’s head and shoulders above anything we’ve seen so far.

Eleven. Cyprus. John Karayiannis, “One Thing I Should Have Done”. A sincere, rather lovely ballad, presented relatively simply until the demented lighting effects cut in at the dramatic part of the song’s bridge. Unfortunately for Mr. Karayiannis, this is Eurovision. Sincerity doesn’t play well here. He’s very likeable, but he won’t win.

Twelve. Australia. Guy Sebastian, apparently a big star Down Under, with “Tonight Again”. It’s a very slick, polished performance, but it’s also the sort of thing that makes you long for the playful wit and emotional depth of, say, Justin Timberlake. It’s bouncy, energetic, and completely forgettable. Moving on…

Thirteen. Belgium. More flashing images and strobe effects. Loic Nottet, “Rhythm Inside”. He’s walking slightly robotically, and so are his five white-clad backing singers. It’s a bit like Depeche Mode circa 1984 with better harmonies and slick choreography. It’s endearingly strange, they perform it with absolute conviction, and it hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.

Fourteen. Austria. The Makemakes, “I Am Yours”. Also known as the please-God-don’t-let-us-win-this-year entry (the winning country gets saddled with the bill for staging next year’s event). Slightly Lennon-and-McCartneyish piano-and-guitar pop, “sung” by a long-haired hipster who might have learned his vocal style from being waterboarded. Halfway through the second verse, the piano catches fire. Unfortunately it doesn’t take out the band, and they get to finish the song. Damn.

Little intermission. Conchita takes us into the Green Room. What’s the Wurst that could happen? Well, one of the plastic presenters could try to be funny, and the joke could land like a concrete Sachertorte.

The joke involved a reference to Ms. Wurst’s long hair and beard and the 2008 French entry, whose backing singers all sported conspicuously fake flowing wigs and long beards. Laugh? I thought my pants would never dry.

And we’re back to the songs. Fifteen, Greece, Maria Elena Kyriakou, “One Last Breath”. Flowing blonde hair, low-cut glittery evening dress, tinkly piano, wind machine, drums coming in at the keychange into the second chorus. We’re in cut-price Céline territory here – there’s always at least one. It’s a lousy song, and she doesn’t quite have the power to really sock the climax home, although she hits all the notes. Not one of the evening’s highlights, either for the right or the wrong reasons.

Sixteen. Montenegro, Knez, with “Adio”. A violinist playing a folksy melody, drum machine underneath, people striking weirdly dramatic poses, and a slightly seedy man with glittery lapels on his black jacket trying to sound sincere in a language 98% of the people watching this don’t speak. It’s less interesting than I’m making it sound. Fast-forward time.

Seventeen. Germany. Ann Sophie with “Black Smoke”. The guy who won the selection process in Germany dropped out, so we’re getting this instead. Aren’t we lucky? The song is a bit Bond Theme-y, and Adele wants her (borrowed) vocal stylings back. Or she might, if Ann Sophie could sing half as well as she can. Ms. Sophie borrowed her (low-cut) black belted jumpsuit from 1968, and her right earring possibly doubles as a feather duster. That’s not a bun on her head, either – when she’s done singing, or whatever it is she thinks she’s doing, she’s going to use it to cosh people who don’t vote for her. I think that’s going to keep her quite busy later on.

Not Germany’s best effort, this one. Better luck next time.

Eighteen. Poland. Monika Kuszynska, “In The Name of Love”. Ms. Kuszynska has, we are told, overcome considerable personal adversity (a serious car accident which left her in a wheelchair) in order to be here. The song is a pretty middle-of-the-road midtempo ballad, and she sings it very prettily, although the backing singers drown her out a bit. She’s lovely – but, again, sweet sincerity is not necessarily what works at Eurovision.

Nineteen. Latvia. By now I’m not even noticing the warnings about strobe lights. Aminata, “Love Injected”, a title which mostly just serves to remind us all that we’re dealing with this without the aid of pharmaceuticals. Plinky plonky intro, she’s singing a weird un-melody and wearing what looks like an inverted tulip. Then she strikes a pose and shreiks. Her dress has apparently rendered her immobile from the shoulders down; wondering whether she walked onstage herself or had to be wheeled into place is more interesting than actually listening to her song. Oh thank God it’s over. That was quick, or maybe I zoned out.

Twenty. Romania. Voltaj, “De La Capat”. Voltaj have apparently been big stars on their home turf for about twenty years. They’re a Proper Group, with instruments and everything. The sound system is rendering the Romanian lyrics far more clearly than it’s managed with anything sung in English this evening. Too bad I don’t speak Romanian. The song is a bit Gary Barlow-ish – pleasantly inoffensive, with a Great Big Chorus which isn’t quite as memorable as they’d like it to be. It’s an enjoyable performance, but I think not a winning one.

Twenty-one. Spain. She’s dating a Man Utd player, apparently. I’ve never heard of her. I’ve never heard of him either. Edurne, with “Amanecer”. She begins by kneeling on a comatose man’s torso while wearing what look like red sequinned terry-cloth widow’s weeds. In the second verse, the comatose man gets up and holds her train, then yanks it – and the red sequinned terry-cloth thing – off as she goes into the chorus, revealing a glittery silvery somewhat see-through dress which is cut so high you can see her knickers. All of this is more interesting than the song she’s singing. There’s some kind of desert landscape projected behind her, and then the half-naked male dancer comes back and lifts her up. And then he’s gone again, possibly blown away by the wind machine which cuts in for the final chorus. I’m sure it all made sense to somebody when they started rehearsals.

What am I saying? No I’m not, this is Eurovision.

Twenty-two. Hungary, Boggie, “Wars for Nothing”. Earnest young woman in burgundy polyester singing about Whirled Peas. Four other singers are classically attired in blue and white polyester (blue suits and white shirts for the men, blue skirts and white blouses for the women, all looking like they were bought for £8.99 at ASDA), and behind them the screen is showing a projection of a tree made out of machine guns. It’s very low-key and a bit tuneless, but they have lovely voices. The last verse, which they sing in harmony, is quite nice, but it isn’t going to set anyone’s pulse racing.

Twenty-three. Georgia. Vampira McScary, or rather Nina Sublatti, with “Warrior”. She looks like a teenage goth throwing a tantrum – she’s obviously been practicing her grimace in the bathroom mirror for, ooh, minutes – and the pointy feathered shoulders on her outfit could take someone’s eye out. She’s got a dagger-like headpiece in her centre parting, her hair is even limper than the week-old celery in my fridge, and behind her there’s all the dry ice in the world. She can sing, but the performance is all posturing. It’s a bit like watching Katharine McPhee trying to play Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Ms. Sublatti has possibly spent a little bit too long watching reruns of “Dark Shadows” and “Xena, Warrior Princess”. The song is instantly forgettable Europop, which rather works against the sneering attitude she’s trying to strike as she sings it.

Twenty-four. Azerbaijan. Elnur Huseynov, “Hour of the Wolf”. Pleasant pop ballad sung (quite well) by a blandly good-looking young man as a pair of writhing dancers – one of whom is bare-chested – perform what appears to be a carefully-choreographed mashup of a wrestling match and a bilious attack around him. They all get through the song without giggling, which is more than I can manage.

Twenty-five. Russia. Apparently one of the favourites. It’d be fun if the campest international television event on the planet ended up being staged next year in a country which last year passed into law some of the most repressive anti-gay legislation on the books anywhere in the developed world, wouldn’t it? Perhaps Putin could host. Without his shirt. While wrestling a bear.

No, not that kind of bear.

Polina Gagarina, “A Million Voices”. All about love and tolerance, according to Mr. Norton – values that Russia’s current political leaders so clearly espouse. At least, they reeeeeaaaaallly love Crimea and the eastern part of Ukraine. But let us not speak of The Unpleasantness. Ms. Gagarina is about to sing. It’s a big power ballad, the above-the-waist part of her dress is apparently a couple of bits of kitchen roll and a piece of string, she’s got a big voice, and her roots need doing. It’s got a huge singalong chorus, and – all snarking about her ridiculous President’s appalling record aside – is actually pretty good in a you’ll-hate-yourself-later-for-enjoying-this sort of way. Dull presentation, though. The visuals do count for something – the contest, these days, is about acts rather than songs.

Twenty-six. Albania. Elhaida Dani, “I’m Alive”. That’s nice for her; after having been watching this for a couple of hours now, I’m not sure I am. It’s low-key, it’s classy, it’s boring as shit, and her vocal “style” appears to involve going off-pitch a lot. Fast-forward time. Bye bye, Elhaida.

