Sam Ryder: The Eurovision ambassador the UK needed

Sam Ryder at the Opening Ceremony of Eurovision 2022 | Image Credit – Andres Putting

Sam Ryder is nothing short of a breath of fresh air for the public perception of Eurovision in the United Kingdom. In fact, he’s an absolute whirlwind of fresh air. 

James Newman’s nul points result at Eurovision last year seems like a distant memory as far as British Eurovision fans are concerned but it has served as fuel for clickbaity media in the UK to discredit the contest over the last 12 months. Newman’s result also allowed positive opinion among the masses about the country’s Eurovision participation to be eroded to a perceived bitter low. Thankfully Sam Ryder is taking strides to change things when previous representatives could only take smaller steps. 

Celebrating past participants

Looking back, the UK hasn’t been short of willing candidates to publicly celebrate Eurovision and its values. As recently as last year the country had – at the time – the most genuine and enthusiastic representative in recent memory. James Newman’s result in the Grand Final in Rotterdam isn’t a fair reflection of the time and dedication he poured into his representation. Admittedly, Eurovision was a career move for Newman; a man who was not a proven singer or live performer, he had spent his professional career off stage as a composer and lyricist, earning praise and success at a high level. 

Newman couldn’t immerse himself in the true Eurovision experience as a result of being involved in the contest at a time when the world was struggling its way through the worst of the pandemic. There were no in-person pre-parties, COVID was a genuine risk to participation and travel around Europe for promotion was near impossible. To top off his imperfect participation, he finished last in the Grand Final. But does he lament his participation? Absolutely not. He looks back on his Eurovision experience with great pride and is thankful for the opportunity to be involved in such a welcoming environment. 

The country’s 2018 representative SuRie is another ambassador for good. She had the benefit of prior Eurovision experience before she took centre stage herself. In 2015 she was a backing singer for Belgium’s Loïc Nottet who helped begin changes to his country’s attitudes toward Eurovision with his song Rhythm Inside which finished fourth in the Grand Final. 

SuRie’s Eurovision experience in 2018 was far from ideal, though. Her performance on the stage in Lisbon was overshadowed by a politically motivated stage invader who managed to grab the microphone during her performance. Despite the possibility of sympathy votes in solidarity of being assaulted live on TV, SuRie finished 24th out of 26 participants with her song Storm. It would be easy for SuRie to begrudge what happened and be aggrieved by the spotlight on her being dimmed, but she used it as an opportunity to highlight the good that Eurovision stands for. “My leaderboard is the Twitter feed, the Instagram feed that I’ve had with the love and support from so many people,” SuRie said in a television interview just days after her Eurovision journey ended. 

SuRie explaining what Eurovision means to her

Another man who embraced his own interpretation of what it means to represent a nation at Eurovision is Daz Samspon. To some he’s a blemish on the UK’s record or a blotch on a page in the history books, but he loves Eurovision and he loves his country. Intertwining the two shouldn’t be mocked and discredited, it should be congratulated and appreciated. Admittedly he didn’t do anything to change wider attitudes towards the contest but he had fun during his fortnight in Athens back in 2006 and would come back to Eurovision at the drop of a hat. 

As good as James Newman, SuRie and Daz Samspon were at celebrating Eurovision and trying to promote it to the wider public, they all failed to make a lasting impact. 

Sam Ryder’s ambassadorial role

The UK’s very own space man has an unrivalled level of genuine enthusiasm for Eurovision and it’s something he wants to pass on. Sam Ryder is the absolute and peak embodiment of what it means to be representing his country. He probably didn’t expect to be having the impact he’s slowly starting to have on public opinion or that his role would end up being so ambassadorial. 

Ever since he was unveiled as the UK’s 2022 Eurovision representative back in March, Sam Ryder has appeared in every media engagement with a beaming smile on his face that has radiated as much positivity as the instinctive and heartfelt defences of the contest that have come out of his mouth.

Dealing with criticism of Eurovision is when Ryder has come into his own. Phillip Schofield’s usual, predictable and deliberately provocative questioning on ITV daytime magazine programme This Morning was met with utter passion from Ryder. Fans knew they’d found a winner at that moment. 

A European promotional tour is something a British Eurovision act has never really undertaken; Ryder’s, however, has been all-encompassing. He’s gone from the conventional pre-parties in London, Amsterdam and Madrid to the unconventional – in UK Eurovision terms – appearances on Bulgarian, Serbian and Dutch television, at a Swiss music festival and at the European Space Agency’s technical headquarters in ​​Noordwijk, Netherlands. It might sound fun to traverse the continent but it’s gruelling. He knows the importance of getting out, meeting people, promoting his work and ultimately Eurovision itself.

Sam Ryder’s performance on The Nikolaos Tsitiridis Show in Bulgaria

On this cross-continental promotional tour, did Ryder experience any level of ill-feeling towards his nationality or the nation he represents? Did he experience any sentiments that the residents of the countries he visited consciously choose not to vote for the UK because of Brexit? No, in his own words he was met with “kindness, warmth and love”.

A long way to go

It would be foolish to say that Sam Ryder’s attitude towards Eurovision that he’s carrying through his participation has cut through all of the negativity towards the contest and changed the attitudes of the majority of Eurovision naysayers in the UK. Just looking at the replies to a tweet from @BBCNews about Sam Ryder’s participation shows that there is still a long way to go. “Seriously, why even bother?” cried one tweeter.  “He can’t be any good then” said another. These people probably don’t mean what they say. They’re just lazy, instinctive comments that have come from years of overexposure to incorrect missayings from people in powerful and influential positions within UK media over the last few decades. 

It would be far less foolish to say that what Sam Ryder is doing is taking a giant stride away from square one on a journey that millions of people need to consciously and subconsciously take to reach levels of Eurovision appreciation that is seen in countries like Sweden and Iceland. Of course, it will be a long road to turn the deep-rooted negativity people feel towards Eurovision into heartfelt positivity, but it feels like the road has been paved.

Despite British fans eagerly and nervously awaiting the results coming in on Saturday night, it’s not something Ryder is really bothered about. Eurovision participation has never been about the result in the Grand Final for him. “To change attitudes, that is the prize,” he said in a press conference in Turin last week. Past British Eurovision representatives have chirped the same message but when it comes from Ryder’s mouth, it’s wholeheartedly believable. 

Sam Ryder during a Eurovision press conference in Turin on May 5

Yes, it’s easy to get excited about the possibility of a top five placing or even a win, fans should embody Ryder’s attitude and celebrate the changes of attitude he’s trying to bring about. 

Sam Ryder has done enough for everyone in the country to be breathing fresh and positive Eurovision air for the next 12 months at least. It’s just a question of whether people choose to breathe it.

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