Eurovision Back In Time – 30th April 1988

The one where Celine Dion got engaged Written By Andrew Brook

When Johnny Logan stepped onto the stage in Dublin to open the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest he was the first singer to reprise the winning song from the previous year. He sang in total darkness, captivating the audience with a perfect rendition of “Hold Me Now”. At the end of the song the stage was revealed in all its glory, and Eurovision entered a new era.

It was the first shiny-floor Eurovision

Clever use of lighting made it look as if the stage went on forever, and two giant screens gave it a futuristic look. It is hard to remember how groundbreaking the set was at the time, and it still looks fresh today.

The set may have been a triumph, the songs, less so. The 80s are not remembered for many classic Eurovision songs and 1988 gave us precisely none. The orchestra seemed to fight against the singers all night long and the natural acoustics of the hall (a show-jumping arena) weren’t ideal. And yet somehow it doesn’t spoil the show at all.

The presentation was slick, professional and up to date. We ooh-ed and aah-ed when the name of the song fluttered across the screen with lovely new-fangled graphics, and seeing the singers projected on the giant screens was a novelty too.

The U.K. sent Scott Fitzgerald, a crooner who would have been more at home in the 1968 contest than in1988. He had a terribly old-fashioned song, but at least he knew how to belt his tune out. The grannies watching no doubt loved him.

Luxembourg were represented by a young Lara Fabian who sang a well-regarded gentle ballad…  which the orchestra proceeded to ruin. Luckily it didn’t ruin her career, and she never risked a return to Eurovision.

Yugoslavia had the most up-to-date song, and and they came sixth, following their fourth place the year before. Their luck was finally changing!

But it was always going to be Celine Dion’s competition to lose. Mlle Dion, a French Canadian, had won the Swiss national final with a song written by a Turk, ‘Ne partez pas sans moi’. It seems that Celine is not fond of the song, as she has rarely sung it since.

It’s a song that is difficult to categorise – part ballad, part oom-pah – and it certainly isn’t fondly remembered as a winning song. But as a vehicle for Celine’s voice, it was absolutely perfect. Celine’s dress made her look like a cake decoration. Had she not won, the dress would definitely have taken the blame.

The best new song of the night came during the interval - from the Hothouse Flowers, a sort of grown-up version of the Irish entry that year. ‘Don’t Go’ was a mixture of live performance and a video that was shot in eleven different countries. Had they been competing, Ireland may have achieved its first double victory in 1988.

When the voting started the presenters unveiled a computerised scoreboard that the Irish were rightly chuffed to bits with. And they were blessed with exceptionally exciting votes.  The contest became a fight between the two best singers of the night, from the UK and Switzerland. Not only did it go down to the last round of voting, but to the very last vote of the night.

Having performed last, Yugoslavia had the honour of announcing the deciding votes. They didn’t care much for Celine’s song, giving her six points, and edging Switzerland into a one point lead over the UK. So it seemed certain that the UK would celebrate its fifth victory, as there were still four votes to be announced. But it wasn’t to be – the Yugoslavs liked Scott Fizgerald’s songs so little that they didn’t give it a single point and so, by the narrowest of margins, Celine Dion won the Eurovision Song Contest 1988.

That night Celine’s manager René Angélil proposed to her, and they remained married until his death in 2016.

‘Ne partez pas sans moi’ didn’t launch Celine’s European career in the way that ‘Waterloo’ did for Abba, but by the following year she was well on the way to international superstardom, and opened the 1989 contest with “Where does my heart beat now” , a song that was a massive hit in Canada and America. If it is a little disappointing to Eurovision fans that Celine doesn’t hold the contest close to hear heart, we should remember her Canadian upbringing, where Eurovision is almost unheard of, and the lack of commercial success of her winning song. However, she did score a massive hit with a song written by a Eurovision champion. In 1995 she had a worldwide smash hit (and a seven week run at No 1 in the UK) with “Think Twice” – co-written by Andy Hill, of ‘Making your mind up” fame.

Since the second Swiss victory in 1988 Switzerland has seen very little action on the Eurovision scoreboard. But they had waited 32 years from Lys Assia’s inaugural victory to Celine Dion’s in Dublin, so we’ll be looking closely at them in 2020 for their third victory!

  • Eurovision Back In Time – 30th April 1988

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