I’m always slightly surprised when people haven’t heard my “Eurovision Story”, because at this time of year, every year, I tend to trot it out to anyone who is remotely interested. This year, I’m going to write it down, and then in future I can just retweet the link rather than ramming it down people’s throats on an annual basis. Does that sound fair?
“We went out to Donnybrook…” (James Joyce)
For a year in 1996-1997, I spent my “year in industry” working for RTE broadcasting in Donnybrook, Dublin. It was a wonderful year, so much so that I didn’t really want to leave and go and complete my degree. I was based in their training studio, and learnt to operate cameras and lights as well as sound.
Our main role was to provide training courses for new presenters and producers but also to let people rehearse, and sometimes we even Made Real Programmes. I worked with luminaries such as Zig and Zag and Dustin the Turkey, helped Carrie Crowley practice for her role as a presenter on Eurovision 97, filmed a show reel for either Ed Byrne or Jason Byrne, and went out to Galway to help set up Teilifis na Gaelige where I learned sufficient Gaelic to count down from five to start a recording, and to order a pint of Guinness.
I also had free passage to roam the halls of RTE, wandering in and out of the studios and galleries, watching filming, hanging out in the 2FM studios (one of my favourite parts!) and generally not working too hard and having a good time.
Eurovision 1997, Dublin, Ireland
In 1997, RTE had the job of hosting the Eurovision Song Contest for the fourth time in five years. The mood within the organisation was largely one of despair, and I think perhaps I was the only one who was excited about it! For the majority of the crew, it meant several weeks of very hard work and late nights, a very stressful live broadcast with temperamental foreigners, and no overtime. I think the novelty had worn off too – the first couple of years would have been about logistics and how to plan and pull off such a big broadcast, but by the time 1997 rolled around there were large manuals on exactly how to do it, which nobody really needed to open any more.
Thanks to my lovely colleague Denis in the training centre, I was dubbed a “TV Sound Assistant”, given an access all areas pass, and sent over to The Point (now the O2) for a couple of weeks. Much like with the day job nobody really knew what to do with me and, having established that my tea making skills are non-existent, I had free rein to wander.
I made the most of it, spending time in the gallery, with the cameramen, and with the sound guys. I had a go at driving the boom camera which gave sweeping views of the stage and audience – happily, there were no audience or performers present as I would have caused some head injuries. I escorted performers through the maze of corridors, chatted to Boyzone without really knowing who they were, met Terry Wogan (who was lovely) and Jonathan King (who was pretty obnoxious and making dire threats that if the UK didn’t win he wasn’t going to do it again). I stood on the stage and sang a song, and explored the nooks and crannies and attic spaces of The Point Depot.
Eventually I found something to do, being the girl with the tape measure who made sure that the microphone stands were at the correct height for the next act before they were raced out onto the stage. I felt very important, though I coveted the job of actually taking them out onto the stage, which was denied me.
By the time The Night came around, we had gone through four full run-throughs of the show in the previous two days and were exhausted and just a little bored. Everything ran like clockwork both in the rehearsals and on the night, and even having an audience wasn’t a novelty as the dress rehearsals had a die hard crowd of locals and Eurovision fanatics in attendance.
For the voting, I was sitting high up in the roof space, away from the audience, with some of my colleagues and a drink or three. We had a great view of the stage and the scoreboard, and the tension began to mount in a couple of ways as the results came in. For one, I was quite excited as it looked like the UK was doing very well with Love Shine a Light, but there was also tension of a different kind because Ireland were doing much better than expected/hoped – it was only with the very last vote that the UK pipped them to the post. Cue much celebration from me, feeling oddly patriotic, and much celebration from the Irish, desperately relieved that they wouldn’t have to do it all over again the following year!
Those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it.
I whizzed downstairs to congratulate the victors on their way to the stage, and watched the repeat performance from the sidelines. Then, it was onward to the University for the post show party. I don’t remember a lot about this to be honest. They served us a nice casserole, and there was a lot of red wine. An awful lot of red wine. Vague recollections of sharing a taxi home with someone I had to fight off, staggering into my flat and falling face down and fully clothed on the bed. According to the man I had started dating only a few weeks before, I didn’t answer the phone or emails for at least 48 hours. I found one shoe in the bath, and one in the washing machine. I certainly missed returning to The Point to help clear things up – I hope that they had a back up crew in place for that, as I was by no means the worst for wear at the party.
It took me a few more goes to learn that getting drunk on red wine is never wise (especially if you mix it with Guinness), but I did realise that for those who really have to work behind the scenes at Eurovision, especially more than once, it’s really no fun at all. It’s hard work, late nights, repetitive and high pressure. That must be worse now, with televised semi finals and even more artists and their entourages to juggle and keep satisfied.
Where are they now?
When they make this blog post into a movie, as will surely happen, they’ll need one of those bits at the end where it flashes up with what happened to the main characters subsequently. So here goes:
- Katrina and the Waves never really recovered, and spilt up in 1999.
- Dustin the Turkey represented Ireland in the 1998 Eurovision and later ran for President.
- Ronan Keating scrapes a living touring the vaudeville halls of England.
- Carrie Crowley became a gay icon but still seems to be altogether lovely and down to earth.
- In about 2005, Ireland finally perfected the art of putting in terrible entries that could never possibly win. They have not qualified this year.
- Susan Witterick finished her degree, and married that chap she had just started dating. She watches Eurovision from behind a cushion every year and prefers white wine over red.