Oh, crap. I didn’t quite miss her big shreik at the end. Bummer.

Twenty-seven. The last one. Italy. Il Volo, “Grande Amore”. They’ve toured as Streisand’s opening act, apparently. Three cheesily, generically handsome men with improbably vertical hair and slightly operatic voices singing Sarah Brightman-esque crossover pop. They can sing, they have remarkably mobile eyebrows, and I really really really REALLY hate this kind of music. They do it very well indeed, and it stinks.

So. We’ve seen it all. Conchita wants us to applaud because everyone was AMAZING. The presenters have changed their dresses and I still can’t remember their names; they’ve got to talk for a bit while the stage is cleared for the interval act, and I can fast-forward through the recap of all the acts which they always do when voting begins.

One of the three nameless presenters – Miriam? – just sang a snatch of ‘The Hills Are Alive’ really badly. Thank God they didn’t hold the show in Salzburg, it would have been wall-to-wall dirndls.

Ohhhhkay. Martin Grubinger and the Percussive Planet Ensemble with ‘Speeding Up The Images’ and ‘All Is In A State Of Flux. It begins with a big dramatic chord and a lot of people playing percussion instruments like they’re on meth withdrawal, and I’ve a feeling I may not be watching this all the way through.

Oh.

Oh dear.

It’s never a good sign if, two minutes into watching something, you start to think you’d rather be watching “Riverdance”.

(Yes, I have seen “Riverdance”, and not just their Eurovision intermission act from years ago.)

Now there’s a quiet bit with French horns. I may not have to go and stick my head in the freezer after all.

Everybody in the green room is holding a pose. I think they’re supposed to be heart shapes.

And now a choir of very classy musicians are singing something generically modern/classical and almost, nearly maintaining straight faces as they do so. This is deeply silly, and not in a good way. Flags of all nations (well, all the nations that are here in the arena) are waving all around them. Like a lot of things this evening, it’s obviously supposed to be Very Very Meaningful, but it isn’t.

And we’re back with the crazy percussion people. I’m fast-forwarding.

Apparently that was all based on themes by famous Austrian composers. I’m sure their music is super, but thank God it’s over.

And here’s another recap of all the acts. Fast-forward time.

Second interval act: Conchita Wurst with two new songs, reminding us she’s a more compelling, more exciting performer than anyone else we’ve seen all night, even though several of the acts we’ve seen feature better singers. The songs aren’t very good, but Ms. Wurst is one of those people who can hold a stage just by standing there and striking a pose – which doesn’t mean they don’t bring out a gaggle of flamboyantly weird dancers and the full weight of the show’s weapons-grade lighting rig for the second number.

Unfortunately, the performance is followed by a painfully stilted scripted chat with one of the presenters-whose-name-I-can’t-remember in which they repeatedly plug Ms. Wurst’s new album. Even by the standards of everything else we’ve seen tonight, this is cringe-inducing.

Now we’re introduced to Vincenzo Cantiello, winner of last year’s Junior Eurovision. Holy crap, that kid is loud. His neighbours must be either very understanding or profoundly deaf.

And NOW, one of the presenters is describing the trophy as “a real piece of art”. It looks like it came from a pound shop.

We see a montage of past winners, and it’s almost time for the points to be announced. But first, a word from Jon Ola Sand, the ESC’s executive supervisor… like I give a shit. Fast-forward time.

Un-fast-forward. The Romanian presenter appears to be standing in front of a backdrop of smog. 10 points to Russia, so hopefully they won’t invade.

Just kidding.

Judging by the Moldovan presenter, the Jaclyn Smith look is still big over there.

Azerbaijan give douze points to Russia. They don’t want to be invaded either. We picked up a point somewhere, I don’t know where from.

Latvia’s presenter is powered by Duracell, and his hair is made out of styrofoam and taped into place.

Early on, it looks like it’s between Russia, Italy, and Sweden.

Awww. France gives Belgium douze points. Bless. It’s more of a race than it’s been the last couple of years.

Germany’s presenter seems to be wearing some kind of pizza cutter. We’ve picked up another point from somewhere, aren’t we lucky?

Electro Velvet are now third from bottom, Germany and Austria still have nul points. Somewhere, an Austrian network executive is breathing a heavy sigh of relief.

Hungary gives Belgium twelve points, and we all need a moment to recover from the sight of an Eastern Bloc country NOT giving their highest score to another Eastern Bloc country.

The UK’s points are being presented by Nigella, who sadly doesn’t whip up a sumptuous pasta dish as she announces the results of our phone-in vote. She does, however, speak flawless German, Italian and French. We gave ten points to Australia, and I’m losing the will to live. Douze points à la Suède. We’re still third from bottom.

San Marino gave us three points. They’re the 35th counrtry to announce their results, and their three points more than doubles our score. I think Electro Velvet are probably going to be down the dumper quite soon.

The Norwegian presenter has had someone embroider licorice allsorts into the shoulders of her frock. Oh, those wacky Norwegians.

(No, they really are. Let us not forget, Norway is the country that sent both Jahn Tiegen and Benedicte Adrian to Eurovision. Obviously there’s some kind of strange national sense of humour there that the rest of the world will never quite be able to understand.)

We’re now fourth from the bottom, not third. Yay us.

And it’s all over bar the shouting. We’re fourth from bottom, Austria and Germany both have nul points, and Sweden – deservedly – wins by a fairly clear margin. Can I put in an early vote for them to bring back Petra Mede as presenter next year?

Here’s the winning entry, and we should all get some kind of group hug for having made it through to the end of the show:

And there wasn’t a dirndl in sight. I want a refund.

The Casual Vacancy

How do you take a long, bleak, depressing novel whose single sympathetic character dies within the first five pages, and turn it into a compelling TV series?

It’s a difficult question, isn’t it? Given the book’s sales – nowhere near Harry Potter numbers, but it was still a huge bestseller – there was no doubt that J.K. Rowling’s sprawling, angry debut “adult” novel The Casual Vacancy would be adapted for television or film – but given the novel’s relentless bleakness, that wasn’t necessarily an enticing prospect: Rowling’s fictional village of Pagford is populated by a monstrously unappealing cast of characters, and during the course of the novel’s 500-odd pages most of them behave very badly indeed. Parts of the novel are extraordinarily vivid – a passage in which an unhappy teenage girl repeatedly cuts herself is genuinely upsetting, all the more so because Rowling renders the character’s fractured emotional state with unusual clarity – and the novel’s ending verges on nihilistic. Even the novel’s comedy – and there is a surprising amount of it – is of the pitch-black variety; anyone expecting the nostalgic charm of the early Potter novels would have been sorely disappointed – and indeed, it was greeted with dismay by a number of reviewers. It’s a decisive break from Rowling’s earlier work, and in some ways a very brave move. She obviously wasn’t in any danger of being left destitute by the commercial failure of a new book, but she did risk alienating some of her readers: as state-of-the-nation novels go, this one is unusually brutal, and Rowling clearly does not much admire what she sees in this country on either the right or the left.

Given all of that, it’s more than a little surprising that BBC One’s television adaptation of the novel has turned out to be such a complete triumph (albeit one that lost a couple of million viewers between the first and final instalments, which was probably inevitable given the nature of the material). Not coincidentally, the screenwriter, Sarah Phelps, has played fast and loose with the novel’s plot, streamlining it into three tautly-written hour-long episodes which capture the essence of Rowling’s (intermittently brilliant) novel but do not necessarily strictly adhere to it. There are some major omissions (that cutting scene is gone, and the character involved initially appears to be reduced to a sullen background presence – although five minutes from the end of the final episode, she is given the most significant line in the whole three-part series, in terms of encapsulating what the story is about), and the ending is different than in the novel, offering a possibility of redemption for at least one or two characters. Throughout, more or less every important plot event covered by the TV adaptation is in some way different from the way it is depicted in the novel. It’s not a slavishly faithful reproduction of the source material at all, and – surprisingly – it’s all the better for it.

In place of the novel’s brooding, darkly sardonic social analysis, what Phelps gives us is a tight, laser-sharp comedy of bad manners in which the pretensions and failings of the various protagonists are quietly but ruthlessly dissected, usually within seconds of the character appearing on screen for the first time. Her screenplay moves very quickly – even in this streamlined adaptation, there’s a lot of plot to pack into three hours, and a lot of characters to cover – but it’s written with remarkable economy, and every single detail counts. It’s still bleak, and it still goes to some extremely dark places, particularly in the final episode, but the novel’s nearly unrelenting procession of human misery would have made turgid viewing on TV. Instead, what Phelps – and the director, Johnny Campbell – have made is a show that looks, on the surface, like a typically glossy, shallow Sunday night TV drama, but which has real bite underneath.

