About midway through my interview with 80s pop star Sonia, who represented the United Kingdom at Eurovision 21 years ago this weekend, coming a very strong second with the insanely catchy “Better the Devil You Know”, it becomes apparent that we have a lot more in common with one another than just our hair colour.
Not only do we both have Scouse accents (hers is more pronounced than mine, admittedly) and enjoy Eurovision far more than it is healthy to do so (as an ex-Eurovision star she at least has an excuse for this, whereas I just don’t) but it turns out she’ll be making an appearance on Pointless this weekend too which, in case there’s anyone still alive who I haven’t yet bored to death with this story, I have also appeared on (and won, woo)
“It’s a Eurovision special” she tells me as I sit there with a huge grin on my face; Eurovision and Pointless… my two favourite things in one neat package! “We were all paired up with other Eurovision acts, so I’m with Martin Lee from Brotherhood of Man (who won the competition for the UK in 1976 with “Save Your Kisses for Me”) and we’re up against three other teams of Eurovision contestants”. I ask her how she did and what questions she had to answer but she remains tight-lipped; in fact, she seems more interested in knowing how I did on the show, but that’s generally how the entire interview goes; she’s friendly, welcoming and very down to Earth.
For Sonia though, being on Pointless is just one of the countless events that define her life at this time of year. She tells me that she’s always busy, gigging throughout the year at corporate dos, private parties, Pride events and even with her own band, though May is always particularly busy. “I never get to watch Eurovision live” she complains, jokingly. “I always have to set the box to record and watch it the next day” This year is no different as she’ll be making a special appearance at the Ruby Lounge in Manchester, at an event called “Pop Curious” which, to be quite honest, sounds like the greatest night ever…
“The owner of the Ruby Lounge got in touch with my management and basically said “oh, we’d love to have Sonia on the actual night itself” because they’re holding an event all about Eurovision and about PWL Music in general”. PWL, for those who don’t have as big an eighties obsession as I do, is Pete Waterman’s production label, which Sonia was a part of from 1989 to 1991, before she left due to what are colloquially known as “artistic differences”. She’s happy to do it though, she claims, because it all just sounds – in her words – like “one big party”.
I can tell she loves what she does – heck, who wouldn’t – but for Sonia it’s about more than just putting on a show. Her work means she can devote lots of time to her family, not least because her husband is also her tour manager. “Y’know, in May, I’ve got all the Eurovision stuff going on and then a week later I’m performing at “Let’s Rock the Moor”, which is a big 80s outdoor festival down South” (Cookham in Berkshire, to be precise) she tells me, and with her husband working with her it means the family is always together.
“I’ve also got a little girl, Gracie Rose, who’s 3, and because a lot of my work is at the weekend it means that I can spend all week with her”. It sounds like the ideal life in many ways. She spends the week rehearsing and looking after her daughter, and then spends the weekend performing. She says it’s particularly handy because “most of the events are outdoors, which means they’re child friendly so we can just put Gracie Rose’s little headphones on and she can come along”.
At this point the interview is going well, though there’s a burning question that needs to be asked. Dare I do it… no-one likes to ask this question of anyone because the answer is never pretty, but I think we all need to hear from someone who has experienced things first-hand.
“Sonia,” I ask, anxiously. “Erm… how do you rate our chances at Eurovision this year?” Now, the last time the UK won Eurovision Tony Blair had been Prime Minister for less than two days, so it’s been quite a while since we even got a sniff of victory. Nonetheless, Sonia is quite optimistic.
“I think Molly’s got a good chance y’know” she tells me and, unlike most, she seems like she actually means it. “The song’s got a really good, hooky chorus and I remember the very first time I heard it I liked it. That’s how you pick a good Eurovision song. There’s no point listening to it half-a-dozen times and then going “oh yeah, actually, I do like it” ‘cause on the night they only hear it once.” She’s not over-confident – we’ve made that mistake too many times in the past – but she thinks we could do well. “It’s got a nice message as well, y’know, children of the universe and all that. They go for all that stuff at Eurovision don’t they.”
When I mention politics being against us Sonia doesn’t think it’s all that important. “Most of it actually just depends on where you get drawn” she says. “When I was on, I went 19th which was brilliant because the later you are, the more likely they are to remember you.” She points to the example of poor Engelbert Humperdinck, who came 25th in 2012. “I don’t think it helped him going on first at all because when you go on first, y’know, everyone’s still settling in, making a cup of tea, whatever, so they’re not really interested”.
Regardless of how well we do however, it’s clear that Sonia remains one of our most popular Eurovision entries, which is why it is her and not, for example, Daz Sampson, who spends each Eurovision night performing. With such a busy weekend ahead, she won’t get to watch herself on Pointless or watch the main event until Sunday at the earliest, though she assures me she’ll definitely be tuning into both and cheering on at the earliest opportunity.
Sonia will be performing at the Ruby Lounge in Manchester from 23:00 on Saturday 10th May. She will be appearing on Pointless on BBC1 at 18:20 on the same date.