The chiX reach the final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Istanbul, and we approach the climax of our story about a girl band and their young sister, Gladys, who isn't in the band, but who IS the brains behind it.
We've specially recorded the chiX song, "Life is a Circus" for this story - and if you want an mp3 of The Single without the story around it, then you can find it here.
TV Presenter’s voice:
“Good evening and welcome to Istanbul, gateway to the East, or gateway to the West if you are coming from the other direction. If like me you are a fool for drum machines, wind-machines, clawing, pawing, glitz and glitter, crazy costumes and bizarre behaviour you’ve come to the right place, for this is the 76th run along that well-worn racetrack, the Eurovision Song Contest!”
As is the long tradition in Britain, the television commentary for the final of the Eurovision Song Contest did not take the proceedings 100% seriously. But that didn’t mean to say that the millions of viewers at home weren’t rooting in their hearts for their country’s entry, Life is a Circus, sung by a young girl band called the chiX. The papers were saying it was the UK’s best shot at the Eurovision for years, a song with real sincerity, or as one commentator put it, “Too good to win Eurovision.”
The chiX had arrived in Istanbul almost a week beforehand. Their hotel overlooked a wide, grimy waterway, busy with boats and barges.
“Istanbul’s not exactly what I expected,” said Laura.
“What did you expect?” Asked her younger sister, Gladys.
“Well, more like, you know, Ibiza. But that doesn’t mean to say that it isn’t cool, because it’s amazing to be here.”
Gladys explained the name of the straight was the Bosphorus, and it divided Europe from Asia. But geography did not impress the three older girls nearly so much as their hotel’s flat tapped bathrooms ands and field-sized beds.
“I could live here, and never go out the front door again,” said Mandy, as they ate ice cream and sipped soft drinks in a cafe on the 16th floor of the hotel.
But there was work to do. A film crew followed the chiX around the great sites of Istanbul. They posed outside the Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque with its six minarets. Then they went inside the ancient Basilica of Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom. 1,500 years ago it had served as a cathedral of the Byzantine Empire, and then later as a mosque. Now it was a museum. The girls looked up into the enormous dome, radiant with gold mosaics and natural light, and at the black shields in the corners, bearing unfamiliar oriental letters.
“You know what,” said Laura, “I really feel something in here. Something like, a mystical power. I would never have come here on my own, but thank you Gladdy for bringing us here. This is really cool.”
They wandered through the alleys of the Grand Bazaar, the largest covered market in the world. The store holders charmed them into buying stuff they never knew they needed, including leather jackets, copper pots, fake designer shoes, strange lamps, and even a Turkish rug or two. But the girls always got good prices, as they bargained with the store holders they sang and danced and won the best discounts in the whole market.
Of course there were rehearsals too. They sang their number on a vast stage set up in the middle of a sports stadium. The thousands of empty seats were kind of ghostly, scarier than if they were full of people. They felt tiny as they performed their song in such a vast vacuum. Afterwards they went up to the control room while the TV producers from London played back a video of their performance, and discussed camera angles with their Turkish colleagues. Some of the cameras mounted on cranes were swooping over the top of the stage while others were zooming in close up and focussing on their faces. Arny, their manager, was pressing for them to use the close ups.
“Do you think we’ve got, like, enough stuff going off?” Asked Laura. “I mean, like the other acts have fireworks and lasers and armies of dancers. We’ve got, you know, just little old us.”
“Yeah I do think we’ve got enough ‘stuff going off’,” said Arny with a touch of tetchiness. “Our entry is about you lovely gals and the song, not about all that other razzmatazz.”
Gladys thought she understood what Arny was doing. If the girls had lots of singers and performers all around them, they could sort of hide. This way, they were in the frame, and they had to give it their all.
Then there was a press conference. It was held in a meeting room of their hotel. Four chairs were set up for the chiX behind a table with lot of microphones on it. At first, Gladys assumed that the fourth place was for Arny, but then she noticed that there was a name card on the table saying, ‘Gladys.’ Perhaps it was a mistake. There were only three sisters in the band. She was always working behind the scenes. But Mandy ushered Gladys to her place. She put her legs under the table, and blinked at the rows of journalists with notebooks on their laps, and the video cameras mounted on tripods.
