Eurovision 2019: Song contest’s most controversial moments

This weekend, viewers around Europe (and Australia) will strap in for their annual dose of Buck’s Fizz, cheese, singing that ranges from amazing to very questionable, tactical voting and camp glamour in the Eurovision Song Contest 2019.

What started out as a talent competition of just seven European nations in Lugano, Switzerland back in 1956, has now evolved into a televised behemoth that is bigger than Europe, attracting contestants from countries far flung as Australia and global superstars as big as Justin Timberlake and Madonna.   

Part of Eurovision’s appeal is its addictive cocktail of campiness, song and spectacle, the approach to which is best summarised by the late, great Terry Wogan’s advice to his BBC Eurovision commentator successor, Graham Norton: ‘Don’t start drinking until song nine.’ 

The other part of Eurovision’s enduring appeal is the controversy surrounding it. The longest-running annual international television contest has seen its share of drama. 

From bearded ladies to plastic turkeys, by way of Australia, we relive the most controversial moments of the Eurovision Song Contest in its 60 plus years.  

Memorable: Conchita Wurst's triumph is just one of the memorable moments to occur at Eurovision

Memorable: Conchita Wurst's triumph is just one of the memorable moments to occur at Eurovision

Memorable: Conchita Wurst’s triumph is just one of the memorable moments to occur at Eurovision

1. THE DENMARK KISS – 1957

Eurovision has seen its fair share of sex over the years but one of the first – and most shocking – came in 1957 courtesy of an on-stage kiss between Danes Birthe Wilke and Gustav Winckler.

Having performed Skibet skal sejle i nat (The Ship Will Be Leaving Tonight), the pair ended their routine with a kiss that went on for 11 seconds – the result, reportedly, of a stage hand failing to give them the cue to stop.

Bribery: Cliff Richard is thought to be the first victim of political voting after he lost to Spain by one point

Bribery: Cliff Richard is thought to be the first victim of political voting after he lost to Spain by one point

Bribery: Cliff Richard is thought to be the first victim of political voting after he lost to Spain by one point

2. CLIFF RICHARD’S VOTE-RIGGING SCANDAL – 1968

Politically motivated vote-rigging has left a bitter taste in many a Briton’s mouth over the years, with the UK able to rely only on fellow nil points specialist, Ireland.

One of the most memorable instances came in 1968 when Cliff Richard’s Congratulations lost out to Spain’s Massiel singing La La La by just one mark.

Rumours at the time suggested Spain’s General Franco had sent emissaries to bribe participating countries with offers of buying their home-grown TV series.

Regardless of their veracity, Cliff has since gone on to sell more than 250 million records and is still loved today, while Massiel, although still a singer, has enjoyed a rather less stellar career.

3. ABBA’S ALMIGHTY WATERLOO – 1974

One of the most famous – and successful – Eurovision winners is Abba, who triumphed in Brighton in 1974 with Waterloo.

Following the win, the band went on to enjoy worldwide fame and in 2005, the chart topper was voted the best ever Eurovision Song Contest tune.

Huge: Abba is Eurovision's greatest success story and went onto a lengthy chart career

Huge: Abba is Eurovision's greatest success story and went onto a lengthy chart career

Huge: Abba is Eurovision’s greatest success story and went onto a lengthy chart career

The same year saw Olivia Newton-John lose out on first place after her entry for the UK lost out to Abba

The same year saw Olivia Newton-John lose out on first place after her entry for the UK lost out to Abba

Olivia sang Long Live Love and came in second

Olivia sang Long Live Love and came in second

First Aussie: The same year saw Olivia Newton-John come second for the UK 

4. OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN’S NEAR WIN (FOR THE UK) – 1974

Australia might have entered for the first time in 2015, but performers from the country have already made cameo appearances, notably in 1974.

That was the year that Olivia Newton John, later famous for her career-defining turn as Sandy in Grease, appeared in the competition representing the UK. 

Although the song, Long Live Love, was a good one, it was steamrollered by the Abba juggernaut and finished a disappointing second. 

5. JAHN TEIGEN’S NIL POINTS – 1978

Eurovision’s point scoring system is notoriously unforgiving, with the leader board proving a source of anxiety for those languishing at the bottom. 

