LONDON - Britain’s hopes of ending its dismal run at the Eurovision Song Contest rest with 76-year-old Engelbert Humperdinck, whose last hit was in the 1970s – but the choice could prove to be inspired.
Despite Britain’s rich popular music heritage, in recent years it has developed an unenviable habit of scoring “nul points” from Eurovision voters and usually places towards the lower reaches of the final scoreboard.
So selectors hope that the ageing crooner, one of a handful of septuagenarians participating in the 2012 contest, will claim the crown for Britain for the first time since Katrina and the Waves triumphed in 1997.
In fact, Humperdinck will not be the oldest performer at the contest which will be held on May 22-26 in Azerbaijan. That honour goes to a Russian woman a few months his senior.
With his dyed-brown hair and heavily-ringed fingers, Humperdinck admitted in an interview with AFP that until he was selected to represent Britain in the contest he “wasn’t really into watching the whole thing”.
“I just watched little bits and pieces,” he said, sitting imperiously in a zebra-print armchair at a London hotel.
“But this time I am because the BBC asked me to be involved in it, and it seems that the people of the UK have taken it more seriously,” he added.
Fans of the performer, who has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide and has a star on Hollywood Boulevard, are now predominantly silver-haired – unsurprising considering his last hit was “Too Beautiful To Last” in 1972.
His biggest success came in 1967 with “Release Me", which topped Britain’s single’s chart ahead of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
“I have been in the business for 45 years and with my experience and the amount of countries I visited in Europe, I can bring this home,” Humperdinck said in a separate interview with The Sun newspaper.
“I play these countries frequently and I hope I have scored some points with them,” he added.
The singer “might definitely catch the votes of 60-year-olds and above", predicted Leva, a 40-year-old Lithuanian who contributed a comment to the BBC website. “As far as I know he was very popular in USSR.
“I remember from my childhood that my relatives had a Humperdinck vinyl and we, kids, were listening to it and liked it,” she added.
Katie Taylor, Head of Entertainment at the BBC, which now selects Britain’s Eurovision candidate, said she was full of hope.
“Not since the seventies have we had such an established international musical legend represent the nation,” she said.
Britain has won Eurovision five times, but only once in the last 30 years.
Britain is not the only country to opt for experience over fresh talent.
A folk group of six grandmothers, four of whom are in their seventies according to organisers, will represent Russia and are expected to perform in traditional costume.
Humperdinck, who boasts on his website of his “lasting friendship” with Elvis Presley, will, naturally, take viewers on a romantic journey with his new song, “Love Will Set You Free”.
“I think it has a great chance. I think it’s a song that can become a standard,” he predicted to AFP.