Anti-war sentiment or just a truly dreadful song? Why did Britain sink to all-time Eurovision low?

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The Independent Culture

So now we know the true cost of war with Iraq. Our neighbours treat us like Norwegians. As recriminations and rumours of conspiracy fell over Europe last night, Britain - the land of Lennon and Jagger, Gallagher and Albarn - had to confront an inescapable truth in front of 600 million people: the country has become a Eurovision Song Contest joke.

After nearly five decades of Bucks Fizz, Sandie Shaw and regular success at the great Euro festival of kitsch, Britain has suffered its darkest hour, failing to attract a single vote across the Continent, finishing bottom of the 26-nation pile.

To add the final insult, Jemini - the pop duo Chris Cromby, 21, and Gemma Abbey, 20, who were plucked from obscurity - discovered that their dressing rooms were trashed while they were giving television interviews after the debacle in the Latvian capital, Riga. No other performers' dressing rooms were damaged. "I think it was specifically targeted," said their manager, Martin O'Shea. "Police were called and spent two hours there."

While most of Europe concluded that the reason for Britain's worst showing was because Jemini performed "Cry Baby", a dreadfully dull ditty, horribly out of tune, vested interests sought to blame shadowy political forces in a divided Europe.

Who was behind the break-in? Why did the sound equipment not work properly during the first 30 seconds of their performance? Why did Turkey (which did more than any other country to frustrate the US plans to invade Iraq) win? How was the UK beaten by Austria's entry, cabaret artist Alf Poier, whose ecological protest song contained the lyrics "Little rabbits have short noses, And kittens soft paws, And Mother Holle likes her wool, From the African dromedary"?

Amid the shame of the pitiful showing, the conspiracy theory gained powerful backing yesterday. The Labour MP and fierce war critic Jeremy Corbyn said the vote represented the "biggest opinion poll" taken for a long time. "It could be that the song was just truly awful and deserved it but I think there's actually probably a deeper story here," he said. "People across Europe are fed up with Britain's over-close relationship with the United States and arrogance in the rest of the world and the war in Iraq demonstrates this very well. The fact there is huge anti-Britain feeling is something that those who supported the war should think about a bit more.

"Britain is not popular around the world and the more we go to war in Iraq or anywhere else of George Bush's choosing, the more unpopular we will be with an awful lot of people who want to see a peaceful world."

Unsurprisingly, he received backing from the man who penned the song, Martin Isherwood, the head of music at Sir Paul McCartney's school for talented young performers. "Politically, we are out on a limb at the moment," he said. "As a country, we paid the price last night."

BBC1's Eurovision host, Terry Wogan, said Britain was "suffering from post-Iraq backlash" but Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Wales and former Europe minister, denied it had anything to do with the war. Was European politics at work? "I very much doubt it," he said. "Maybe it wasn't a good enough song, although it sounded good enough to me. You can speculate all sorts of things but maybe it just wasn't up to scratch."

Even Atomic Kitten, the girl-band who share a manager with Jemini, were said to be "distraught".

The competition, introduced in 1956, was won by Turkey, which has not previously finished higher than third, and which hailed the victory as part of its movement towards European recognition.

The belly-dancing Sertab Erener, representing the predominantly Muslim nation, edged out the Belgian group Urban Trad and the favoured Russian duo Tatu. "This success means that Turkey has gained strong support among the peoples of Europe," said Kursat Tuzmen, a member of the Turkish Cabinet. "This is a milestone in creating an atmosphere for entry in to the European Union."

Jemini now join the ranks of "nul pointers" who are destined to have at least one day's employment every year - when they are rolled out on Eurovision night to describe how it feels to be rejected by Europe.

According to one of the rash of websites that proliferate on the contest, Norway heads the bunch with four utter failures. The most recent time the feat was achieved was in 1998 by the Swiss.

In contrast, the UK record glitters. The previous worst performance by the Brits was in 2000, when the aptly named "Don't Play that Song Again" by Nicki French finished 16th.

The British losers, who were due to play a gay festival in Birmingham last night, arrived back in Britain to face the music. The pair met at Starlight Performing Arts school in Liverpool when they were 15 and have sung together in bars in the city since 2001, waiting for their big break.

This weekend was meant to be it. Instead, a British entry finished in the bottom three for the first time. Jemini said they were in shock.

Asked if the loss was political in nature, Cromby said: "It could be. With the countries across Europe something has rocked the boat in a way.

"It was quite surprising. We don't think it was fair we came last because we gave the performance of our lifetime."

Large sections of the pop industry had more prosaic reasons for the duo's startlingly bad showing.

Louis Walsh, the manager of girl band Girls Aloud, said: "The thing was just a disgrace, the worst song I have ever heard, and so out of tune they deserved to be last.

"Britain has some of the best singers in the world but that was a joke. Britain could do well next year if it tried just a little bit harder."

Cheryl Baker, one quarter of Bucks Fizz, who won the Eurovision in 1981 with "Making Your Mind Up", said: "Despite the politics, despite the euro, we wouldn't have won last night."

In the swirl of conflicting geopolitical interests and international rivalries, Ms Baker identified another key factor. Bucks Fizz were helped to victory by the female members losing their skirts, displaying their minis beneath. "We won by four points. I think if it hadn't been for Velcro we would have lost," she said.

The triumphs...

BUCKS FIZZ

Bucks Fizz's famous skirt-ripping routine in the 1981 Eurovision song contest helped secure victory for the foursome who were modelled on Abba. "Making Your Mind Up" went on to top the charts in the UK and the group?s success continued with a string of hits. In 1984 their tour bus crashed, seriously injuring singer Mike Nolan, and a few months later Jay Aston quit. The remaining trio finally split in 1991 with Cheryl Baker going on to become a TV celebrity.

KATRINA AND THE WAVES

Katrina and the Waves, a rarity among modern British entrants who are in the main dewy-eyed wannabes, went on the Eurovision 12 years after "Walking on Sunshine" had been a No 1 single and took top spot with "Love Shine a Light". But they were told to "bugger off" in Germany. "We didn't know it was going to be our swan-song and the killing of us," said the lead singer, Katrina Leskanich. After the group split she presented a show on Radio 2 and has since gone solo.

... and the failures

LOVE CITY GROOVE

An epic in the annals of British Eurovision entries, one of those selected by Jonathan King as a hit to take on the Continent. It introduced rap to Eurovision, but failed to take into account the competition's more middle-of-the road tendencies. Love City Groove ended in 10th place. It was the only hit for the group in the UK and they later split up, leaving the eponymous track, "Love City Groove", as their lasting legacy. The song included such unforgettable lyrics such as "Nothin' that I know can ever make my heart sing like you do/It's like a voodoo, you know what I'm sayin'?" No, since you ask.

NICKI FRENCH

Jemini's achievement means Nicki French loses her place as worst British entrant, coming 16th in 2000. She sang "Don't Play that Song Again". Thankfully, she rarely did. In 1995, French had enjoyed a reasonable hit with Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (No 5 in the UK) so her Euro flop came as bit of a shock. She blamed Tony Blair and beef for the song's unpopularity in Europe, but added: "I feel that I have let the whole country down." She now teaches at the Italia Conti stage school.

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