LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – After France, Italy and Germany, we proceed our series of Big 5 Heads of Delegation interviews with Guy Freeman from the BBC. Though busy with the preparation of “Eurovision: You Decide”, Guy took time to answer our questions. Thanks again!
Hi Guy, and thanks for accepting our interview. Before we start, could you tell us a bit more about yourself? Hi and thank you for inviting me. Yes – I started my career as a BBC camera operator and always enjoyed working on music and live entertainment shows. I was then lucky enough to be able to move into production and after a few years ended up directing and producing several big entertainment series, before going freelance to produce the first series of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”. I then produced several “BRIT Awards” shows before becoming a Music & Events commissioner for ITV. I returned to the BBC to produce “The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert” and now look after Special Events for BBC Entertainment.
How did you end up as the British Head of Delegation?
When I was originally at the BBC, in the late 90’s, I became involved in the UK national selection process and TV shows. After Katrina’s very happy win, in Dublin in 1997, I was asked to produce the Contest in 1998 (Kevin Bishop was Executive Producer). It was a fantastically enjoyable experience, full of unforgettable moments that are now memories I will always treasure. My interest in the Contest has never really waned and so when I returned to the BBC and the Head of Delegation role became vacant in late 2013, I was very happy to accept the challenge and take a fresh look at our whole approach to the Contest – which is still a hugely important programme to the BBC.
Are you a true Eurovision fan?
As a kid, I was always fascinated by big live TV shows and Eurovision offered an intriguing window to the rest of Europe, with the added bonus of being great fun, unpredictable and of course ever so slightly competitive! In the 70’s, when it was still being broadcast in mono, I would turn off the TV sound and have it blasting out on FM radio speakers in stereo. So yes, I’ve always loved it and still consider it a great privilege to be involved with.
In a surprising move this year, the BBC announced a national final. Why such a decision ? Over the years, many different versions of the selection process have been tried in the UK, with mixed fortunes both in terms of choosing a successful song but also in terms of attracting viewers to programmes like “A Song For Europe”. So, based on past experience, there are those who might argue that a TV show to select our Eurovision entry neither guarantees that we’ll end up with the perfect song nor high viewing figures. However, I am an optimist and we know that fans of Eurovision in the UK would definitely prefer to have a big say in selecting our song and we’ve been working towards this for a couple of years now. The first thing we’ve had to address is generating enough good songs for there to be a good choice to put before the voting audience and that’s why we announced our biggest ever song search last autumn, opening entries up to both unknown and professional songwriters and performers.
Could you tell us a bit more about the extravaganza BBC is preparing ? Any date or venue ? How many entrants ? So, knowing that we’ll have some great songs, we wanted to ensure that viewers could see and hear them performed on live TV, in front of a live audience, before they cast their vote. That’s why we’re staging the show at a live music venue (O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London) which can hold up to about 2000 people. Six songs – from 3 different, amateur and professional routes of entry – will be performed and special guests Måns Zelmerlöw and our last UK winner, Katrina will be performing live too. The show is hosted by the brilliant Mel Giedroyc, who’s a massive Eurovision fan and an expert panel will be there to offer thoughts on how each song could work on stage in Stockholm. The big decision on which song wins is 100% a viewer vote, within the programme, which is live at 7.30pm UK time on Friday 26th February.
Just like France or Germany, the UK has achieved poor results those last years. How would you explain this state of things ? Our last win was at a time when fewer countries took part in the competition and so it is inevitable that as the competition has expanded, the chances of any country winning as often have become worse. That doesn’t alter the fact that we still ought to be able to achieve much higher placings than we have recently and as more people watch the ESC in the UK than in any country other than Germany we would most definitely like to deliver them a win again! The first issue we’re tackling is to entice the UK’s best songwriters to engage with Eurovision and Hugh Goldsmith, former MD of Innocent Records, is doing a fantastic job on that front along with BASCA. We also want the fans to be involved as much as possible, which we have done through OGAE. The selection show and public vote is another step in the right direction of helping to get people excited about our entry and hopefully supporting it in the run up to the competition. The issue of whether the Big 5 countries have been affected by not appearing so prominently in the semi-finals is a question that’s much harder to answer, but it will happen in a different way this year and it will be interesting to see how that works.
When will the finalists for the British national final be announced ?
On Monday 22nd February, Ken Bruce will play all six songs on BBC Radio 2 and details of the songs will then appear on the BBC Eurovision website.
In your dream, what big UK artist would you like to see waving your flag on Eurovision stage ? You’re right that it can only be a dream unfortunately. We produce several big BBC music events each year, featuring world-class, headline artists and sadly there is no way that any of them would be able to spend the necessary 10 days at the event, in addition to all of the pre-publicity and upfront rehearsals to be able to take part, even if they wanted to. The answer to your question though is … Anyone who can deliver the most extraordinary live performance of a brilliant song in front of 20,000 people and 200 million viewers….and who can handle a two month firestorm of media and social media interest.
After 60 contests, what is your favourite Eurovision entry ? Your favourite UK entry ? Very tricky to pick a favourite. When we were lucky enough to be able to stage the 60th anniversary show last year, I was able to relive a lot of great songs, but maybe Euphoria was the stand out song for me….although how can you not love Diggi Loo Diggi Ley? Katrina has to be my favourite UK entry simply because I have so many good memories of Dublin and then what it lead to.
Do you have any words for our readers ?
I can honestly say that when I attend the ESC and also when we stage Eurovision events here in the UK, the audiences who come, from all over Europe and beyond are always in the most brilliantly positive, friendly and uplifting spirits. That atmosphere and sense of mutual respect between everyone is very special and undoubtedly deserves celebrating and protecting. Long may it continue ! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk.