An unlikely charity inspires an unlikely event in an unlikely location on an unlikely date – but what a combination! Toma Fund’s Eurovision Reunited was a great show and it would be fantastic if it could become an annual event.
The Toma Fund is a charity that supports children, teenagers, young people and their families in the North East and Cumbria who have been affected by a diagnosis of childhood cancer. It is dedicated to the memory of Jordan Thompson and Sophie Atay who were cousins who died of childhood cancers in 2007 and 2010. The fund is run by Jordan’s mother Andrea, who, together with fundraiser Sue Lawrence – a Eurovision fan, came up with the idea of having a concert at the Sage in Gateshead of previous Eurovision winners and performers, with all the proceeds going to charity.
The concert was held on Wednesday 11th April. The choice of a midweek date was, in a sense, both the strength and weakness of the event. Strength, in that it meant the likelihood that the acts would be available was much greater – at the weekends they would more than likely have previous work commitments. Weakness, because it was harder for people other than locals to attend without taking time off work. This actually meant that many Eurovision fans from abroad who would have liked to attend simply couldn’t. The location – Gateshead – was also not advantageous as far as overseas travellers were concerned – flights to Newcastle are considerably more expensive than to London, and there are fewer of them.
Still – who am I to quibble about these things. With some judicious adaptation of the “working from home” concept, and a couple of half-day leaves, Mrs Chrisparkle and I were able to attend, together with our German friend JP, who has a weekly show – Radio International – on Dutch radio about Eurovision, and indeed on which you can hear me every month or so, rambling on about something Eurovisiony. So the three of us were very privileged to get backstage and post-show-party access to record some interviews for the radio show and to hob and to nob with the great and the good.
We got lost trying to find the hotel and arrived at the Sage later than we hoped, so our window of interviewing opportunity during the sound checks had passed. In fact on arrival we were escorted to the Artists’ Dining Room where they were having their pre-show meal. A word about the Sage – it’s a glorious building from the outside, with massive airy public spaces and the Concert Hall is a stunning piece of modern architecture. However, I was surprised how drab the backstage areas are! There are (I think) two main dressing rooms where lots of people share, and a few others for individuals or groups but there would be no room if you wanted to go cat-swinging as well. The Artists’ Dining Room was grey and featureless – apart from an open canteen area and some big tables. Still I am sure it fulfils its purpose.
Many of the artists were having their dinner and it seemed extremely rude to interrupt them, but two we spoke to were Nicki French, who is preparing for a new theatre role in “Guilty Pleasures”, coming to a theatre near you soon, and Linda Martin, whose cup is currently overflowing with the job of mentoring Jedward for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. I can tell you from our chats with Linda that she is very excited at working with Jedward – she admires their ability to learn and soak up new ideas like a sponge, as well as their commitment to their fans. She’s thrilled with the song “Waterline” – as soon as she heard it, she knew it was the right one – and they are also planning something spectacular for the presentation in Baku. She couldn’t say what, precisely, but she assured us we would all go “wow” in a very big way.
After the artists had dispersed back to their dressing rooms we thought we’d try our luck with one of the big names. Tentatively we asked Brotherhood of Man if they would mind giving us an interview, and no question, we were invited into their dressing room, even though they were in the middle of getting ready for the show, and gave us loads of their time. We reflected back on their success of 1976 and they came up with their memories of the time; we talked about their subsequent career, how important their Eurovision win was in terms of their career, right up to the present time with with their current touring show, The Seventies Story. We also established that they weren’t from the Isle of Man! I was able to tell them how “Save Your Kisses For Me” cheered me up when I was in hospital aged 15 – shortly before the 1976 contest – and they said that they had spoken to so many people who associate the song with a significant event in their life. They were charming, funny and generous with their time – a real pleasure to meet them.
