You have been commentating on the contest for the BBC since 2009. Do you have a Eurovision routine?
Once I get to the venue, I pretty much spend my whole time in the commentary box like a battery hen for a few days. It is important to see as many rehearsals as you can. There is no script on Eurovision, so you need to start learning the timings of how long things take, what the postcards will be, there is a lot to take in and I like to totally immerse myself. I have all of the songs on CD so between now and the contest that is all I will listen to in the car!
As you are making the way through all of the songs, are there any that have stood out for you so far?
The bookies’ favourite is Sweden and that is a really big upbeat catchy song and they are always really popular at Eurovision. Oddly, I rather like Austria’s entry by The Makemakes called I Am Yours. There are so many big produced ballads this year and I thought Austria’s was a very simple, sweet ballad.
Will you watch all the entrants’ music videos before arriving in Vienna?
I don’t bother with that because often you might watch those and think of something amusing to say about their hair or their dress or whatever and then on the night they are completely transformed so in a way there is no point in watching the videos.
What do you think of countries who send a novelty or joke act to the competition?
The joy of Eurovision is that these days I think it is very rare to get a properly terrible song. By and large they are all not bad. Belgium’s song this year is called Rhythm Inside and that starts a bit weird but by the end of it I thought ‘well that was rather good’.
The great thing about Eurovision is that you cannot second-guess it, especially at this stage as we don’t even know who will get through the semi-finals.
This year is the 60th anniversary and Australia have been invited to take part for one year only. What are your thoughts on that?
Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the competition is a very good idea and I think the BBC did a marvelous job last month when we hosted the Greatest Hits Concert in London. I think for Australia this is a great way of marking the 60th anniversary but I am not entirely sure what anybody else will get out of it! I have nothing against Australia but no-one has convincingly explained to me why they are in it!
What do you think about the UK entry by Electro Velvet and the reaction it has received so far?
People have a weird reaction to Eurovision every year, I don’t think it matters what song we send as there is always going to be a big group of people that will be negative. However there are also people that will give it a chance. Whatever you may think about the song this year, you can’t deny it is very catchy and it really stands out particularly amongst all the power ballads that are in the competition, so who knows what will happen. I wish them the best. It is such a hard job.
The UK has been criticised in the past for not taking the Eurovision Song Contest seriously – what would you say to that?
People do love Eurovision in the UK and on the night they are always upset we don’t do better! For the last few years we have sent very credible songs. I think it is important to take it seriously and we shouldn’t take it as a joke. If a country doesn’t take it seriously they are doomed.
What is the atmosphere like in the host city during Eurovision?
Before I started commentating, what I didn’t understand was the scale of the thing. The first year I did it was in Moscow, and that is a big city. Eurovision literally took it over! There were Eurovision lanes for buses and cars, there were flags everywhere – Eurovision was all anyone was talking about. The press area alone is the size of a small town. People think that it is just a big concert that is on for one night only but it is so much more than that. There are semi-finals, parties, embassies getting involved, there is so much going on. I think that for people just watching at home that is the thing that you don’t really get, just how vast this thing has become.
Eurovision is well known for having very passionate fans. Are you a huge Eurovision fan yourself?
I really like Eurovision and always have. I am not a mad super-fan but I would say if you are going to devote your life to a thing, it is not a bad thing to be devoted to! It’s not the same as painting action figures in your attic, as Eurovision is a great social thing, you get to talk to people and at the end of the day it’s about music. It sounds corny but this year the theme is Building Bridges but that is exactly what Eurovision does. Last year when Conchita won, it was a quietly political moment.