And the performances are tremendous. As Krystal Weedon, the at-risk teenage daughter of a drug addict whose collision with the cosily middle-class inhabitants of the village where she lives provides the motor for much of the plot, Abigail Lawrie is a real discovery. The whole cast obviously relish the snap and crackle of Phelps’s nastily funny dialogue; they’re playing awful, awful people, but the whole thing is carried off with a commendable lightness of touch. You don’t really sympathise with anyone – apart from Krystal and possibly Samantha Mollison, the unhappy daughter-in-law of Howard, the monstrous deli-owner and leader of the Parish Council – but it doesn’t matter; the sheer (and recognisable) nastiness of these characters, here, is partly what makes them so entertaining, and the fiction Phelps (via Rowling) draws here is only a couple of degrees meaner than real life. If you’ve ever sat through any kind of committee meeting, the kind of closed-minded pettiness that drives The Casual Vacancy’s plot will not be entirely unfamiliar to you. We’ve all met self-important social-climbing windbags like Howard Mollison; here, refreshingly, Michael Gambon plays him without any kind of twinkle, offering a portrayal that verges on grotesque, although he stops short of making Howard into a boo-hiss pantomime villain. As star turns go, this one is bracingly obnoxious – which in this case is a compliment.

The cherry on the cake is the brilliantly vicious double-act between Keeley Hawes as the aforementioned Samantha Mollison and Julia McKenzie as Shirley Mollison, the monster-in-law from hell. Hawes, whose television work I have not always enjoyed in the past, is in top form, playing Samantha as a tightly-wound woman who survives her family’s bullying by deploying the only weapons available to her: cheap wine, deadpan sarcasm, and her tits. McKenzie’s lyrically toxic busybody of an interfering mother-in-law, opposite her, is simultaneously hilariously funny and chillingly unpleasant (“You aren’t a victim, dear,” she simpers to Samantha at one point in the final episode, “you’re a failure.”). Their final scene is one of the moments that, in contrast to Rowling’s ending in the novel, suggest the possibility of reconciliation and redemption; it’s beautifully written, and Hawes and McKenzie play it superbly well.

None of this, though, adds up to a series that’s exactly likeable – or at least, it’s the polar opposite of the kind of warmly reassuring television drama you’d usually expect to find in the 9pm Sunday slot on BBC1. I loved it, and I’ll be buying the DVD when it comes out (and probably watching it again before then, I haven’t deleted it from the DVR), but it lost a huge chunk of viewers between the first and the final episodes; reading the reviews, too, not everybody is a fan of all of the changes Phelps makes to Rowling’s plot, particularly when it comes to the TV series’s somewhat less brutal ending. It’s anyone’s guess how it will go over when HBO show it in April; it looks, on the surface, like the kind of cosy, comfortable English drama series that plays very profitably to a US audience, and I’m not sure how viewers expecting a modern-day Downton Abbey or a Nice Family Drama will take to a series in which there’s repeated drug use, a certain amount of squalor (and not “designer poverty” either – the production makes no attempt to romanticise the horrible conditions in which the Weedons live), and a fair sprinkling of salty language and behaviour, including a library scene that should make every librarian who sees it refuse to touch a book ever again unless they’re wearing rubber gloves. It’s not simply that the series spits at the complacent small-C conservative middle-classes, although it does – the new ending, indeed, explicitly makes the point that well-meaning do-gooders can inadvertently cause a great deal of harm. It’s that it spits at everyone, perhaps even more than the novel, in which there was more space for Rowling to show us each character’s good traits as well as the bad ones.

And if nothing else, the TV adaptation seems to have really upset the Daily Mail’s appalling Jan Moir. That, in itself, is an achievement worth celebrating.

…and brought a lotta schlock home

Ibuprofen? Check.

Barf bag? Check.

Crackers? Check.

Everybody ready? OK, we’ll begin. It’s time, once again, for the year’s biggest onslaught of televisual cheese. There will be sequins, there will be glitter, there will very possibly be blood, some of which may be mine because before this is over my eyes and ears will very likely start bleeding. Yes, it’s Eurovision night. Whoopee.

A disclaimer before we begin: I am not witnessing this live, because I don’t drink – since I can’t use alcohol to dull the pain, I lack the testicular fortitude to put myself through this without the ability to resort to the fast-forward button if necessary. And I got new glasses last week, and the new ones don’t have the anti-glare coating (most of the time, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference for me, and it starts to rub off if you have the habit of absent-mindedly cleaning your glasses on your T-shirt), so I reserve the right to hide behind a cushion if things get really dicey. The secret to surviving a Eurovision telecast, remember, is to prepare in advance for every eventuality. Including, possibly, your own death in a tragic and horrible sequin/wind machine accident.

Anyway. So. Last year’s winner, if you’re lucky enough to remember, was the fabulous Loreen. No, not Soreen, Loreen. I remember her name, but not her face or her song, which at Eurovision is par for the course for acts that don’t dress like Rosa Klebb after a glitter explosion. Loreen is Swedish, so this year le concours Eurovision is coming to us from beautiful sunny Malmö, capital of Scania and home of the Twisting Torso. That’s a tall building, not a corpse in a Henning Mankell novel, Ystad is 35 miles away.

Our host – in the UK, at least – is Graham Norton. Again. We open with a montage starring a caterpillar, which appears to be touring Europe by boat, train and moped. I think it’s supposed to be cute. It’s not. And of course the caterpillar is now turning into a butterfly in front of the Oresund bridge. A Swedish footballer welcomes us to Malmo (I found the right accent once, I’m not going to do it again) from the side of the Twisting Torso, and now a big choir starts off the proceedings by singing something tuneless. The music is by Benny Andersson, the lyrics are by Bjorn Ulvaeus, and one of the ladies in the choir has a very large gap in her teeth.

Ooh. Now people carrying the flags of all nations are entering via a catwalk over the audience. One young woman seems to be wearing a swan and pink hotpants. These are either the contestants, or a glimpse of Vivienne Westwood’s Primark collection.

Yes, Mr. Andersson, we know you know what a pedal point is. The choir are singing something about a legacy in song. It is, shall we say, statistically unlikely that any of this evening’s victims contestants will end up leaving us a musical legacy that in any way approaches that of Mr. Andersson and Mr. Ulvaeus, but hope springs eternal. That’s why we’re all watching.

Synchronised flag-waving. It’s like ‘One Day More’, without the knowledge that nearly everyone on stage will be dead by the end of the second half.

Here’s our Swedish hostess. And a lot of animated butterflies. She’s wearing what looks like a fuschia replica of the Shard. Her name is Petra Mede, and I’m not going to attempt a pronunciation. She’s talking about Bjorn and Benny, and three lines in she’s winkingly referred to ‘Dancing Queens’. Abba were sadly unavailable, so we have to make do with bb. Agnetha and Anni-Frid seem to have elected to stay home. Probably wise.

Ah, I see. The base of her pyramid dress is wide because it has to hide the tug-o’-war team pulling ropes to keep her smile in place.

Lines do not open until all acts have performed. Seems sensible, but this is only the second time they’ve done this.

May the best song win, Petra says. It usually doesn’t, but what the hell.

Aaaand we’re off. Song #1. Amandine Bourgeois, representing France with the charmingly-titled ‘L’enfer et Moi’ – ‘Hell and Me’. We’ve just seen a montage of Amandine shopping and having her hair done. Hell, presumably, is what happens next. She’s wearing a leather feather duster that’s cut well above her knees, and she seems to want to be a cross between Amy Winehouse and Courtney Love. Team France have possibly put more effort into artfully smudging her eyeshadow than crafting her song’s melody. It’s not bad, and for Eurovision it’s refreshingly rough around the edges, and… oh. Now she’s screaming. Possibly she’s already seen this.

Song #2. The next performance contains flashing images and strobe effects, says the caption on the screen. Don’t they all. Lithuania, Andrius Pojavis, ‘Something’. His favourite part of his body, according to Mr. Norton, is his arms. He wrote the song himself. It’s a sort of u2/early-era The Killers mashup. He’s terribly sincere – white T-shirt, black leather jacket, zombie poses, closes his eyes a lot – but not terribly charismatic. Again, not bad, but pleasantly inoffensive and not really memorable for either the right reasons or the wrong ones. This isn’t what we’re here for.

