Mark Shenton: Will Liam Tamne be the West End’s latest ambassador in Eurovision?
We are about to hurtle out of the EU into an uncertain future, meaning that British cities are no longer eligible to enter the annual competition to become the European Capital of Culture. But we are, at least for now, still part of another great European project: the Eurovision Song Contest, the world’s longest-running annual international TV song competition, which has been in existence since 1956.
While the competition is an annual orgy of kitsch and kitchen-sink politics that has less to do with the singer and the song than the country they come from, it’s still a much sought-after showcase for performers to do their patriotic duty – and also possibly launch their careers. After all, Abba and Celine Dion were launched on their international trajectories here, in 1974 and 1988, when they represented Sweden and Switzerland, respectively.
The way Britain chooses its entry has changed a lot over the years, from televised semi-finals from which the winner was chosen by regional juries from around the country, to a system in which the BBC chose the artist who then performed all six possible entries for the song, which was then voted by public postcard ballots.
The current system involves the public choosing both the singer and the song: six finalists each sing a different song and members of the public choose a winning entry by telephone vote on a BBC TV show called Eurovision: You Decide. It will be broadcast live from Brighton Dome on February 7.
Last year, our entrant was West End performer (and a former X Factor entrant in 2009) Lucie Jones, who placed 15th out of 26 countries with Never Give Up on You. This year, one of the six finalists is fellow West End-er Liam Tamne, whose credits include Les Miserables, Wicked, Hairspray and The Phantom of the Opera, with a song called Astronaut.
The breezy, unassuming Tamne is no stranger to the public scrutiny of reality television: in 2013, he was also a contestant on The Voice. All the judges turned around for him, and he became the bookies favourite to win, until the judges sent him home (to many public complaints).
“If someone slams a door in my face and says it’s not going to happen, I find the other door and open it to create the next opportunity,” he says. And he’s hoping that Eurovision will open other doors, too. “I’ve always been such a fan of it. What it actually stands for, equality, unity and standing together, and music being the reason people come together is a great message – and 250 million people watch it. It’s the second most watched thing in the world, so it’s a great platform.” He also points out that he’s keen to promote a positive image: not just of musical theatre performers, but also of gay people and those of mixed heritage.
“I really hope that the theatre industry is proud of me and I’ll be representing them in a positive light. I’ve got the most beautiful husband and we’ve got a gorgeous dog. This is who I am, and I don’t shy away from it. My heritage – my dad is Kenyan Indian, my mum is from Belfast – is modern-day Britain. This is a multicultural, diverse place. That’s not necessarily true of all of Europe.”
If he wins next Wednesday, Tamne will proudly join a roster of musical theatre performers who have similarly represented Britain. They include Sally Ann Triplett (who is about to take over as Mrs Lovett in the Off-Broadway production of Sweeney Todd), who was part of the contest twice (as a member of Prima Donna in 1980 with Love Enough for Two and Bardo in 1982 with One Step Further), Samantha Janus (now Samantha Womack) with A Message to Your Heart in 1991, Michael Ball with One Step Out of Time in 1992 and Frances Ruffelle with We Will be Free in 1994, as well as Lucie Jones last year.
So let’s get behind him and send our own West End theatre ambassador to Lisbon in May.