Eurovision 2014: Can Leicester's Molly Smitten-Downes win the final for the UK?

Leicester is suddenly at the top of every league going
  • @_seanogrady

Not only Britain, but specifically Leicester could be on course to win the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend.

Molly Smitten-Downes, we hope, will succeed where another Leicester legend, the evergreen Engelbert Humperdinck missed out.

Well, why not Molly? Leicester is suddenly at the top of every league going, it would appear. The reception in the Town Hall at the weekend for the Championship champs Leicester City FC is only the latest in a series of breathtaking national accomplishments.

Mark Selby – the ‘Jester from Leicester’ – waltzed off with the world snooker title on Monday. In the world of TV talent shows, last year's X-Factor champion Sam Bailey hails from the city, as does the Great British Bake Off champion and the Great British Sewing Bee victors.

The Leicester Tigers pretty much always win everything in rugger. Leicester lads Kasabian are also slated to headline Glastonbury this summer.

Now, for those of us from Leicester none of this comes as much of a surprise. Well, it does actually because we are used to a certain amount of condescension from the rest of the world; so much indeed that sometimes we almost lose faith in ourselves.

But we do not lapse into self-pity. Like Leicester City FC, we can, and do, regain our self-confidence, we remind ourselves of our fantastic achievements past and present, and go on to remind the world that this is one city happy to punch weigh above its weight.

Everyone knows how Leicester was enriched by the arrival of the Asian communities thrown out of Kenya, Uganda and Malawi from 1968 to 1976, and they represented quite a change for people in the city. Their drive and entrepreneurialism have created jobs and prosperity, and they are only the latest in a long wave of migrants; from the West Indies of course, Ireland and eastern Europe, as well as from all over the rest of Britain, drawn here when the textile and engineering industries boasted many more jobs than they do today. Mum, a nurse, still has friends from St Lucia, Grenada, the Philippines and Mauritius.


In what I can recall of my official primary school picture (Green Lane Road, now long gone), I am sat among black children, Sikhs and eastern Europeans in equal measure.

When I was growing up, our neighbours on both sides were Geordie migrants, one a coal miner and the other a fitter at Walkers.

Since before Roman times the place has been a settlement for anyone who found themselves with hopes and ambitions, or maybe nothing much better to do, roughly in the middle of the country. 

We like to think we are a tolerant city, free of much of the racial tensions and violence that have scarred so many others  - the riots of 2011 hardly happened there, for example. Zimbabweans, Bangladeshis, Somalis, Chinese students and another wave of Poles are just the latest arrivals.

To me, this unassuming city in the east Midlands is really my New York, the Big Walkers Cheesy Wotsit maybe, rather than the Big Apple – but just as much a vibrant melting pot where making a living is more important than generating hate.

By the way we also have a miniature statue of Liberty, rescued from the old Liberty Bodice works, one of the many manufacturers where the city lead the world a century ago. We still have the shell of the largest shoe factory on the planet when built ca 1890, the neo-Jacobean Co-Op Wheatsheaf Works. Just like NYC it would take you a week to appreciate Leicester’s magnificent architectural inheritance, one sadly undervalued by successive city councils. 

Alan Bennett always said that the best anyone could usually come up with about his home town of Leeds was that it was easy to get to rural Yorkshire countryside from, a fairly back-handed compliment. Well, Leicester too boasts its hinterland of gorgeously rolling countryside and cutesy villages. But its environs are not the best thing about it. This is a happy city, though it has always had its problems and its poverty and its social divisions; an enterprising city; a great sporting city; a city that likes to get on with things without “mekkin a fuss”. As they say where I come from, Leicester is frit o’ nowt, and we never, ever, go mardy.