Now the butterfly is taking us to Moldova, represented in the montage by horses, dancing, and flying lanterns. Song #3, ‘O Mie’ by Aliona Moon. Piano intro, musclebound dancers dressed in white, she seems to be standing behind her dress rather than wearing it, and Emeli Sandé wants her hair back. It’s all Very Meaningful. She’s got a nice voice, and it seems to be about to get very overwrought. Her skirt, strangely, is glowing red as if lit from within, and lightning is being projected across it. And she’s getting taller. Ooh. A lift. And flames projected onto her skirt as the music approaches – please, God – a climax. She ends the song four feet taller than when she began it. At least she didn’t sing ‘Defying Gravity’.

Finland. Song #4, ‘Marry Me’, Krista Siegfrids. I’d rather not, Krista. Thanks anyway. Ah, she’s the lady who was wearing the swan with the pink hotpants in the opening procession. Her backing singers are wearing red frilly rubber aprons, and she’s being carried around by three Inigo Montoya wannabes in Batman masks. The song is generic Eurodisco, and not even good generic Eurodisco. Nicely trashy choreography, but this won’t win. Oh – now she’s got a wedding veil, and a lot of fireworks are going off. That’s what I love about Eurovision. The subtlety. She ends by snogging one of her backing singers.

Song #5. Spain. Y viva Espana. She’s got a Polaroid camera. Who still has one of those? ‘Contigo Hasta El Final’, by ESDM.  Not BSDM, ESDM. Don’t get your hopes up. It starts with a Spanish bagpipe. It’s folksy, the singer is wearing what looks like a courgette flower with gold shoulder trim, and they’re using the wind machine. The guitarist in the brown suit with the shaggy hipster hair has to be on drugs. You possibly would be too, if you’d rehearsed this a few times. Particularly since staying on – or, really, anywhere near – the note is not one of her better skills.

They travelled to Malmo by boat, apparently, and it took a week. How lovely they made it in time so we could all see this.

Belgium. Song #6, ‘Love Kills’ by Roberto Bellarosa. He’s only 18, apparently. Bless. He’s in a dinner jacket and no tie, standing in front of what looks like a selection of IKEA floor lamps, and I think he’s singing in English but I can’t quite tell.  Now the lamps have flown out, and the choreography begins. Oh, bloody hell. Dire sub-Michael Bolton ballad, and the dancers seem to be doing some bizarre cross between a Robert Palmer video and the Funky Chicken. Love kills over and over, apparently. If I don’t fast-forward this, they’re in danger of taking me down with them, and there’s a whole shitload of songs still to go. Moving swiftly on…

…to Estonia. Song #7, ‘Et Uus Saaks Alguse’, by Birgit. Hi, Birgit. A restrained, sweetly sad piano ballad, judging by the first verse. Oh – no, the drums and guitars have kicked in. It’s a 70s MOR knockoff, and I can’t take any more.

Song #8, Belarus,  ‘Solayoh’, by Alyona Lanskaya. The pre-song film montage featured carrot juice and monkeys. This has to be a step up from the last one. Alyona emerges from a six-foot glitterball, her dancers are wearing… well, something white that words can’t really describe, except you can see their bare chests most of the time. The song is a full-on onslaught of Eastern Europe disco WTF, and they seem to have borrowed a bouzouki from Greece. Jets of flame shoot up from the front of the stage, presumably to burn away the shattered remnants of everybody’s dignity. Including mine, for watching. This is pure Eurovision.

Song #9. Malta. He’s a doctor, apparently, and in the pre-song montage we see him walking down a corridor with a stethoscope around his neck. His name is Gianluca, and his song is called ‘Tomorrow’. Hopefully, it’s not that ‘Tomorrow’. He doesn’t appear to be a 10-year-old-girl with red curly hair, but you can never quite tell where the costuming with these things is going to go. We’re back on the folksy side of things again. He’s grinning a bit too much – seemingly with his very prominent eyebrows as well as his mouth – and it would be more charming if he grinned a bit less. Fast-forward time.

Next, Russia. No grandmas this year. Song #10, Dina Garipova, ‘What If’. I think we’re heading into Céline territory here – possibly not a bad tactical move, since Céline, once upon a time, actually won this thing. The song is adult-oriented pop sludge with uplifting/inspirational lyrics, there are four very cleanly-scrubbed backing singers behind her, there’s a melodramatic middle eight, and she’s selling it with absolute conviction. She’s also – and you have to have watched a few of these things to know how unusual this is – hitting all the notes dead-on, even the big ones. Not bad.

Germany. We are again warned about strobe effects, which is redundant at Eurovision. Song #11, ‘Glorious’, by Cascada. It’s an odd cross between full-on Eurodisco and full-on power-ballad, and the strobe effects are more interesting than the song. This is many things, but Glorious is not among them. You can barely hear her singing over the programmed synths. From what I can hear, this is not a problem. From Germany, this is a disappointingly by-the-numbers entry. Better luck next time, Deutschland, this won’t win.

Song #12, Armenia, ‘Lonely Planet’ by Dorians. Generic stadium rock, and yes, they’re using the wind machine. The keyboard player looks a bit like John Goodman. The guitarists are scowling. The song is Not Very Good. Still, the singer has a good, raucous rock voice, and they’re certainly giving it their all. Oh, look – those jets of flame again, accompanying the obligatory post-bridge key change. I have no idea what they’re singing about.

Well, at least that was mercifully short. Back to Petra, who’s still wearing the Pink Shard. She’s got better English than a lot of British presenters. Break for a short “comedy” film featuring Linda Woodruff, a Janet Street-Porter soundalike played disturbingly convincingly by a Swedish actress called Sarah Dawn Finer. She’s better than her script. Long, laboured joke about Abba being the Swedish Royal Family. Oh dear.

And we’re off again, this time to the Netherlands, who haven’t even been in the grand final for a while (no, I did not watch the heats myself – what do you think I am, a masochist?). Song #13, ‘Birds’, by Anouk. We are warned that if you don’t like Lana Del Rey, you’ll loathe Anouk. Noted. I like the idea of Lana Del Rey better than I like Lana Del Rey… and better than I like this. Minor-key music-to-slit-your-wrists-by in 3/4 time, delivered with what’s supposed to be a knowingly gloomy smile. I lasted almost two minutes, I hope you appreciate it.

Song #14. Romania. Again with the strobelights warning. Mr. Norton tells us it’s going to be special. I have a cushion ready. ‘It’s My Life’ by Cezar. Black sequinned Wicked Witch coatdress, overwrought music, dancers writhing under red satin, a falsetto chorus drawn from the very lowest circle of Dante’s Inferno, and the dancers seem to be wearing only flesh-coloured loincloths. This is, indeed, special, and it’s getting more and more special by the second. Cezar looks like a male Dynasty-era Joan Collins who has prepared for an audition for a vampire movie by modelling his vocal stylings on a drunk Kiri Te Kanawa and his facial expressions on a bilious attack. ‘Special’ doesn’t begin to cover it.

And it’s us. Song #15, the UK, Bonnie Tyler. Love Bonnie Tyler. Love, love, LOVE Bonnie Tyler. She is fabulous, and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ is a genuine pop classic. This song – ‘Believe In Me’ – unfortunately is not. She’s as charismatic a performer as we’ve seen so far, she’s selling the song with everything she’s got, but the song is sludge and she won’t win. Shame, because she’s obviously having a good time, and if anyone deserves another moment in the spotlight, she does.

Home entry. Song #16, Sweden, ‘You’ by Robin Stjernberg. He’s sort of Gary Barlow-ish, until it gets unhinged. OTT chorus, five dancers on a red flying saucer doing choreography that seems to be the result of a collaboration between Twyla Tharp and the Muppet Swedish Chef, and a barrage of fireworks as we enter the final chorus. If you were trying to stage an aneurysm, this is possibly what it would look like.

Hungary. Song #17. ‘Kedvesem’, apparently in the Zoohacker Remix, like that means anything to any of us viewers at home, performed by ByeAlex, and yes, that is supposed to be all one word. He looks strangely like French Nouvelle Star (= American Idol) winner Christophe Willem, his song is slightly folksy hipster-ish pop, and it’s refreshingly low-key and rather charming. He’s toast.

Song #18. Denmark. The favourite to win, apparently. ‘Only Teardrops’ by Emmelie de Forest. She’s very pretty, it’s a perfectly attractive Europop song with a slightly military drumbeat underneath and a penny whistle solo in the intro. Pleasant, cute, but not terribly memorable. She can sing, though, and she’s having a lovely time singing her lovely song, which is nice. Huge cheer at the end, but I’m not sure what for, although it’s got a catchy chorus.

Iceland. Song #19. Montage film includes, yes, lots of snow and ice, and heavy sweaters. ‘Eg a Lif’, by Eythor Ingi. Sung in Icelandic. His look is lounge-singer-goes-RAWK, the song is a dull, rather old-fashioned pop-rock ballad that’s positioned somewhere between Abba and Meatloaf, and he’s got a terrific voice. It’s not unpleasant, but it isn’t going to win.

Azerbaijan. Song #20. ‘Hold Me’, by Farid Mammadov. Oh dear God, this has STAGING. He’s grinning like an evil doctor on an American daytime soap, perched on top of a six-foot perspex box that has a dancer in it mirroring his moves – yes, upside down. For the second verse, Farid jumps off the top of the box and they do an old-fashioned side-by-side mirror act. Then a woman enters in a red dress whose train probably stretches the entire length of Azerbaijan, and the perspex box fills with petals, and everyone grimaces meaningfully until it ends, two choruses later. The song is the sort of overwrought rock ballad people slow-dance to in every disco in every Mediterranean resort, which means it won’t make your ears bleed and you won’t remember a note of it two minutes after it ends. This could do well, although the staging is possibly too batshit insane for it to win.

And now, Greece. Song #21, ‘Alcohol Is Free’, Koza Nosta featuring Agathon Iakovidis. Greece, clearly, didn’t even try this year, and have just kidnapped a cheesy folk band from a backstreet bar in Piraeus, then force-fed them amphetamines to make them play at double speed. I lasted a little over a minute.

Ukraine. Song #22, ‘Gravity’, sung by Zlata Ognevich. She enters carried by a man who is apparently 7’8″ tall, and proceeds to sing a song that starts as a drippy ballad, and turns into a full-on festival of WTF – thumping beat, showy high notes, but it just sort of meanders in search of a point. Still, she’s gorgeous, and she’s got a hell of a voice. It’s wasted on this, though.

Song #23. Italy. ‘L’Essenziale’, Marco Mengioni. He’s probably very nice, the lapels on his suit are very shiny, his song is really boring, and he just stands there. This could really use some half-naked dancers and projected lightning forks. Or a pulse, even, because I’m not sure Mr. Mengioni’s got one. Has the doctor from Malta left the building already? Please, someone check. I’m not sure everyone is going to make it to the end of this song alive.

Another warning about strobe effects and flashing lights. If there weren’t strobe effects and flashing lights, we’d want a refund. Song #24, Norway, ‘I Feed You My Love’, sung by Margaret Berger. It’s a battle sequence from Star Wars with a techno beat underneath, coyly sung by Hayden Panetierre’s twin sister, who is wearing a dress so tight that it had to be put on in hospital under a general anaesthetic. She really goes for it, but it’s not quite demented enough to be a Eurovision classic, and it’s probably too bombastic to win.

Nearly the end of the songs now. Song #25, Georgia, ‘Waterfall’, by Nodi Tatishvili and Sophie Gelovani, whose song is a huge power-ballad duet about how their LUUUUURVE is LIIIKE a WATERFALL. There are fireworks, there’s dry ice, the wind machine is going full blast, and every time they hit a big-ass high note they look like they need to poo.

Ireland. Last song, #26. Not Jedward this time, but there will be flashing lights and strobe effects. Ryan Dolan, ‘Only Love Survives’. Camp Celtic drummers who’ve been sprayed with cooking oil, a big anthemic chorus, strained high notes – this is a slab of toxic Eurodisco that’s sung, apparently, by a computer-generated Danny Zuko wannabe. It’s awful – less awful than Jedward, obviously, but possibly awful enough to do well.

And that’s all the acts. I’ll spare you the pre-voting recap because I’m fast-forwarding past it myself, obviously – I mean, really, if I couldn’t even make it through some of those songs once, I’m not going to stick around for the recap.

Petra’s back to announce the interval act – last year’s winner, Loreen, singing a medley of her biggest hit and wearing a black-and-white feathered thingy on her shoulders that could potentially poke out the eyes of several of her dancers if they get too close. ‘We Got The Power’, she’s singing. She looks quite angry. Possibly she didn’t choose that outfit, or possibly she’s just pissed off because she knows that if she moved a little to her left, the wiring in her shoulder-feather-thingy would pick up a much better TV show from Denmark.

Ooh. There are acrobats on wires, and the music just got worse. She’s taken off the feathers now, and replaced them with a black-and-white copy of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The stage lifts her back into the air, the end of the coat stays on the ground, she finishes the song 15 feet above the audience to a wall of cheers. Not a tough crowd, this.

Another recap. Fast-forward time.

Petra has now changed into the colours of the Swedish flag, and before we start in on the points we’ve got film of Bonnie Tyler’s lovely week in Sweden. What this mostly reinforces is that yes, she’s great,  but why couldn’t we find her a better song?

Interval act #2 – Petra, leading us in a song-and-dance celebration of Swedish kitsch, complete with dancers toting elk antlers, nods to the Muppet Chef, ‘The Seventh Seal’, vikings, IKEA,  and ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, and thirty seconds of choreography about recycling. It’s even got a chorus-line of high-kicking footballers and a woman writhing in a martini glass full of milk.  It’s utterly cheesy, and possibly more completely fabulous than nearly anything else we’ve seen this evening.  And Petra, amazingly, knows how to sock a big production number across the footlights.

Voting now. I’ll be skipping a lot of this, because who cares? Oh, wait. No, we’ve got Sarah Dawn Finer as herself, giving us her self-consciously arty cover of ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Ms. Finer clearly does not feel compelled to stay too close to the song’s actual melody. No wonder Agnetha stayed home.

So, yes, the voting. This hasn’t been a banner year – even the camp kitschfests were fairly subdued, there was nothing as demented as last year’s Russian Grandmas, and we can all predict which countries will vote along which nationalistic lines well in advance. And getting through this part of the broadcast takes about forty minutes, and I can’t be arsed. We all just want to know who won, and who got nul points. Denmark have an early lead, Estonia are bottom, Bonnie Tyler is also near the bottom of the board.

Now Ireland are bottom, nobody has nul points – shame – and we’re still languishing in the bottom half of the bottom half of the board.

…and with four countries still to vote, Denmark have won. We are still in the lower half of the board, so the battle now is a race for the bottom. Rather like the whole competition, if you’re cynical. And who isn’t when they’re watching this?

Oh. That catwalk over the audience is supposed to represent the Oresund Bridge.

Ireland’s bottom. Surprising, even given the blatantly nationalistic voting – he was far from the worst. So next year we’ll be in Denmark, and now we get another blast of Emmelie de Forest, with an extra glittergasm on the last chorus.

Overall: B-, apart from the Swedish Smorgasbord number, which was a knockout. Let’s hope Denmark can bring back the kitsch next year.

This year’s winner:

And the winner is… nobody

A pair of mediocre American actors warbling showtunes. A wincingly unfunny script. Weird camerawork. Bizarre editing. Inexplicable guest performances. Terrible sound. The complete absence, apparently, of anything resembling a point.

No, I haven’t started watching ‘Glee’ again, and season two of ‘Smash’ doesn’t go out here for a while yet. This was ITV’s seemingly ironically-billed broadcast of the ‘highlights’ from this year’s Olivier Awards ceremony. For lovers of really, really, really awful television, it was a feast to savour. For anyone else, particularly anyone who actually likes theatre, it was a waste of time dressed in a parade of dinner suits and posh frocks. How bad was it? Well, put it this way: last night I watched Showgirls, which I’d never seen before, and found that it was executed with a level of wit and style that this year’s Oliviers broadcast could not hope to match.

It was, in fact, quite difficult to work out what the makers of this programme – allegedly directed by one Stuart McDonald, who seems to have been responsible for, among other things, twenty-six episodes of Strictly Come Dancing – were trying to achieve, given that they seemed determined to shove most of the actual awards as far into the background as possible. In a slot of only ninety minutes on a major network – even at 10pm on a Sunday – I don’t particularly have a problem with showing at least some of the technical/supporting awards via a photo, a caption and a voice-over. Yes, set and lighting and costume designers do brilliant work, often under tremendous pressure, and yes, they deserve to be recognised, but if you have to squish the show down to half its actual length to fit it into a TV programme, something has to give, and the tech awards are not what’s going to keep people watching. Unfortunately, the supporting acting awards were relegated to 10-second clips as well, along with the awards for directing and choreography. Given some of what we were shown, that’s a little harder to defend. At least – credit where it’s due – the major award recipients were not limited to 30 seconds for their acceptance speeches; nobody abused the privilege, and the speeches we saw were generally funny, modest and charming. And as an added bonus: I didn’t notice anybody thanking God, which is an awards-show trope that generally sends my eyebrows shooting up into the stratosphere.

