Eurovision: The Linda Martin years

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The Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Lisbon this coming Saturday. Ireland is sending a heterosexual singer called Ryan O’Shaughnessy, who loves to talk about his girlfriend Ailbhe. His song ‘Together’ tells a gay love story, with the video to match. Apparently Russia is considering a broadcast ban on the song for breaching its gay propaganda law. You’d think they’d be more concerned with the fake re-election of Putin. Then again, what do I know?

Well what I do know is that this week is officially Linda Martin Week. Linda Martin was a ropy cabaret star from Northern Ireland. Born in 1947 she toured extensively with the band Ch!ps in the 1970s. Ch!ps entered the Eurovision Song Contest four times but failed to qualify any time. In the book ‘What’s another year: Ireland and the Eurovision’ Linda recalls how devastated she was in 1977 (at the age of thirty) when they did not qualify to compete. She said that she was a mere teenager at the time. Poor thirty year old teenager Linda Martin.

During the 1970s the Eurovision was one of the few avenues for an Irish act to break it internationally. Linda had global ambition but only national talent.

Well in 1984, Linda entered the song contest as a solo artist. Singing a song called ‘Terminal 3’ which had been written by previous Irish winner Johnny Logan. Although I was merely a child, my fascination with Martin should have been an early sign of my latent homosexuality. I was fascinated by her. With her towering mane of backcombed wine-coloured hair; claw-like red talons; cheap, blue plastic jewelry and space-alien, white, metallic jump suit, she looked mesmerising. In one of the great injustices of all time ‘Terminal 3’ came second in that year’s competition to a Swedish trio of brothers called Herreys, with their forgettable ditty ‘Diggi Loo Diggi Ley’. When it came to the final vote all that was required for a Linda win, was for Herreys to get 5 points and Linda to get 12 points. In a crushing defeat the Swedes beat her. I have still not recovered. I have not forgiven Sweden. ‘Terminal 3’ remains an anthemic number – although probably only to me. To this day I sing it to myself whenever I pass through an airport.

‘Terminal 3. Flight’s on time.’

You can’t keep a ropy old showgirl down however. Linda returned to the festival in 1992 with another Johnny Logan penned dirge called ‘Why me?’ She soared to victory that year. It was a bittersweet win, forever tainted by the 1984 defeat. The song wasn’t nearly as good as ‘Terminal 3’ either.

Sadly in the years that followed her career suffered. Winning Eurovision at the age of 45 meant that her appeal remained limited – to Eurovision fans and certain gay people. In 1997 when I had recently moved to Dublin, I went out one Saturday night to a gay club called ‘Wonderbar’ held in the Temple Bar Music Centre. The night was the final of tragic beauty contest ‘Mr Wonderbar 1997’. The compere of the evening was none other than Linda. A girl has to make a dollar somehow, I suppose. Before the winner was announced there was a raffle. Imagine my excitement when I won a bottle of poppers, which I graciously accepted from Linda.

The turn of the century saw a turnaround in her fortunes as she became a judge on reality television show ‘You’re a Star’; and started appearing each Christmas in panto.

In 2007 while in Helsinki with a Finnish friend, to witness Finland hosting the contest (having won the previous year) we were at Euroclub (official party of the festival). I requested ‘Terminal 3’ from the DJ. He played it to the heaving club. Sadly I missed this as I was otherwise engaged with an Estonian journalist on the outdoor balcony. Such a shame.

In 2010 Linda Martin was touring the land in ‘Menopause The Musical’ with her lifelong friend – fellow panto queen – Twink. While on tour, Twink described Martin as a “c***” during a late night, drunken tirade. Linda was in the hotel room next door and overheard every word. The two had been friends for 30 years but both said afterwards that they had no plans to speak to each other again.

Thankfully some years later when Twink’s dog Teddy Bear was kidnapped she reached out to Linda (whom she described as being ‘very powerful in the dog world’). They buried the hatchet. And there was peace across the land.

So roll on Saturday. Win, lose or draw one thing will remain unchanged. There is only one Eurovision Queen.

No her first name ain’t Baby. It’s Linda. It’s Martin if you’re nasty.

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