Rylan Clark-Neal reflects on the past 65 years of Eurovision, revealing his moment of all time, and the ‘biggest challenges’ of the Song Contest

The presenter takes RadioTimes.com down memory lane as Eurovision celebrates its 65th birthday.

Eurovision 2021 Rylan

The Eurovision Song Contest will celebrate it 65th birthday this week, when Eurovision 2021 takes place in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, from May 18th to May 22nd.

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The song contestant will see 39 Eurovision 2021 entries take to the stage as they compete for this year’s title. This year’s line-up includes the UK’s Eurovision 2021 entry James Newman, who returns from 2020, and Australia’s Montaigne who will performing virtually at Eurovision.

From phenomenal performances to stage invasions and bizarre outfits, we’ve seen it all when it come to the infamous song contest, which has become a TV staple.

Apart from last year, which saw the competition cancelled due to the coronavirus, Eurovision has never missed a single year since it launched on the 24th of May back in 1956, and saw Switzerland win the very first show with Lys Assia.

But what exactly has made it so popular and kept it going for all these years?

“I think it’s a show that just brings people together and I think the reason why it’s still going strong now and it’s not just getting bigger, is because I think a lot of people grow into Eurovision,” Rylan Clark-Neal tells us when we meet over Zoom for a chat ahead of the 65th Song Contest.

“Some people love it from day one; some people think, ‘Oh what is that?’ but then as they get older, they actually start watching it and it’s not all bubblegum and pop-like, repetitive tracks.”

Eurovision 2019 winner Duncan Laurence
Eurovision 2019 winner Duncan Laurence

On how the show brings countries from around the world together, he adds: “It’s such a nice thing to be a part of. And if you’re not a part of it for work, being a part of it as a viewer, it’s just a really, lovely show. It’s entertaining, and it’s one of those things I think that makes you feel a bit connected to 100 other million people watching it at the same time as you in different countries, in different languages, different time zones. It sort of brings a lot of people together that would not necessarily would ever meet.”

When it comes to Eurovision, it’s safe to say the music choices vary, from the weird and wonderful, to the more refined tunes produced by the likes of former winner Loreen, who very much stole the show in 2012 with her hit Euphoria.

Clark-Neal – who is part of this year’s presenting team alongside Graham Norton, Chelcee Grimes, Scott Mills, Ken Bruce and Amanda Holden – believes the music is only getting better as the years progress, with the early 2010s really shaping Eurovision.

Speaking of 2019 winner Duncan Laurence in particular, he says: “The current winner Duncan has a great track and if someone like Ed Sheeran or Adele released a track like that over here, it would be a number one. Like genuinely, I just think people are slowly finding Eurovision again as they grow up.

He continues: “I think sort of early 2010 has shaped Eurovision to be what it is now. From early 2010, you started getting songs coming through that you would play on the radio, rather than just at Eurovision. And I think that’s what changed a lot of entrance years succeeding that. I think that’s when it all started changing and made it a bit more ‘cool’ for want of a better word.”

Bucks Fizz eurovision
Eurovison contestants Bucks Fizz

With 63 Eurovision winners to date and many more entries, it’d be impossible to remember every single moment, but there are some acts and performances which have kept us talking over the years.

So, if Rylan could choose one iconic moment, what would it be?

“I think when Conchita [Wurst] won it, it was quite emotional because Conchita had reasons for doing the contests and being different and that speech was quite nice,” he says, as he goes on to recall iconic moments from over the years.

“But then, I mean even going back as far as people that like, Bucks Fizz and ABBA. I mean, Bucks Fizz ripping their skirts off, you’d have thought someone got their t*t out. It was literally salacious and all they did was show a bit of knee. I think Eurovision is that thing that has always been borderline cheeky, but never offensive, which is what makes it nice!”

Eurovision 2014 winner Conchita Wurst
Eurovision 2014 winner Conchita Wurst

While it’s hard to pinpoint one special moment, when it comes to his favourite song of all time, Rylan says it’s a “toss up” between Loreen’s Euphoria and Diva by Israel’s Dana International who won the show in 1998.

He continues: “I mean someone like Loreen from 2012, I think she’s an amazing artist. I only knew her because of Eurovision and then subsequently from that, I’ve got her albums. I think it would be a toss up between Euphoria by Loreen and maybe Diva by Dana International – that’s a stellar tune!”

One thing we love about Eurovision is that it’s pretty smooth running (minus the bizarre stage intruders or shocking on stage moments), however, when it comes to the voting, there has been some discussion over the years.

When asked about the biggest challenges in the competition, Rylan explains: “I wouldn’t say there’s challenges, but every year when it comes down to the voting, there’s some times political-style voting, like ‘Oh, they’re are neighbours so we’ll give them that.’

“I think we’ve seen that dwindle over the past sort of decade. In the early years, you knew who was going to get 12 from who [wasn’t.] I think it’s still partly there, but I think that’s what’s great between the public vote and the jury vote. Now the votes are split, and they’ve changed the format of that to eradicate that and yeah we have seen different types of results from that.”

ABBA Eurovision 1974
ABBA, Eurovision 1974
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With the voting system updated and the show returning this year after a one year break, Rylan has high hopes for the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest.

“I think this year will be slightly different, but in a good way. A lot of acts from last year have returned, not all of them, but a lot of them, which means in a weird way we should be expecting an even better show. I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a great show!”

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Update: Ryan Clark-Neal won’t be hosting this week’s Eurovision Song Contest semi-final coverage for the BBC after dropping out due to illness.

The Eurovision Song contest 2021 will air on the BBC this May. Check out the full list of previous Eurovision winners here. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide.