11 of the most memorable Eurovision moments of all time

From skirt-ripping routines to dancing Russian grannies, celebrate the arrival of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest by looking back at some of the competition's standout moments.

Last updated: 23 April 2019 - 10.19am

Hurrah! It’s that time of year again: the Eurovision Song Contest grand final is back, and it promises to dazzle and delight. It’s easy to dismiss the annual cheese-fest as a quaint tradition, but, incredibly, it’s the world’s longest-running TV show, making its debut way back in 1956.

During its incredible run, Eurovision has launched the careers of numerous household names, including ABBA and Cliff Richard. Along the way, of course, there have also been some memorable moments. Here are 11 of our favourites…

1. Bucks Fizz, Making Your Mind Up, Great Britain, 1981

A classic pop formation (two guys, two gals), a catchy song, and that famous skirt-ripping routine – what’s not to love? No wonder it scooped first place and went on to become UK number one.

2. Dana International, Diva, Israel, 1998

Dana International made headlines as the first transgender person to represent their country at Eurovision. She sparked uproar in her native Israel, with religious groups protesting in the streets. Brilliantly, she won the contest hands down, dressed to the nines in a fabulous feathered cape.

3. ABBA, Waterloo, Sweden, 1974

Eurovision is widely credited for propelling ABBA to international stardom, with their catchy tunes, spangly costumes and dizzying platforms proving an instant hit. Interestingly, the title and lyric ‘Waterloo’ was chosen simply because it had the required three syllables for the chorus. It would go on to be voted the best song in Eurovision history.

4. Lordi, Hard Rock Hallelujah, Finland, 2006

The audience had never seen anything like it when Finnish shock-metal band Lordi burst onto the stage dressed head-to-toe in monster outfits. Despite the band’s demon-like appearance, the unorthodox song and accompanying pyrotechnics were a surprise hit, bagging Finland its first Eurovision win. ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ was also the first, and so far only, non-pop song ever to win the contest.

5. Conchita Wurst, Rise Like a Phoenix, Austria, 2014

Eurovision fans fell head over heels for Austrian drag act Conchita Wurst, captivated by her rousing vocals and glamorous persona. But her inclusion in the competition caused outrage among several Russian organisations, with some calling for a boycott. There was barely a dry eye in the house, however, when bearded ‘lady’ Conchita took the top honours, with many celebrating the win as a victory against homophobia.

6. Verka Serduchka, Dancing Lasha Tumbai, Ukraine, 2007

Proving once again that Eurovision isn’t always just about the music, Ukrainian drag act Verka Serduchka raised more than a few eyebrows during a mind-boggling performance that can only be described as bizarre. We may never know why Verka chose to have a number 69 on the back of her tin foil-like sparkly outfit, or what ‘Lasha Tumbai’ actually means, but the audience loved it. Unbelievably, Serduchka came second.

7. Sandie Shaw, Puppet On A String, Great Britain, 1967

Pop star Sandie Shaw epitomised the swinging 60s, and was already a successful singer when she became the first UK act to win Eurovision – in bare feet, no less. But despite her success, Sandy actually hated the winning song, which she apparently thought was sexist and dull.

8. Buranovskiye Babushki, Party for Everybody, Russia, 2012

Who could resist the surreal charm of six grannies from rural Russia cavorting about the stage in traditional garb, including their slippers? The elderly warblers couldn’t quite hold a tune, but they melted the audience’s hearts, and even managed a very respectable second place.

9. Riverdance, Ireland, 1994

Irish dancers Michael Flatley and Jean Butler brought the house down when they performed their spectacular Riverdance for the first time during the interval at the 1994 contest. The seven-minute show earned the dance troupe a standing ovation, and catapulted Irish dancing onto the world stage. Riverdance went on to become one of the most successful stage shows of all time.

10. Donatan & Cleo, My Slowianie, Poland, 2014

We could hardly believe what we were seeing when the Polish milkmaid-themed act took to the stage in 2014, but Donatan & Cleo's efforts have gone down in Eurovision history as one of the most memorable moments. The stage routine featured women suggestively acting out milkmaid duties, a description that seems as odd to us as to anyone reading who has somehow avoided seeing it so far.

11. SuRie, Storm, UK, 2018

Sorry, SuRie, but it wasn't your song that stuck in our minds from last year's show. The UK act was unfortunately the victim of a stage invader, who rushed SuRie's performance, grabbed her microphone, and shouted out a protest message. Brave SuRie managed to finish her song and although she was offered another chance to perform, said she was fine with her first effort being judged.

Catch the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 at 8pm, Saturday 18 May, BBC One or catch up with BT TV via the BBC iPlayer app.

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