Otherwise, though, the show mostly seemed to either miss the point or shoot itself in the foot. No, that’s not quite fair: sometimes it  managed to do both at the same time. Surely the whole point of putting the Oliviers on television in the first place is to put a celebration of/commercial for the best our theatre has to offer in front of as wide an audience as possible? IF that was the aim – and it should have been – then the show was largely a miserable failure. We saw nothing at all of any of the nominated new plays, even though at least some of them are still running, and nothing at all (on the broadcast, at least) of some of the nominated musicals. We saw nothing at all of any of the winning performances, beyond a photograph of the actor in costume. All of the nominated shows, without exception, will have shot some kind of promo footage (quite a lot of it seems to end up on youtube), but we didn’t see any of it. The broadcast included musical numbers/medleys from ‘Top Hat’ and the current revival of ‘A Chorus Line’ (the latter’s number – ‘One’ – cut to under two minutes), and they both looked pretty good, once you learned to look past the bizarre camerawork and came to terms with the terrible sound. For ‘The Bodyguard’, Heather Headley gave a very, very self-indulgent (and, towards the end, surprisingly pitchy) rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’, in which she managed to stretch the song’s first two lines out for what seemed like half an hour. We were also – oh joy – treated to a reprise of Will Young’s un-performance in ‘Cabaret’, for which he was inexplicably (yes, even in a very lean year) nominated for best actor in a musical. For those of us who had already paid to sit through it, that was just cruel.  Other nominated musicals (both new and revivals) didn’t get a look-in. Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton – two of the biggest names we’ve got – actually won their categories, and didn’t get to perform, presumably because their show closed months ago. There are clips of their (stunning) performances that would have been available, but they weren’t used here.

And, actually, that might have been OK if they’d genuinely been excluded because of time constraints, but they weren’t. Of course co-presenter Sheridan Smith had to have an opening number – she’s warm, funny, absolutely charming, has charisma to burn, and is a genuine, old-fashioned musical comedy star, even though she’s perhaps not the absolute greatest singer or dancer out there. Whatever it is, she’s got tons of it (and she’s also done plenty of TV, which means the people at home know who she is, which isn’t always the case these days with actors with a musical background), and seeing her vamp her way through ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ was fun, even if the song wasn’t improved by the terrible sub-Sunday Night at the London Palladium arrangement or the equally terrible miking. Given the special award for Gillian Lynne, the closing medley from ‘Cats’ was also entirely appropriate, and again, it was very well performed, even if it wasn’t well filmed or miked. Elsewhere in the show, however, there was a lot of filler. The clumsy jumps back and forth to the ‘public’ stage outside in the Covent Garden piazza didn’t work at all, and the material for the presenters went on for too long, and was so badly written that even Smith and Hugh Bonneville couldn’t sell it. These two actors are capable of being very, very funny indeed; they died up there, it wasn’t their fault, and they should probably put a contract out on whoever wrote their links.

Better – worse? – still were the guest performances. Petula Clark looks great, never mind considering she’s 80, but wheeling her out to sing ‘With One Look’ was a mistake – while she looks great, her voice is gone, and she struggled with the song to the point where it was almost embarrassing to watch. And then we had Idina Menzel and Matthew Morrison, both imported from across the Atlantic for no particular reason to deliver lengthy musical solos. Menzel paid tribute to Marvin Hamlisch by wailing and screeching her way through ‘That’s How I Say Goodbye’  as if she was at a karaoke night on a slightly downmarket cruise ship – because, apparently, no British actor has sung a Marvin Hamlisch song onstage, ever.  And Matthew Morrison gave us a blandly-sung, badly-choreographed solo medley from ‘West Side Story’ that climaxed in a gloopy cheesy-listening arrangement of ‘Maria’ with a power-ballad drum-beat underneath. Well, I say ‘climaxed’ – there might have been more, but that’s when I hit the fast forward button.

It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with having random actors sing showtunes on TV. I like showtunes on TV, and have the DVD collection to prove it. Aside from the fact that so much of this broadcast was just plain bad to begin with, though, I do have a problem with half of the most prominent solo performance slots in a broadcast that should be celebrating and promoting the best of British theatre being given over to American performers who have not done any theatre in this country this year, and whose television show is not even available in every household here, at the expense of performers who were actually nominated and shows that are currently running. Come to that, if the point was to plug the theatre industry on national television, then perhaps the casts of ‘Once’ and ‘The Book of Mormon’  and maybe ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, among others, should have been included in the broadcast, rather than a couple of  actors who’ve been on ‘Glee’, even though those productions opened after the cut-off for nominations. As it stands, as a promotional exercise, this was a wasted opportunity.

The thing is, unbelievable as this may seem, it’s about a decade since the Oliviers – this country’s highest-profile theatre award – have been on television at all, other than via webcasts or the red button. The Tony Awards, on the other hand, are telecast every year – on a major network, yet, and far earlier in the evening than this was – and while they parcel up the tech awards in an hour-long pre-show that airs on PBS, they generally do a reasonable job of celebrating each Broadway season and promoting the nominated shows, and the telecasts, while not perfect, tend to be executed with orders of magnitude more conviction than was on display here. They also – and this is important too – manage to stay on the air in a primetime slot (albeit on Sunday night) despite ratings that are usually lukewarm. It’s a positive step to have the Oliviers back on a mainstream network this year, but if it’s going to be worth keeping them there, ITV are going to have to up their game.

Bluntly, this programme was incompetent. It didn’t work as a celebration of the last year of theatre in the West End, and that might not have mattered if it had, instead, worked as a piece of television, but it failed there as well. It was a badly-conceived, badly-made, badly-scripted parade of pointlessness that, taken as a whole, resembled nothing so much as the arse-end of an under-rehearsed Royal Variety Performance in a really bad year. Given that we produce, in this country, a range of theatre that rivals anything you’ll find anywhere in the English-speaking world, I’m afraid, that just isn’t good enough.

Get Baku! Get Baku! Get Baku to where you once belonged!

Yes, people, it’s here again! It’s the event we’ve all been waiting for! It’s the year’s most glittering televisual extravaganza! It’s a breathtaking transnational celebration of human rights abuses the very best in popular music! It’s an occasion so exciting that by the end of it I may very well have run out of exclamation marks! It’s! It’s! It’s…

…oh, right, the ibuprofen and the antihistamines just kicked in. It’s the Eurovision Song Contest. Again. And I’m not live-blogging it because jamming red-hot pokers into my eyes and ears would make a mess of the carpet. I recorded it earlier, and while I have managed to remain spoiler-free I reserve the right to make judicious use of the fast-forward button because, really, how much trauma can one person reasonably be expected to take in a single evening?

Also, I don’t drink, so I can’t numb the pain by doing a shot every time something ridiculous happens. Yes, folks, just for you, I am watching this sober. I hope you’re impressed.

And no, before you ask, I did not watch the semi-finals. What do you think I am? A masochist?

ANYway. So. We’re in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku. And yes, I can find it on a map (Caspian Sea, left-hand side, about a third of the way up). Azerbaijan has vast, vast quantities of petrodollars. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan doesn’t exactly have an unblemished record when it comes to basic human rights, but never mind. They won Eurovision last year, so here we are. We open with a panning shot across Baku’s skyline, a prominent feature of which is a trio of skyscrapers that are designed to look like gas flames, just in case anyone was in any danger of forgetting where Azerbaijan’s money comes from.  Don’t mention the torture, or the intimidation of journalists, or the… no, really, don’t. There’s bound to be lots of glitter, so who cares about basic concepts of freedom as enshrined in all manner of international conventions and treaties?

There’s a four-hour time difference between Azerbaijan and the UK, so the show began at midnight local time. Given that Eurovision usually involves a level of kitsch that could not be brought forth without someone on the production team calling on the dark arts, this seems oddly appropriate. We start with fireworks, then ten seconds of a traditional singer, and then… oh my. It’s a troupe of male dancers in floaty white rainwear, some of which glows under a black light. And two of them fly over the audience.

Clearly, this year’s telecast is going to be even less restrained than usual.

Now there are traditional dancers. They’re elegant. They’re graceful. They’re obviously doomed. This section of the opening is tasteful, and yet it’s been allowed to go on for more than twenty seconds. That’s disappointing. And we haven’t even met the presenters yet! Well, apart from Graham Norton, snarking in the background.