The first question from a journalist was:
“Is it true that Gladys, aged 12, wrote this circus song all on her own?”
“Absolutely,” said Mandy, and the other girls all nodded. “She’s ten times smarter than the rest of us put together,” agreed Laura.
And the next question was:
“Gladys. Can you tell us a little bit about how you write your songs?”
And Gladys realised that for the first time she, and not just her sisters, was in the spotlight. Nobody had actually asked her before how she wrote her songs. She stumbled a bit. “Er, well I think of a theme, like say a circus, and then I think about some words that are about the circus but are really about, you know, relationships and that sort of stuff, because that’s what all pop songs are about really. You know, I have three older sisters so I kind of get ideas off them…”
She felt herself going bright red. She wasn’t sure why really. But afterwards everyone said that she had answered all the questions brilliantly.
“It’s a great story,” said Arny. “12 year old girl writes winning song in Eurovision…”
And now, at last, after a week of hard work and living the high life, it was Saturday night and the start of the show. The next day they would be on the flights back to London Heathrow Airport. These few hours could be the chiX last taste of fame and success.
In three and a half hours’ time the winner or winners would sing their entry one more time, and there would be tears of joy and disappointment.
The chiX sat at a table in the area cordoned off for all the singers and their entourages.
They were wearing their circus costumes, ready for their performance; Sam was a clown, Mandy a ring master, and Laura a glitzy acrobat. Around their table with them sat their backing musicians – four cool young boys who didn’t say that much, their manager, Arny, their mum and dad, and of course, Gladys.
Arny was swapping statistics with Dad. Both of them seemed to know exactly which years the UK had won the contest, or come second, and which countries generally voted for their friends. In fact, Gladys was amazed that their Dad was such an expert.
“1974, that was the year. I remember it well, when Abba won…” said Dad.
“But my favourite was 1967 when Sandie Shaw topped it with Puppet on a String,” chipped in Arny.
“Oh, I’m way too young to remember that,” claimed Dad.
The girls were more fascinated by their fellow contestants. “It’s a freaking freak show,” said Mandy.
“Yeah, have you seen the tooth fairy?” Said Laura, and she was staring at a woman from Iceland in an extremely flouncy dress.
“Hey check out Eric the Viking,” said Sam. She meant one of the contestants from Bosnia Herzegovina.
Gladys knew that sneering at all the continental contestants wasn’t in the best of taste, and given the girls were wearing circus costumes, perhaps they weren’t entirely immune from criticism themselves. But gentle sniping was their way of controlling their nerves.
The show opened with Whirling Dervishes to set the Turkish context of the final. The hosts on stage were a young man and woman, one speaking French, the other English. When the contest properly started, the crowd whooped and cheered every performance, and seemed quite non-plussed by the grandiose over-the-topness of many of the acts: stomping glam-rockers, John Travolta-style disco-dancers, women with 1980s big hair dos, various types of gypsies and folk dancers, half-dressed gladiators, men in white cat suits, numerous navels, Napoleonic soldiers playing electric guitars, leaping Cossacks, accompanied by plenty of pyrotechnics, and gales of confetti and CO2 blown by wind machines.
Only a few acts were quite restrained. The entry from France was ‘très Français,’ but sounded just like the song they did the previous year, and the year before that. A boy from Denmark strummed a guitar and sang a bouncing happy-go-lucky folk song. A homely girl sung a pretty ballad in Serbo-Croat.
According to the draw, the United Kingdom was due on stage third from the end, just after Azerbaijan. Several songs beforehand, a producer came to fetch them. Gladys stayed seated at the table while her sisters were given their last brush of face powder and the radio microphones were clipped to their costumes, before they walked out onto the stage in the arena packed with 30,000 spectators and the cameras broadcasting their images to 100 million or more viewers around the world.
[Play in sound of applause]
[PLAY IN SONG]
[End with applause]
Even the other acts were clapping wildly.
“You were fantastic,” said Arny, as the girls came back to the table, positively glowing with excitement. “You were easily the best act,” he added. And the girls were hopping up and down and kissing each other.
