Sam Ryder: The light in a year of darkness

Sam Ryder on the turquoise carpet at Eurovision in Turin, Italy | Image – EBU / Sarah Louise Bennett

2022 has been bleak: sickening conflict in Ukraine; political scandal, chaos and uncertainty; rocketing and unmanageable energy bills; the introduction of dystopian warm spaces; families in the UK making the decision between heating and eating; humanitarian crises in countries so far-flung that Western governments care to forget about; and the worsening of women’s rights in Afghanistan. This list could, but should not, go on. 

Thankfully, one man has shone bright throughout his stratospheric rise to fame in the eyes and adoration in the hearts of audiences in the UK and beyond: Sam Ryder. No, he’s not a United Nations refugee envoy. No, he’s not around the negotiating table with Vladimir Putin. What he is, however, is a shining example of being grateful and thankful for what you have and is a man who embodies love, peace, respect and sincerity. Without him, 2022 would have been ever so slightly worse and we should be thankful for him being the man he is. 

A little after 11am on Thursday, March 10, 2022, Sam Ryder made his first media appearance after being announced as the UK’s Eurovision representative live on BBC Radio 1 earlier that morning. That appearance on BBC Radio 2 with Ken Bruce was a tease of exactly what we could expect from Ryder over the next nine months. “Morning, Ken. I just wanna say it’s an absolute pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me,” he said through the cheesy grin we’ve seen so much of this year. It wasn’t disingenuous. It wasn’t forced. It was authentic. It was real. This man was so delighted to be where he was and the weight of representing his nation in Turin, Italy later that year wasn’t weighing even an ounce on his shoulders. Or, if it was, he wasn’t letting it show. Ryder took the attention off himself at the end of the interview to give a shoutout to a man who listens to Bruce’s show every day, his Grandad Pat; a man for whom Ryder would delay the release of his debut album. Simply wholesome.

Later on that day he was completing his media rounds on the BBC’s magazine show The One Show, presented by Alex Jones and one-time Eurovision host Ronan Keating. Ryder was joined on the sofa by stoney faced actor and presenter Ross Kemp. Throughout the entire appearance Kemp had a fully charged smile on his face, courtesy of Ryder’s enthusiasm, joy and graciousness. “You’re doing alright, my friend,” Kemp said to Ryder. Something more poignant was what Jones said at the end of the interview: “I bet we’re going to see you on everything”. Little did she know just how much weight that foreshadowing would carry. 

His Eurovision appearance was highly anticipated because the British public genuinely felt that the UK could bag a commendable result for the first time in far too long. That commendable result came and Ryder became a national hero. But let’s not forget what else happened on that night in Turin. Switzerland’s Marius Bear suffered the indignity of getting zero points in the public televote. His head slumped after host Laura Pausini made the announcement. Members of the Swiss delegation showed emotions of shock while others could be seen smiling, hopefully wryly. There didn’t look to be an embrace among them all. Then, Sam Ryder appears in Switzerland’s area of the green room and squeezed some love into Bear during a prolonged and courteous cuddle. Ryder needn’t have done that, but he did. Nobody else did. It wasn’t Ryder’s love for Bear that gave him a springboard into further success during the remainder of 2022, but it’s a memory that will live long for many. 

Sam Ryder hugs Marius Bear after he received zero points | Image – Marco Destefanis / Alamy

Summer came and Ryder was going from strength to strength. A collaboration with Sigala and David Guetta was something of a surprise, but it was a delight. Still is. Ryder made an appearance at the Queen’s Platinum Party at the Palace in June, brilliantly adapting the lyrics of Space Man to “space ma’am”. A week later he was performing at Capital’s Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium, a venue he actually helped build years ago. There’s something magical about him literally laying foundations for his own success. 

Sam Ryder performing at the Queen’s Platinum Party at the Palace

Fast forward to December and Ryder can look back at a year filled with opportunities. He sat on friend and broadcaster Scott Mills’ sofa during episodes of Celebrity Gogglebox, appeared on the first episode of a rebooted Big Breakfast, performed on the UK’s most-watched chat show The Graham Norton Show, opened The National Television Awards, presented an award at the MTV European Music Awards, read a Cbeebies Bedtime Story, performed on two episodes of one of the BBC’s flagship shows Strictly Come Dancing and sang at the Royal Variety Performance. During every appearance he emitted the graciousness and honour that made him so likeable and relatable to so many during the year. Ryder will conclude his year of years with a headline appearance during the BBC’s New Year celebrations; a slot previously occupied by Chic & Nile Rogers, Queen & Adam Lambert, Robbie Williams and one of Sam Ryder’s idols, Alicia Keys. It’s difficult to think of a different occasion or event that would act as a better cherry on the cake than this. 

Ryder is a wordsmith. You just need to listen to the lyrical stories of each track on his number one album, There’s Nothing But Space, Man! to know that. His most memorable words of all, however, were those he uttered when it was announced that the UK would host next year’s Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine: “It’s Ukraine’s party, we’re just inviting them to throw it at our house”. This quote was everywhere in the days and weeks after the announcement. No press release from the European Broadcasting Union or next year’s host broadcaster the BBC came close to matching the sincerity of Ryder’s words. 

During Ryder’s appearance on the Royal Variety Performance, one keyboard warrior suggested it was time for him to “fuck off now”. Why? Ryder is one of very few reasons for many to smile and be happy this year. 

I, for one, cannot wait to toast the health and prosperity of my loved ones on the stroke of midnight with the soundtrack of a man who has made 2022 a brighter shade of dim playing in the background.

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