*** DEBUG END ***

Paul Vallely: Eurovision is about more than songs  

12 May 2023

Liverpool is hosting Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine — and Paul Vallely will be there


Mae Muller, the UK’s singer in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, rehearses in Liverpool, on Wednesday

Mae Muller, the UK’s singer in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, rehearses in Liverpool, on Wednesday

I AM thinking of buying a sparkly jacket. I am going to Liverpool tomorrow to join in with the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. I won’t be in the actual Arena with the Euro-stars, but I will be in a hotel near by, watching on a giant screen, glass of fizz in hand; so a bit of sparkly attire might be appropriate.

The news of this has taken my friends by surprise. When I received an invitation to a flat-pack performance of La Bohème in our church, and turned it down because of Eurovision, my hostess at first thought I was joking. You can see why.

Eurovision has been a bit of a joke since the days when Cliff Richard was beaten by a Spanish song whose lyrics, as I recall, consisted chiefly of “la, la, la” — and when it was rumoured that several of the juries who voted for it had been bribed by General Franco. Mind you, the UK jury once awarded nul points to Abba when they sang “Waterloo”. So these things cut both ways.

Indeed, the whole enterprise was downgraded to such a reductio ad absurdum song that, a few years ago, a team of Dutch academics used early Artificial Intelligence algorithms, based on the melodies and rhythms of 200 Eurovision classics, to create a number of songs, one of which mystifyingly produced the lyrics “Kill the government, kill the system.”

Until recently, UK viewers regarded the whole naff spectacle through the lens of delicate irony perfected by the late, great Sir Terry Wogan. When a British academic conducted a survey (which found that people living in Eurovision countries were more likely to be satisfied with their lives than in countries that don’t take part), the general response was to deride the myopia of academia rather than to exult in the song contest.

Irony appears to have spread outside the BBC: this year, the contest famous for its cheesy songs is being sponsored by, inter alia, the cream-cheese-maker Philadelphia.

In part, that is a sign that Eurovision is now a big-money enterprise. Tickets for the final sold out within half-an-hour of going on sale. Liverpool is hoping that the competition will bring a £40-million boost for the city — which I can well believe, when I look at the outrageous mark-up on the drinks menu at my hotel.

But it is also because Liverpool is hosting the contest on behalf of last year’s winner, Ukraine (Television, 20 May 2022). The idea of doing something to foster European unity takes on a new gravity when the continent is being torn apart by a terrible war on a scale not seen since 1945.

Liverpool is twinned with Odesa. All through this week, joint events have been taking place in Liverpool and Kyiv. In the Royal Albert Dock, bars and restaurants are serving recipes by Ukrainian chefs. Twelve illuminated singing nightingales — Ukraine’s national bird — have appeared in the city. Sandbags have been placed around city monuments, in emulation of those routinely placed to protect statues in Ukraine, where Russian drone attacks have increased in recent days.

Eurovision is now a gesture of defiance and of solidarity. We will cheer for the UK’s entry, but we’ll cheer even more loudly should Ukraine win again.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available



The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)