Things kick off in earnest with a repeat performance of last year’s winning song, ‘Running Scared’. There are two people on a trapeze over the singers’ heads. Fortunately, we only get one verse before the number ends with big jets of flame shooting out of the sides of the stage. The subtext we’re meant to take away from this, presumably, is that any act unlucky enough to score Nul Points will  be barbecued.

And now, finally – Finally! – it’s time to meet our hosts. Leyla and Nargiz. Nargiz, apparently, is a lawyer. She should sue whoever measured her for her dress, which seems to be squeezing one of her boobs out like toothpaste from a tube. And they’re joined by the faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabulous Eldar Gasimov, last year’s winner. He’s a bit like Nick Jonas, only bland.

Ooh. Change in the rules. Phone voting doesn’t open until every act has performed. You’d think this would be the sensible way to do things, but no, it’s a first.

Aaand we’re off. And Britain’s first, represented by a face off Mount Rushmore Engelbert Humperdinck. The outside of the hall is lit up with Union Jacks. The song is in 3/4 time, and magnificently cheesy, and Mr. Humperdinck – who really does sing ‘luurve’ – looks a bit like a chipmunk in a black single-breasted suit. There’s a pair of black-clad ballroom dancers behind him, and Mantovani wants his string section back. The song’s not bad, but Mr. Humperdinck’s big money notes at the end, I’m afraid, are a bit approximate. He’s 76, maybe he should have dropped the key a tone. It’s not embarrassing – which puts it several steps above our last few entries – but it’s also, I think, not a winner, and performing first won’t help his chances.

Now we’re off to Hungary. And yes, the outside of the hall lights up in the colours of Hungary’s national flag. Compact Disco (geddit?) with ‘Sound of our Hearts’. Power ballad, sounds like an odd cross between early Boyzone without the harmonies and late Ultravox, sung by a less charismatic Marti Pellow clone who’s wearing an oddly rigid black leather coat. Competent but uninspiring, nicely sung, could have come from any country in Europe at nearly any point in the last twenty-five years. Move on, there’s nothing to see here.

Albania. She’s a ‘devoted experimental jazz singer’, apparently. Mr. Norton tells us that she can ‘do extraordinary things with her voice. Not pleasant things, but extraordinary’. And she seems to be wearing a cruller on her head. Rona Nishliu, she’s called, bringing us ‘Suus’. The tinkly piano intro isn’t bad. Her singing, however, certainly is, although it pales next to her astonishing gown, which seems to be modelled on a British Airways club class seat circa 1993. She seems to be simultaneously channeling Bjork, Enya, and Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’, with some startling high notes thrown in, presumably to bring every dog in Azerbaijan to heel.

Now. Lithuania. Donny Montell. ‘Love is Blind’. We’re in Mathis territory. He’s wearing a sequinned blindfold. I’m kind of hoping he’ll lose his footing and go crashing over the front of the stage, because the song he’s singing is stunningly boring. Oh – no, wait, a beat has come in, he’s ripped off the blindfold, and now he’s started dancing. He’s about 22, and he dances like… well, imagine Zac Efron impersonating Miss Piggy while receiving electroshock therapy.

Five. Bosnia-Herzegovina. Maya Sar, singing ‘Korake Ti Znam’. Big shoulder-pads, grand piano, pretty voice, meaningfully tortured facial expressions. As the song gets more and more overwrought, she gets up from the piano and a wind machine kicks in. At Eurovision, this is what passes for restraint.

Six. Russia. The grandmas. Buranovskiye Babushki, bringing us ‘Party for Everybody’. Oh dear Lord, there’s a prop oven onstage and they’re wearing traditional dress. Yes, it’s a novelty act. They look like they’re having a nice time, and the oven is spinning behind them. Perhaps it’s Satanic. As the number approaches what – please, God – I hope is the climax, they pass a tray of pastries around. It’s simultaneously completely horrendous and absolutely irresistible. This, I’m afraid, is the kind of moment that makes us watch Eurovision.

Iceland. Greta Salome and Jonsi, with a song called ‘Never Forget’. According to Mr. Norton, their song is possibly more suitable for a musical than for Eurovision. Jonsi might be a vampire – he seems to have fangs – and Greta is toting a violin and grinning like she’s under hypnosis. The song reminds me a little of ‘Which Witch’, the Norwegian Operamusical, which I actually saw, and which I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to forget. It’s bland, bombastic, and not bad enough to be memorable. Unlike ‘Which Witch’.

Ooh. Cyprus. I’m going there later this year. Ivi Adamou, with ‘La La Love’. Standard-issue Mediterranean-resort Eurodisco, for some reason performed on and around a pile of books. It’ll go down a storm in the beach bars, but it won’t win this evening.

France. Anggun, singing ‘Echo (You And I)’, performing with the French Gymnastics Olympic team, whose shirts seem to still be in the suitcase they forgot to pick up at the airport. Anggun is wearing a bronze breastplate with matching net curtains (by Jean-Paul Gaultier, apparently), and she’s wasted on this song, which is another slab of white-bread Europop.

Italy. Nina Zilli, ‘L’Amore e Femmina (Out of Love)’. Nice bluesy beginning. She’s sort of like a clean Amy Winehouse. She can sing, the song isn’t bad, and she and her backing singers are clearly having fun with it. In fact, I think she might be having Albania and Iceland’s fun as well. This is about as classy as Eurovision gets, and I hope she does well. Which means she’s obviously doomed.

Estonia. Ott Lepland, with ‘Kuula’. You know what’s nice, Mr. Lepland? Singing with your eyes open. It’s terribly, terribly sincere and meaningful, and he does, at least, hit his high note dead on… oh, wait. No. He hit his first high note dead on, but not the second, third or fourth. Never mind. I feel less bad about fast-forwarding through the rest of his very, very boring song now.

(Who am I kidding? I don’t feel bad about fast-forwarding through the rest of his boring song at all. I recorded it specifically so I could fast-forward through the boring songs.)

OK. Norway. Tooji, with ‘Stay’. Norway have won a couple of times in recent-ish memory, but they also gave us Jahn Teigen, who scored nul points in 1978. This could go either way. Ooh. Acrobats. A guy in a hoodie with big rings on his fingers. Synths and a drum machine. He’s so… clean. It’s like watching Justin Bieber trying to cover the Beastie Boys. I lasted twenty seconds, I hope you’re grateful.

A momentary pause. Nargiz – whose boob is still trying to break free of the side of her dress – is interviewing Mr. Humperdinck. He had a great time and sang from the heart, apparently. That’s nice.

Now it’s the home team. Sabina Babayeva, ‘When the Music Dies’. This is Eurovision, so that title is probably redundant – music died here in rehearsals, long before we tuned in. She’s wearing a pair of dead swans as reimagined by Dynasty-era Joan Collins, and her song sounds like every power ballad you’ve ever heard. She can sing, but she doesn’t quite have the power to slam it home in suitable melodramatic style. Fortunately, there are lighting effects that can do that for her.

Oh. I just found out precisely when the music died: at the beginning of her big high note at the end of the song. Ouch. Well, to be exact, it didn’t die so much as commit hari-kiri. You can actually see the note’s entrails flailing across the front of the stage. Someone get a mop before the next act comes out. There could be a nasty accident.

Romania. Mandinga – apparently, a Romanian-Cuban combo – with ‘Zaleilah’. The singer is gorgeously curvy, the song is a giant slab of Latin-tinged Euro-cheese, and her backing band look like a gaggle of flamboyantly gay Energizer Bunnies who have somehow stumbled into the Pet Shop Boys’ video for ‘Go West’. One of them is carrying a set of toy bagpipes. Another has a bright red accordion. It’s… amazing. More like this, please.

Denmark. Soluna Samay, ‘Should’ve Known Better’. Yes, than to dress like Captain Sensible. The song is competently-executed guitar-driven indie-ish pop. Fast-forward time. That’s not what we’re here for.

Greece. Eleftheria Eleftheriou, with ‘Aphrodisiac’. There are bouzoukis – or a bouzouki synth setting, at least – along with hyperactive dancing and a catchy aa-aa-aa oh-oh-oh chorus. It’s bonkers, but possibly not bonkers enough.

Ah. Sweden. A favourite, apparently. Loreen – not Soreen, Loreen – with ‘Euphoria’. She’s like a cross between Kate Bush and Kate Ryan. No, really, she’s obviously seen Kate Bush’s dance moves from ‘Babooshka’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’. The song is another slab of by-the-numbers Eurodisco, and the performance ends with her getting felt up by a dancer. It’s not completely horrible, but if this is the favourite to win, it’s a bad year.