One contestant who knows all-too-well how that feels is Norway’s Jahn Teigen, who in 1978 became the first person to achieve the infamous nil points.

His entry Mil etter mil (Mile After Mile) didn’t fare well with voters, leaving him red-faced when the rankings were announced.

Skirts: Bucks Fizz earned themselves first place in 1981 after whipping their skirts off mid-performance

Skirts: Bucks Fizz earned themselves first place in 1981 after whipping their skirts off mid-performance

Skirts: Bucks Fizz earned themselves first place in 1981 after whipping their skirts off mid-performance

6. BUCKFIZZ’S OUTFIT CHANGE – 1981

Bucks Fizz won the contest for the UK at the Dublin final in 1981. But while the song made headlines, the performance is remembered for a risqué outfit change halfway through.

While singing Making Your Mind Up, the male members of the group whipped off Jay Aston and Cheryl Baker’s skirts in what has now become known as the ‘skirt rip routine’.

So memorable did the manoeuvre prove, it has repeatedly been referenced in sitcoms and sketches by comedians such as Miranda Hart.  

7. DANA INTERNATIONAL – 1998

Israeli Dana International wasn’t expected to win in 1998 but has since become one of the most iconic symbols of Eurovision.

Born male, Dana’s Birmingham triumph has led to greater acceptance of transsexuals, both within Eurovision and without.

‘Winning was huge for me and my country,’ says Dana, now 43. ‘But also for the gay and transsexual community all over Europe. I became a big gay icon all over Europe.’  

Icon: Dana International became the first transgender winner when she bagged first place for Israel in 1998

Icon: Dana International became the first transgender winner when she bagged first place for Israel in 1998

Icon: Dana International became the first transgender winner when she bagged first place for Israel in 1998

Disliked: t.A.T.u were famously booed during rehearsals after turning up late and insulting other contestants 

Disliked: t.A.T.u were famously booed during rehearsals after turning up late and insulting other contestants 

Disliked: t.A.T.u were famously booed during rehearsals after turning up late and insulting other contestants 

8. TATU’S FROSTY RECEPTION – 2003

However bad the song might be, most entrants get a warm reception and a smattering of applause from the Eurovision crowd.

One entry that didn’t was Russia’s t.A.T.u who, in 2003 got a frosty reception after failing to turn up to rehearsals and insulting the other entrants, including calling Germany’s Lou a ‘witch’.

When the pair finally did make an at appearance at rehearsals they were met by boos and jeers from the audience.  

9. JEMINI’S FLOP – 2003

Although the UK is no stranger to low scores, in 2003, a dismal new low was reached courtesy of brother and sister duo, Jemini.

Their dreadful ditty Cry Baby became the first British entry to score zero – comfortably beating the previous worst placing of 16th. 

Low point: Jemini are the UK's worst ever entry and are the only British act to have scored nil points

Low point: Jemini are the UK's worst ever entry and are the only British act to have scored nil points

Low point: Jemini are the UK’s worst ever entry and are the only British act to have scored nil points

Katie Price made a bid to represent the UK in 2005, the heavily pregnant star was not selected to perform

Katie Price made a bid to represent the UK in 2005, the heavily pregnant star was not selected to perform

On Celebrity Big Brother last year she admitted that it was one of her biggest regrets

On Celebrity Big Brother last year she admitted that it was one of her biggest regrets

Can’t sing: Katie Price’s 2005 bid for Eurovision glory was widely ridiculed – including by Ms Price herself 

10. KATIE PRICE’S ENTRY – 2005

In 2005, the mother-of-five famously made a bid to represent the UK at the Eurovision pre-selection show, Making Your Mind Up. 

Singing a song entitled Not Just Anybody, the reality star was heavily pregnant at the time and emphasised the fact in a ghastly pink latex cat suit that had a Teletubbies vibe to it. 

Needless to say, the song failed to make the cut and during her appearance on last year’s Celebrity Big Brother, Ms Price admitted it was one of her biggest regrets.

‘I wouldn’t change anything apart from Eurovision,’ she said. ‘I looked shocking, I sounded shocking and I couldn’t sing the song now, I couldn’t sing it then!’

