She was a he and Israel's part of Europe - that's showbiz
Sunday 10 May 1998
Dana, known as Yaran Cohen before her sex-change operation in 1993, wore a sparkling figure-hugging dress designed by French designer Jean Paul Gaultier. The singer's selection had been controversial, with orthodox Jews unhappy with her appearance.
The United Kingdom came second in the competition, held in Birmingham, and only Switzerland scored nul points in this, the 43rd contest.
Dana's dress did not seem out of keeping amidst the setting chosen by the BBC at the National Exhibition Centre. With a series of disappearing curves leading down the stage and, in the middle, some thin structure rising towards the back, it was like being inside a particularly garish Nike trainer.
As the warm evening wore on the scene looked just as sticky and malodorous. The hosts were the unsweaty Terry Wogan, as ever dressed top-to-toe in suave irony, and Ulrika Jonsson, an over-keen gym-goer, looking more sinewy than svelte and initially wearing a skimpy leather outfit last seen on Raquel Welch in A Million Years BC. And it made me wonder, if we Brits had an Ulrika Jonsson, what did the Swedes have? An Elsie Drabble, perhaps?
We plunged into the songs, most completely incomprehensible. What a great advantage English is! Would the Royaume Uni or Irlande ever win if, instead of English, we democratically sang our songs in some Slavic variant. Suppose, instead of "I would drive through the rain", our Imaani had given us "Khonish sheneekes maya shtono nepo", which is what I think the Slovakians sang.
As ever there were three types of ditty: the belter, the bouncer and the oddball - the latter best represented by a Country and Western number from Hungary, sung in Magyar by a bloke with dodgy perm. The mainstay - belters - are all the better as you have to guess what they are about, though their structures are identical, going like this:
(softly) I have always enjoyed prawns,
(rising a little) You usually went for mullet,
(belted out) BUT YOU'RE NOT THE ONLY FISH IN THE SEA,
(shouted at the top of the voice) THERE ARE OTHER PISCID FORMS AS GOOD FOR ME,
(teeny, broken voice) so swim away now.
In general the only singers allowed at this year's Eurovision were exceptionally beautiful young women with dark hair and ball gowns. I particularly admired the chanteuse from Romania, got up in material I last saw hanging in the windows at Blenheim Palace.
With the songs sung, the phones were open for only five minutes. Meanwhile, Birmingham entertained us with a Balinese stick troupe serenaded by a Welsh male voice choir, themselves humming the tune from Star Trek, followed by 40 Zulus (led by Patti Boulaye, a direct descendant of Shaka Boulaye) who came on to be themselves treated to a violin concerto from a Korean nymphet. Sharron Davies (or was it Lesley Garrett?) then yodelled a wordless welcome to the land of Shakespeare.
Then came the voting. Ulrika had changed into some rather fetching nightwear, and charted the tense three-way battle between the trans-sexual, Imaani, and the woman from Valletta.
In the end Dana International (the one my eight-year-old voted for) won, and it was all over without the fat lady from Malta singing again. Really, it's enough to make a Maltese cross.
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