And now Eldard’s back, introducing Turkey. Turkey’s entries are often very, very special, so I have high hopes. Can Bonomo, ‘Love Me Back’. The choreography resembles an international breakdancing class taking place in an iron foundry, flying sparks and all. The dancers have bare sleeves and grey cloth bat-wings attached at their wrists. No, I don’t know why either. It’s camper than Butlins, and the homoerotic subtext would be off the charts if the performance wasn’t so completely sexless. It’s like watching six Ken dolls do the expurgated version of a Turkish-themed disco medley. You can’t get this anywhere else on television.

Spain. Pastora Soler, ‘Quédate Conmigo’. It’s power ballad time again. It starts very soft, and builds to the pitch of a declaration of war. They’re getting a lot of use out of the wind machine this evening, or maybe her top notes caused an earthquake. She did, at least, hit very nearly all of them, which is more than can be said for several of this evening’s contestants. I think I liked the quiet bit of her song better. It was very short.

Germany. Song co-written by Jamie Cullen. Roman Lob, ‘Standing Still’. Pleasant, boring pop song. No staging tricks, just the singer, drums, piano, bass and guitar (and, um, the orchestra in the background). Where’s the cheese? There’s nothing distinctive about it at all – good or bad – which means it almost certainly won’t win.

Home stretch now. Malta. Kurt Kalleja, ‘This Is The Night’. More Eurodisco, but it’s fun – this is a very entertaining slice of disposable pop music with a catchy chorus, performed without any kind of pretentious concept by people who can actually sing, and who look like they’re having a good time on stage but don’t grin like they’ve hoovered up every illegal substance within a half-mile of the stadium through their noses.

Macedonia. Kaliopi, ‘Crno i Belo’. Another quiet, emotional beginning with a tinkly piano in the background – that and cheesy Eurodisco are this year’s two recurring musical themes. She can sing – really well – but the song goes to hell when the guitars and drums come in. What started as a pretty piano ballad very quickly descends into something that Bonnie Tyler would have rejected for being too unsubtle. Shame.

Aaaaand they’re back. Yes, it’s Jedward, the Irish entertainment industry’s joined-at-the-hip punchline, assaulting the senses with a ditty called ‘Waterline’. They entered last year as well. This year, they’ve ditched the vertical hairdos, and seem to be dressed as gold toy soldiers off a Christmas tree. The song is written-by-rote Anglo dance pop, they can’t really sing, the choreography is ridiculous, and – just like last year – they do it with magnificent conviction, even though I think I just saw the word ‘tacky’ get redefined. And yes, that’s a real fountain in the middle of the stage. They get soaked at the end, which given their costumes brings new meaning to the term ‘golden shower’. Unfortunately, the water doesn’t short out their radio mikes.

Serbia. Zeljko Joksimovic, ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’. Everybody looks terribly serious, and he’s not the first singer this evening to start singing with his eyes closed. This is, however, the first performance tonight to feature a man in a skirt playing the clarinet. As for Mr. Joksimovic, I’m sure his mother thinks he’s wonderful, but it’s fast-forward time.

Second-to-last song now: Ukraine, Gaitana, ‘Be My Guest’. She’s dressed entirely in white tassels (OK, apart from the flowers in her hair), men in day-glo dresses break-dance behind her (sometimes they have trumpets), the video projections are a bad acid trip gone wrong, and the song is the evening’s worst contribution to the Eurodisco canon. It’s completely, magnificently deranged. Possibly more deranged than the Russian grandmas.

Last country. Waaaaah!  Moldova, Pasha Parfeny, bringing us a gem called ‘Lautar’. There’s some kind of accent on that first A but I can’t be arsed to go and find the right ASCII character. He’s dressed as the woodcutter in a fairytale – yes, including a leather toolbelt – and his backing singers appear to be five big-breasted extras from ‘The Flintstones’. The song is very… Moldovan. He’s selling the song as if his life depends on it. It possibly does. The choreography is insane – at one point he does strong-arm poses while the backing singers writhe on the floor. It’s the most ridiculously kitsch performance of the evening so far, including the grandmas.

So that’s it. The presenters are back to explain the voting rules. Nargiz’s boob apparently finally escaped from the clutches of the white ballgown somewhere in the later part of the show, so she’s had to confine the girls in something a little more restrictive. Her current dress – flesh-coloured, the better to disguise any escaping boobage that might occur later –  is basically underwiring with a skirt attached. Eldar looks like he’s auditioning for the role of Billy Flynn in a non-Equity road company of ‘Chicago’.  The voting is now open, so we get a recap of all the songs, so it’s now time for me to fast-forward. A lot. Unfortunately, I’ve just had another snatch of Ms. Albania’s public primal scream therapy. Don’t ever say I’m not prepared to suffer in the name of writing.

The presenters are plugging the CD and DVD of this year’s songs, because of course this is music you’ll want to take home and treasure forever.

And now we have another quick reminder of all the songs. Whoopee. More Albanian shrieking.

And the voting lines have closed. This year, you only got fifteen minutes to make your futile gesture.

Interval act. Lots of lasers, a parade of torches (no pitchforks, which is perhaps lucky for Ms. Albania), traditional Azerbaijani instruments. In an astonishing coincidence, Mr. Norton informs us, the pop star who will sing the lead vocal in this interval act just happens to be married to the Azerbaijani President’s daughter. Gosh. How… coincidental. This is the sort of Big Production Number they used to do on the Oscars, only twice as big. In case you might be wondering why I put myself through this crap every year: this. This bit. There’s nothing else like it on television. Dancers, drums, exploding fireballs, singers entering suspended on a wire from the flies, a light show that makes Las Vegas look like something you’d get at Wal-Mart to put on a Christmas tree. It’s amazing. It would be more amazing this year if it wasn’t being fronted by Mr. related-to-the-President-by-marriage Azerbaijani pop star, who is – how can I say this nicely? – a bit crap. Golly, I wonder how he got this gig?

And now Nargiz is terrorising people in the green room. She’s nice to the Azerbaijani singer, who seems to be chewing gum. She doesn’t really speak to anyone else much, although she does say hi to Norway. No nationalism here, then. Oh no, not at all.

I’m going to fast-forward through a lot of the scoring, because really, who wants to sit through an hour of this? Sweden takes an early lead. The voting, as usual, at least partly plays out along weirdly nationalistic lines. Jedward got a point before Mr. Humperdinck did. Given the nature of this contest, that’s not a surprise. Belgium threw him a bone, though – he doesn’t have nul points.

Nargiz has changed dresses again – black, with everything between her neck and her knees chained rigidly into place. Probably a good idea. A spillage could have proved fatal. Not to her, obviously – I think she’s remote-controlled – but perhaps to a cameraman or a member of the audience. We’re still in the bottom three, with one point; Macedonia gave Albania twelve points. That’s utterly terrifying. Denmark, after 25 countries have voted, still have nul points. Somehow I don’t think they’re going to win. Then Iceland vote, and the tables turn slightly. The UK is now bottom, nobody has nul points.

The woman announcing the Swedish vote is amazing. She has an Estuary accent and big glasses, and looks a bit like the middle-aged love-child of Kate Copstick and Giant Haystacks.

Gosh. Now we have six points. We’re still bottom. Oh, no we’re not, we’ve got another two points from Latvia. But there’s ten more countries to vote, so there’s still plenty of time for us to hit bottom again.

Nail-biting, isn’t it?

The Finnish vote, announced by Lordi (if you don’t know already, go to Google). He’s dressed as some kind of demon from the final season of ‘Angel’. And he keeps doing things with his tongue. Why is there never a giant anvil when you need one?

And the winner is… Loreen. Not the best song in this year’s contest, and not the best performance either (come to that, it’s nowhere near as good as either of the last two winners); the UK came second-to-last. Loreen, to her credit, has apparently spoken in the press about Azerbaijan’s human rights record, which – as Mr. Norton points out – is a topic that most other contestants have avoided. So Loreen gets to do her song again, and next year’s show will come from Sweden. Lucky Sweden, they get to pay for most of it.

Overall: not a vintage year. Too much bland sludge, not enough catastrophic kitsch. No dresses that sprout butterfly wings halfway through a song, no perspex pianos, no bondage gear, and a seemingly endless succession of Eurodisco songs that all sounded pretty much the same. Disappointing, although the jaw-dropping opening number and interval act slightly redressed the balance.

Still, at least we didn’t come last ( which we did two years ago). I’ll be tuning in next year, because even in a bad year there’s nothing else quite like this on television; in the meantime, here’s Loreen. No, I don’t know why she won either.