11. LORDI’S SHOCK WIN – 2006

The Finnish heavy metal band Lordi caused quite a stir in 2006 with their entry Hard Rock Hallelujah. 

Looking like a quartet of orcs from Lord of the Rings, the band screamed themselves to first place at the Athens final.

What’s more, they also managed to rack up a record-breaking 292 points and remain the first and only entrant to take first place for Finland. 

Terrifying: Finnish heavy metal band Lordi took home first place with a record breaking score of 292 points

Terrifying: Finnish heavy metal band Lordi took home first place with a record breaking score of 292 points

Terrifying: Finnish heavy metal band Lordi took home first place with a record breaking score of 292 points

Mix-up: Terry Wogan claimed Cyndi would represent the UK in 2007... when really it was Scooch instead 

Mix-up: Terry Wogan claimed Cyndi would represent the UK in 2007... when really it was Scooch instead 

Mix-up: Terry Wogan claimed Cyndi would represent the UK in 2007… when really it was Scooch instead 

12. THE CYNDI/ SCOOCH MIX-UP – 2007

He might have been much loved during his 37-year stint fronting the Song Contest in the UK but Terry Wogan doesn’t have an entirely unblemished record.

In 2007, the presenter made his most famous faux pas when he announced that the wrong act had been chosen to represent the UK at Eurovision.

While his co-host Fearne Cotton announced the correct name, Scooch, Wogan simultaneously shouted ‘Cyndi’ leaving the audience confused and Cyndi less than impressed.

13. VERKA SERDUCHKA’S SPACE-AGE MADNESS – 2007

Prior to Conchita Wurst’s winning turn, the title of Eurovision’s most memorable drag artist belonged to Ukraine’s 2007 entry, Verka Serduchka.

Her bizarre offering, Dancing Lasha Tumbai, saw her emerge clad in a tinfoil ensemble and singing an unfortunate tune, which nevertheless proved surprisingly popular.

Despite her popularity at Eurovision, the music fans of Russia had other ideas and she was banned from performing there for one year.

Colourful: Ukraine's Verka Serduchka proved popular in 2007 - apart from in Russia where she was banned

Colourful: Ukraine's Verka Serduchka proved popular in 2007 - apart from in Russia where she was banned

Colourful: Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka proved popular in 2007 – apart from in Russia where she was banned

14. DUSTIN THE TURKEY – 2008

Ireland is no stranger to Eurovision success and have won an impressive seven times, despite also having a track record of fielding bizarre entries such as Jedward.

Most unusual of all was a puppet called Dustin the Turkey who in 2008, entered the contest with a song called Irelande Douze Point. 

Unfortunately Dustin failed to secure douze point and finished 15th in the semi-finals – thus failing to progress to the grand final.

15. GEORGIA’S EXILE – 2009

Eurovision is never short of political controversies. In 2009 Georgia was thrown out of the contest after its entry We Don’t Wanna Put In by Stephane & 3G – widely seen as a swipe at Vladimir Putin – was deemed too political as the contest was held in the Russian capital of Moscow.

16. FINLAND’S LESBIAN KISS – 2012

In 2012, the Finnish entry Marry Me by Krista Siegfrids sparked controversy after the singer engaged in a kiss with her girlfriend during the performance in protest of her country’s ban on gay weddings.

In 2012, the Finnish entry Marry Me by Krista Siegfrids sparked controversy after the singer engaged in a kiss with a backing dancer during the performance

In 2012, the Finnish entry Marry Me by Krista Siegfrids sparked controversy after the singer engaged in a kiss with a backing dancer during the performance

The kiss was in protest of her country's ban on gay weddings

The kiss was in protest of her country's ban on gay weddings

In 2012, the Finnish entry Marry Me by Krista Siegfrids sparked controversy after the singer engaged in a kiss with a backing dancer during the performance in protest of her country’s ban on gay weddings

Success: Sweden's Loreen is one of the few modern winners to go on to enjoy a successful pop career

Success: Sweden's Loreen is one of the few modern winners to go on to enjoy a successful pop career

Success: Sweden’s Loreen is one of the few modern winners to go on to enjoy a successful pop career

17. LOREEN’S SMASH-HIT – 2012

While early winners tended to go on to enjoy stellar careers, in recent years, Eurovision successes have been few and far between.

One singer who has bucked the trend is Sweden’s Loreen, who in 2012 went on to top the charts in 17 different countries with her hit Euphoria.

Since then, she has gone on to release several albums with the newest, entitled Paperlight, scheduled to come out this year. 

18. CONCHITA WURSTS BEARDED TRIUMPH – 2014

When Austria announced that a bearded drag queen would be representing them in the Eurovision Song Contest it is fair to say that a few eyebrows were raised.

However, far from the novelty act that had been expected, Conchita provided a flawless vocal performance and attracted votes from countries which actively inhibit LGBT rights.

Ahead of her smash hit performanc,e several countries threatened to cut the song until they were forced into a U-turn by the European Broadcasting Union. Conchita came first and has since become a symbol of tolerance and freedom in the EU. 

Conchita Wurst took home first place in last year's Eurovsion Song Contest with her flawless vocal performance of Rise Like a Phoenix

Conchita Wurst took home first place in last year's Eurovsion Song Contest with her flawless vocal performance of Rise Like a Phoenix

Conchita Wurst took home first place in last year’s Eurovsion Song Contest with her flawless vocal performance of Rise Like a Phoenix

 19. AUSTRALIA ENTERS THE CONTEST – 2015

No, you’re not going mad — Australia is definitely not in Europe. But in 2015, the country was invited to take part to mark Eurovision’s 60th anniversary. However, the Land Down Under wasn’t chosen at random. 

The contest’s organisers revealed they allowed the Antipodean nation into the event because Eurovision is absolutely huge in the country. The Australian network SBS had been broadcasting the contest for more than 30 years at that point. 

Australia’s entry was Guy Sebastian, who scored an impressive 196 points, with the country coming in fifth. The Aussies were invited back the following year and nearly ended up winning the whole thing, just losing out to Ukraine! 

Australia’s entry was Guy Sebastian, who scored an impressive 196 points for his song 'Tonight Again', with the country coming in fifth.

Australia’s entry was Guy Sebastian, who scored an impressive 196 points for his song 'Tonight Again', with the country coming in fifth.

Australia’s entry was Guy Sebastian, who scored an impressive 196 points for his song ‘Tonight Again’, with the country coming in fifth.

20. UKRAINE BAN RUSSIA FROM PERFORMING – 2017

Despite being promoted as a non-political event, Eurovision was mired in geo-political controversy in 2017 when the host nation, Ukraine, banned Russia’s entry, Yulia Samoylova, from entering the country because she had previously performed in the Russia-occupied region of Crimea. 

A few weeks later, Russia decided to pull out of the contest completely, with the Russian TV station Channel One announcing that it would not broadcast the contest or take part. 

Ukraine, banned Russia’s entry, Yulia Samoylova, from entering the country because she had previously performed in the Russia-occupied region of Crimea

Ukraine, banned Russia’s entry, Yulia Samoylova, from entering the country because she had previously performed in the Russia-occupied region of Crimea

Ukraine, banned Russia’s entry, Yulia Samoylova, from entering the country because she had previously performed in the Russia-occupied region of Crimea

21. STAGE INVADER RUINS UK’S SURIE’S PERFORMANCE – 2018

The UK’s SuRie was performing ninth on the billing of 26 entries at last year’s competition when she was rudely interrupted. 

Half-way through her performance of Storm, a stage invader ran on, took her microphone and shouted: ‘For the Nazis of the UK media, we demand freedom,’ before being tackled by security.  

Half-way through SuRie's performance of Storm, a stage invader ran on, took her microphone and shouted: 'For the Nazis of the UK media, we demand freedom’

Half-way through SuRie's performance of Storm, a stage invader ran on, took her microphone and shouted: 'For the Nazis of the UK media, we demand freedom’

Half-way through SuRie’s performance of Storm, a stage invader ran on, took her microphone and shouted: ‘For the Nazis of the UK media, we demand freedom’

SuRie opted to carry on with her performance and had to wait for a new microphone to be brought to her. 

Despite coming in 24th out of 26th, SuRie was praised by everyone for her professionalism, with Graham Norton describing her as a ‘national heroine’. 

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