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Alice Jones: Engelbert Humperdinck - Cheesy, populist and with a hint of the ridiculous – the ideal Eurosceptic


Engelbert Humperdinck. Of course. With a name like that, he was born to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest. Or he would be if he hadn't been born the rather less mellifluous Arnold Dorsey. In any case, the generously sideburned crooner, who last had a hit 42 years ago, has been chosen to represent Le Royaume-Uni at the annual extravaganza of poor taste and point-scoring. And the 75-year-old, best known for executing an unlikely chart coup when his soupy "Release Me" denied The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" the No 1 spot, will do so with a song written by the man behind James Blunt's wet-blanket anthem "You're Beautiful". This is ignominy indeed.

Or is it? Humperdinck could be the most sensible candidate the UK has put forward for years. I love everything about Eurovision – the cantilevered costumes, the inexplicable mime artists, the awkward idiom-mangling chats pre-results, the "zany" backstage behaviour. Everything, that is, except the music. Which is fine, because Eurovision has nothing to do with music as most people know, consume and love it.

Take the UK as a case in point. In the years since Jemini scored nul point in 2003, it has put forward a shambolic and increasingly desperate succession of reality-show rejects, Lloyd Webber off-cuts and faded boy bands that bear no relation to the charts. Binmen balladeers, shiny pop princesses, singing flight attendants – we've thrown everything at it but talent. And, in the past decade, we have made it into the top 10 just twice.

It's a poor show for a country that spawns globe-conquerors such as Adele, Coldplay and Radiohead, but perhaps that is what makes Humperdinck the canny choice this year. Removed from the current UK scene by almost half a century, he does not reflect Britain's music scene or taint its cool. Rather he reflects Eurovision – cheesy, populist, with a hint of the ridiculous (that name). He is the ideal Eurovision-sceptic candidate. If he loses, we can say that he was never serious anyway; if he wins, it's proof of how absurdly out of touch the spectacle has become.

The BBC, of course, may be pinning its hopes on Engelbert as the British equivalent of Ireland's Dustin the Turkey – a device to ensure certain defeat. After the Olympics and the Jubilee, there will be little left in the entertainment budget to pay for next year's contest. It's a risky strategy if so. Given the loopy lore that governs Eurovisionland, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see The Hump scoop the prize in Azerbaijan.