Eurovision season is upon us and I’m trying, with all the might my imagination can muster, to picture a less gay version of it. I’ve conjured up something involving every competing European country’s answer to Jeremy Clarkson singing songs about golf, over a backdrop of . . . dangling cold cuts? Nope, sorry, that just got gay. Plus, the Norwegian Clarkson (Jens Clårksson) is making eyes at the Spanish one (Joaquín Clarksonez) and you just know there’s something going on there.
I can’t do it. I give up. Eurovision and gayness have an almost symbiotic relationship and trying to picture one without the other is a bit like trying to imagine one solitary Chuckle Brother. He’d just stand there going, “To me… to me… to me…” looking forlorn. So when Spectator editor, world’s most right-wing Scotsman and slightly incongruous Eurovision fan, Fraser Nelson, implied last week that the contest is “too gay”, I began to wonder what his ideal contest might look like*.
According to Nelson, who spoke at a Eurovision conference (yes, that’s a thing) in London, the contest has been “reduced to the level of a musical gay pride march”. Reduced? Surely he meant “elevated”? He went on to say that he prefers the Swedish Eurovision model, in which he believes it’s more of a “family show”.
In 1998, when I was nine, I watched Israeli trans woman Dana International win Eurovision. I did so from my parents’ living room, with my family. I was also with my family last year, when bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst nabbed a win for Austria. The idea that Eurovision’s wonderful campness renders it unsuitable family viewing is, to me, as perplexing as it is insidious. Why, exactly, do children need to be protected from rainbows and glitter? I mean, they probably shouldn’t breathe in too much dry ice, but apart from that I’m struggling to think of anything even slightly unwholesome about the contest. Eurovision is about as tame as it gets, and that tameness just so happens to involve men in dresses.
Similarly, Gay Pride, to which Nelson compares Eurovision, is a huge family event. I took my mum to London Pride a couple of years ago, and plenty of queer and hetero couples bring their kids along. As long as they take them home before everyone gets all wasted and nude, I imagine it’s quite a fun day out for them. Certainly beats being dragged to a wedding, or the Tower of London. Hey kids, do you fancy seeing some grey buildings where executions happened ages ago? Or a big, noisy, colourful, musical parade?
What’s more, most of Eurovision’s gayness isn’t even deliberate. That’s the absolute beauty of it: watching as contestants from countries like Russia, where homosexuality is virtually illegal, unwittingly camp it up to Ru Paul levels. Eurovision has been described as the “Gay World Cup”. And that, I am happy to say, is exactly what it is (and will continue to be until humans evolve into homogenous telekinetic blobs who consider themselves beyond tiaras and on-stage pyrotechnics).
Watching Eurovision together is the closest thing my family has to a tradition. Ever since I can remember, my mum would sit, sneering and being scathing about the presenters’ outfits, until falling asleep (usually well before the final act), while my dad would embrace his inner gay and form genuine, impassioned opinions about who deserves to win. My siblings and I would place bets on outcomes and shout at the telly during the seemingly endless voting part. Fun for all the family doesn’t even cover it.
*Fraser Nelson has been in touch, to clarify: “I didn’t say Eurovision was ‘too gay’, nor would I ever make such a daft suggestion. The unfortunate phrase was used by the panel’s moderator, who later apologised for it. I was talking about how Eurovision is portrayed in the UK. The idea of Eurovision being ‘too camp’ to be a family show is – to me – not just bizarre, but repugnant. As I said at the conference, one of the contest’s great strengths is that it embodies the ‘values of tolerance and it exports those values in a vivid way to places where they are still to be accepted.” I am also willing to accept that there might be more right-wing people in Scotland than him.