Hanging around the corridors outside we bumped into one of the presenters – Sheila Ferguson, one time lead singer with the Three Degrees. She was dressed stunningly, in a gorgeous black evening dress but I thought she looked anxious and concerned about things. I thought perhaps we shouldn’t interrupt her at this point – but no sooner had he seen her JP instantly asked if she would give an interview and she beamed with delight and said she would love to. She was really funny – quick witted, eloquent, warm and friendly too. I reminded her of her TV sitcom, Land of Hope and Gloria, in 1992, and she was very proud of the fact that she was the first black woman to have the star role in a UK sitcom. She now lives in Majorca, and in fact had a flight back at 5am the following day. But her conversation was peppered throughout with hilarity and we spent the entire time laughing through the interview. A memorable moment came when JP referred to the Three Degrees song “Dirty Ol’ Man” as “Dirty Ol’ Bag” by mistake! I said one of my favourites was “Year of Decision” and she said she always hated that song!
We spoke briefly to Mr Johnny Logan, and to Miss Anne-Marie David, two Eurovision legends. The time and situation wasn’t really right for interviews with them though. We spoke to “Captain” Russ from Scooch, who was very happy to do an interview except that he didn’t know where the rest of his group were. Later on we met “Head Stewardess” Caroline, but then Russ was absent – and neither of them had seen “Head Purser” David. The fourth member, Natalie, had just had another baby, so she was described as being on “breast-feeding leave”. Bobbysocks to the rescue! Hanne Krogh and Elisabeth Andreassen were both eager and happy to talk to us and gave us a hilarious interview which talked about their careers and the night when Victory finally was Norway’s, but also involved a considerable amount of flirting between the four of us and which involved some – I can only describe it as – “breast action” from Ms Andreassen, which made me blush from top to toe. “My wife and your husband are watching!” I said; “they should be pleased for us” was her slightly bizarre reply. Later on that evening, Ms Krogh was last seen at the after-show party standing up and proposing a toast to everyone and getting really rather emotional about it all. I think it had been a long night.
Meanwhile, backstage, time was running out, and we had to get to our seats to see the show. It was great. For me, the two stand out performances were when Anne-Marie David sang Je suis l’enfant soleil, her French entry from 1979, and Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan singing their winning Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids from 1994 with a stunning purity and simplicity. But everyone was in great voice and turned up the entertainment knob to the top notch. With two songs from Anne-Marie David, Johnny Logan and Linda Martin, and one from everyone else, the evening flew by. Co-hosting the show with Sheila Ferguson was a bespangled Christopher Biggins, as irreverent and cheeky as you would expect.
After the show, all the acts (bar one) sat at a row of desks in the foyer and virtually the entire audience trooped by them, one by one, chatting, getting signatures, photos, buying CDs and so on. It was a great opportunity for the fans to meet the acts, and it was again very generous of the acts to give their time so generously. We joined the back end of the queue to get a couple more interviews. At last all of Scooch had found each other, so we were able to talk to them about their careers and what they are doing now – which appears to be a lot of theatre. David – who is local to the north-east – was also extremely happy to announce that he had got married the day before. I resisted the temptation to say he finally had something to suck on for landing, sir. We also spoke to Ian and Dene from Black Lace, who were a good laugh and very down to earth. Later at the aftershow party, they would somewhat bizarrely sing Agadoo with a karaoke machine to their own backing track.
Which takes us on to the aftershow party, where we interviewed Josh Dubovie – the second time I’ve interviewed Josh as it happens – and he is very much looking forward to getting his first CD with his own compositions released later this year. It will be very interesting to hear what Josh’s own stuff is like. He very politely turned down our offer to suggest any words of advice to Engelbert Humperdinck! The last performer we met and interviewed was Scott Fitzgerald, known to Eurovision fans for coming second with “Go” to Celine Dion (with whom he apparently still exchanges Christmas cards) in 1988, but known to the rest of the world as one half of the duo that sang “If I Had Words” to the tune of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony. A very friendly and chatty Scot, he’s now living in Rotterdam, and he confessed that the Gateshead concert was only the second time he had sung “Go” in public, the first time being on the Eurovision stage.
And so the party wound to a close, but not before Nicky Stevens of Brotherhood of Man proved herself to be a right party animal, doing Tina Turner and Whitney Houston on the karaoke! An amazing night – full of great entertainment and the thrill of meeting and talking to all these people. It would be wonderful if this could become an annual event – maybe it could become a part of the April “preview party” circuit – and also to continue raising funds for this very worthy cause. I’m not sure when the interviews will all be broadcast but I am sure you will be able to find them through the “show archive” section of the Radio International website.