First published on 12 May 2011. Updated on 23 May 2012.
Just because Julia Zemiro – radio star, actor, RocKwiz host and nationally acclaimed comedienne – is hosting SBS’s coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest, don’t expect piss-taking. Ms Zemiro is quick to emphasise that there’s nothing but love between her and the venerable European music contest.
“My mum went to France and met my dad there and was pregnant with me when Sandi Shaw sang ‘Puppet On A String’ in the Eurovision song contest. So I heard it in the womb, Andrew,” she laughs. “And all jokes aside, the first pop music I ever really listened to was French so I don’t really find any of that stuff funny or cliché or kitsch. I love French pop and because my mum was a language teacher then she’d get some Italian pop and some German pop – and so I listen to that stuff and think ‘that’s absolutely normal.’ ABBA was my first concert I went to, the first album I bought with my own money, so when I read their biography and one of the facts was that they won Eurovision with ‘Waterloo’. I had a vague memory of it from France and back then it still felt like a legit show that you could get a break on.”
Warming to her theme, she continues. “And you’ve got three minutes to deliver live! I did It Takes Two and I know how hard it is to get up and do it live. Twenty years of performance didn’t help settle my nerves. And then you’ve got all the extra chore[ography] and the sticking-your-hand-inside-the-jumpsuit-to-get-the-handful-of-glitter-and-throwing-it-at-the-camera: there are so many things that can go wrong! I think it’s a pretty dangerous show to do.”
Not all countries treat Eurovision as a joke, mind. The former Baltic States are notorious for taking it very, very seriously in terms of legitimising their place on the world stage. More than one writer has noted that, for several countries, their first year in Eurovision was followed by their induction into the European Union.
“Totally. And everything these days is so over-produced, and when you watch Eurovision it reminds you of talent quests, and reminds you of you at your first ballet recital when you weren’t very good, and sometimes you can see a real sweetness and delight – and sometimes that’s raw talent that, when you polish it up, is gone.”
So what advice would Ms Zemiro have for those hosting their own Eurovision parties (aside from the hard and fast rule that everyone takes a shot on the key change)? “You shut up for the songs. Certainly that’s been true of every Eurovision party I’ve ever been to: you can give all the spectacle you like during the Postcards From The Ukraine or whatever, but as soon as the songs come on, it’s that first 30 seconds of ‘am I in, or am I not?’ And that’s a challenge in itself.”
It’s worth noting that, while Zemiro is hosting the broadcast, this doesn’t mean that viewers won’t be treated to the dry, snide BBC commentary of Terry Wogan. “A few years ago SBS made the mistake of taking his commentary off – and they absolutely realised their mistake,” she emphasises. “So this year, in terms of what I do, it’s just me on a couch going ‘I love it, you love it, here we go, see you at the halfway mark’. Wogan’s such a huge part of it: he’s that voice in your head that you agree with. And I think it’s done with love.”
But will Zemiro follow what one would assume makes up the Wogan Eurovision regime and drain half a dozen bottles of full-strength whiskey during the broadcast?
“I’ll probably just have some sort of cheeky Sauvignon Blanc,” she laughs. “And not too many snacks: I like to concentrate on what’s going on. But I look forward to those key changes – and those missed key changes. It wouldn’t be Eurovision without them.”