Put aside your cynicism. Whilst British holidaymakers are struggling to get through the Brexit-induced border queues and into France, Europe is coming to us. If that rattles your cornflakes, good. Whatever your view of sequins and Scandinavian heavy rock bands, you’ve got to admit that this year’s Eurovision contest in May has been one of the most heart-warming highlights in a year riven with strife; the winner had to be Ukraine, of course, with the Kalush Orchestra. But after so many years spent hovering in the ‘nul points’ category, the UK came a very creditable runner-up.
Whether this was due to the quality of the song or tacit support for our Government’s shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity with Ukraine under Russian invasion, who knows?
However, Sam Ryder’s uplifting Spaceman entry seemed to touch a huge chord (excuse the puns) with official judges and international voting audience alike. And unlike most Eurovision winners, its optimistic message has resonance.
So I’m glad that we’re able to do the decent thing and host 2023’s event for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) on behalf of war-torn Ukraine. And I’m doubly glad that the north of England is going all out with a number of expressions of interest from cities, including Leeds and Sheffield, vying to be chosen as the destination for thousands of performers, crews and audience members.
Leeds City Council leader James Lewis and Coun Jonathan Pryor had already released a statement in June, announcing that it “goes without saying” that the city would bid for the event.
And this week, they’ve reinforced the gung ho civic message on Twitter: “Hosting Eurovision mid-way through the Leeds 2023 year of culture… you know it makes total sense!”
It would. But what an amazing boost it would be for Yorkshire if any one of our putative locations is the winner. Eurovision has visited us before, in 1982, when a German songstress won at the Harrogate International Centre with Ein Bisschen Frieden, roughly translated as A Bit of Peace’, but 40 years ago?
And it would make more than total sense. I can see the glamorous global pull of London, but the capital has already been a Eurovision host four times and if you were the EBU, would you want to run the risk of opportunist Tube strikes blighting proceedings? And if you were the Mayor of London, or another invested party, would you want to chance it?
The Scottish ‘second city’ of Glasgow will no doubt trade on its successful running of the Cop26 conference last summer. Manchester can offer many credentials; it’s established as a major conference centre, with major political parties amongst its regular customers and a ‘Cool Britannia’ reputation, still.
However, Yorkshire should be the destination above all because it’s supremely well-placed geographically (not too far north, not too far south), and in terms of public transport.
Leeds, York, Sheffield and Doncaster are amongst stations with good links to London and other major UK cities, our motorway networks, particularly the A1 and the M1, are nowhere near as prone to congestion as the labyrinth of traffic hell that surrounds Manchester, and we have two airports, Leeds Bradford and Doncaster Sheffield. Whilst the latter’s economic and operational troubles are well-publicised, and there’s a review into its future viability, Eurovision could provide a shot in the arm.
South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard’s optimism, and belief that Sheffield is the “obvious choice” because of its international airport, might be slightly misplaced, but he does make a good point when he reminds us that the city is twinned with the Ukrainian city of Donetsk. As a lifelong Eurovision who will be hustling for tickets, I’d be delighted if any Yorkshire location was selected, and even though I live in Barnsley, will be totally non-partisan. But I will say that there are strong links between our industrial areas and those in Ukraine. It would be a fitting way to reach out and remember that more things connect us than keep us apart.
I just hope that in pitching for the gig, Yorkshire does not turn into its own worst enemy. As we have seen with contentious attempts at regional government, and to some extent, with the demise of the tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire, too often we are guilty of sowing the seeds of our own division, when really, we should be joining forces to tackle the wider North/South divide.
What better way to smash all those spurious levelling-up promises than taking charge of a global event, watched by 161 million viewers this year? If we want to put Yorkshire on the map, Eurovision would hit all the right notes.