Belfast Telegraph

I've been to 22 Eurovision finals - and wouldn't miss it for the the world

Robin Scott has been a huge fan of the contest since he was four and can't wait for this year's final in Kiev, learns Stephanie Bell.

Love it or loathe it, the countdown to this year's Eurovision Song Contest has started ... and one person who is guaranteed to be in Kiev for the big final is Northern Ireland's biggest Eurovision fan, Robin Scott.

Robin hasn't missed a Eurovision final in 22 years and is such a devotee that he has recordings of every contest since it started in 1956.

It was in 1959, when he was just four years old, that he first fell in love with the show after his parents bought a 45rpm single of the UK entry, Sing Little Birdie.

Since then, his passion has grown, and every year since 1995 he has travelled all over the world to make sure he is there in person for what he describes as a "magical" night, still watched on TV by an estimated 180 million viewers.

Robin (62), a retired risk officer with First Trust Bank, lives in Belfast, where he presents an afternoon magazine show every Wednesday on Belfast 89FM.

He loves broadcasting and has been able to combine his passion for Eurovision with his interest in the media by reporting from the final for Downtown Radio for a number of years, and also now for his own station.

He is a member of an international Eurovision fan club and records video interviews with the finalists for their website on the night.

Robin says: "Outside of Eurovision, I have four big passions - broadcasting, technology, food and travelling - and I have travelled extensively around the world over the years. Eurovision has given me the opportunity to combine these passions.

"I have been on a boat sailing up the Bosphorus in Istanbul, heading to a white palace for the opening ceremony in 2004. I was taken to the Dead Sea at the time of the 1999 contest and to Red Square in Moscow while at the 2009 show.

"The chance to meet people and make friends and see around these countries has been fantastic. It is very hard to imagine not being at the finals now after over 20 years.

"The biggest one I have been to was in Copenhagen in 2014, when they staged it in a building which had been used to build ships.

"It was the most magnificent set, stretching up to four or five floors, and they really blew their budget on it. You do feel a big buzz and it is a magical night.

"I first was interviewed about the contest by John Bennett in 1995 for BBC Radio Ulster. That's also the first year I was in the audience. I have provided reports from the contest every year since 1996, when Belfast 89FM's director, John Rosborough, then the programme controller at Downtown Radio, knew of my interest and suggested I report for them. I now do reports for 89FM and also video interviews for the fan club."

Robin did a few radio programmes over the years before landing his own show on 89FM when the station launched two-and-a-half years ago. He co-hosts his magazine-style show on Wednesday afternoons between 1pm and 4pm with Chris Hughes.

He describes himself as "a media person" and loves the technology behind broadcasting and the idea of creating something which others can enjoy.

And Robin says he feels very lucky that he has been able to combine it with his love of Eurovision. The annual contest, which is televised live and watched all over the world, was part of his childhood. "I have followed the contest since my parents bought the 45rpm single of Sing Little Birdie in 1959," Robin explains.

"Every year, they bought the single of the UK entry and watched the contest, so it was part of my upbringing.

"Although I saw it on television from when we first had a telly, my first retained memory was watching with friends in 1968 when Cliff Richard came second in the Royal Albert Hall with Congratulations.

"I have copies of every existing recording; 1956 was not filmed, but I have the audio for it and for 1964. No trace of a full video copy exists of 1964, but again I have the audio.

"I just thought it was something different and quite magical and it opened my eyes to different languages and the whole idea of people from different countries getting together.

"I remember missing it one year while on a school trip to Austria and trying desperately while I was there to find it on a radio station."

Robin is a member of the Eurovision international fan club, Organisation Generale des Amateurs de l'Eurovision, whose members get together every year in England.

There are guest appearances from some of the finalists and composers, as well as a video quiz on the contest, which Robin really enjoys putting together using his technical and creative skills.

He says: "I don't have an encyclopaedic memory of every event, as after all there have been about 1,600 songs and now there are two semi-finals as well as the grand finale. The quiz is a bit like a pub quiz - only all the questions are about Eurovision."

This year, he has been to Eurovision heat finals in Austria, Iceland, Stockholm and the UK.

Where once it was an unmissable show, when the entire family would look forward to gathering round the TV for the live broadcast which went on for hours - usually on a Saturday night - Robin feels that social media and the fact that the contest has grown so much have spoilt some of the magic.

"I think the first thing that changed it was so many countries taking part - this year there are 43," he says. "It got so big they had to have semi-finals, which took away from the magic of seeing it for the first time on stage on the Saturday night. People are also watching it on websites, which also takes away from the magic."

In the contest's 60-year history, the UK has won five times and Ireland seven, but in recent years both countries have not done so well. Last year, the UK failed to reach the top 10 for the seventh consecutive year, with Joe and Jake finishing 24th.

The UK has entered every year since Robin's parents bought the first single in 1959. Ireland has made 50 appearances and been in 44 finals, reaching the top 10 a total of 31 times and the top five 18 times.

Ireland also holds the record for the greatest number of victories at the Eurovision contest, with seven wins. However, it has not reached the top five since 1997.

Robin has his own theories on why this might be. "In the days of singing in an official language of your country, the UK and Ireland did much better," he says. "Free language was introduced in 1999. English is the world's dominant language of song.

"A lot of people try and dismiss any political element. Call it political, or neighbourly, the UK doesn't have many natural allies when it comes to the voting. The Scandinavian countries are usually kind to each other, as are the Balkans.

"Last year, Joe and Jake were mid-table after the jury votes, which were 54, but the TV vote saw only eight points given. I believe that was undeserved. I think it is a bit of an unfair playing field."

This year, Ireland's hopes will be pinned on Brendan Murray singing Dying to Try, written by a Swedish writer, Jorgen Elofsson. Flying the flag for the UK will be Lucie Jones, singing Never Give Up On You, written by The Treatment, Emmelie de Forest and Lawrie Martin.

However, Robin isn't holding out too much hope for a victory for either home nation this year.

"Brendan has an unusual voice that is quite high-range and I think he is going to struggle," he says. "Lucie Jones is a West End performer and she is singing a nice song. If it is staged properly on the night, she could do okay, but it is down to the public vote."

This year's Eurovision will be held in the International Exhibition Centre in Kiev on May 13, following Ukraine's victory in the 2016 contest in Stockholm with the song 1944, written and performed by Jamala. And, of course, Robin can't wait to be part of it.

"I just take it in the spirit in which it is meant," he says. "Once there, when everyone is together and talking to each other, it is much more like the world we would like to be in, if it was possible.

"And then you go outside again and realise the world really is a much crueller place."

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