“But don’t get excited. My bet is that you’ll come second. Denmark’s the only one with the exact Eurovision formula.”
Gladys could see the taken aback look on her sisters’ faces.
“Well I think the chiX will win,” she said, “because the chiX were the best.”
“Well maybe you are right, and maybe you aren’t,” said Arny. “At any rate, we’ll soon find out.”
But it didn’t seem at all soon. After the last act had played out its umpa, umpa tune, there was a long wait while the various juries around Europe and a bit beyond deliberated and voted. The audience were treated to more folk dancing during the interval. Eventually the hosts appeared back on stage, and the giant screen projected the score board. Each country in turn presented its results. Latvia gave the maximum 12 points to Estonia. Russia gave 12 points to Ukraine. Ukraine returned the compliment. Cyprus voted for Greece and vice versa. But not all the voting was quite so neighbourly and predictable, and by half way through, the UK and Denmark were neck and neck in the lead. Sometimes the chiX slipped ahead, and sometimes Denmark held first place.
The camera crews were collecting around the chiX table. When Romania gave 12 points to the United Kingdom, the TV viewers saw the chiX hugging and kissing each other, when Belgium gave them “null points,” you could see them shrugging their shoulders and looking like, “Hey, whatever.” Towards the end, when it became clear that it was going to be a cliff hanger, the chiX were biting their nails and looking white and serious. The last country to vote was Slovakia. There were only two points between Britain and Denmark. This was the last and deciding vote.
“Hello Bratislava,” called the Eurovision-presenters on stage.
“Good Evening Istanbul!” Responded the Slovakian lady, who held the results in her hand. She spoke quite matter of factly.
“Here are the decisions of the Slovakian jury. Our eight points go to, United Kingdom…”
The presenter on stage translated this result into French. It could have been worse, but it could have been better. Eight points meant that the chiX were still in the running – just. Gladys was not sure whether to be relieved or nervous.
“Our ten points go to Holland.”
This result made no difference. Holland was no longer in the running to win the contest.
Now, this was the deciding moment. If Slovakia gave its 12 points to Denmark then its happy-go-lucky folk song would win the whole contest, but if it gave its 12 points to any other country, then the chiX song would be the winner. Gladys felt her heart sink. She knew it was highly unlikely that Denmark would not get any points at all from Slovakia. The odds were that Denmark was about to take the last 12 points and win the contest outright.
“And finally,” said the Slovakian lady, before pausing to savour the suspense, our 12 points go to… DENMARK!”
The audience erupted into cheers and applause. Denmark had won Eurovision. The chiX entry for the United Kingdom had come second.
The girls were trying to smile for the cameras, but there were tears in their eyes. Mum hugged each of her daughters in turn.
The cameras were only interested the runners up for a minute or two. Soon the girls were able to sit down and have a little more private commiseration. Sam was crying quite inconsolably. Laura was looking suddenly tired and quite drained. She put her all into her performance.
Dad said mournfully, “Now I know what it feels like to lose in the final of Wimbledon.”
“But at least with tennis you get another chance next year,” said Gladys. “The chiX will never get another shot at Eurovision.”
“Yeah, sorry Arny,” said Mandy, “You backed a losing horse.” But Arny didn’t look at all disappointed.
“Ah never mind all that,” he said. Everyone knows the Eurovision is a load of old cods-wallop anyway. You didn’t win, but, actually you did win. Your story has caught the public’s imagination. The press loves you, especially the angle about the school girl genius who writes the songs. I’ve got some little presents for you girls.” And he took out some papers from his briefcase.
“This,” he said, “is a draft recording contract with a top record company. They want you to do two albums. And this is a contract from another top record company. They want to sign you up for four. We’ll have to decide which one WE want to go with. Now this is from an American promoter who wants you to tour the USA. This is an invitation to appear on the Top talk show States side. This is from a publishing company that wants to ghost-write your biography. And this is from a Hollywood studio that wants an option on your life story. Oh, and this is a lady who wants a job as your Twitter secretary, and to send out your tweets on the internet… Girls, forget Eurovision. The chiX are the biggest thing since sliced bread, and you Gladys, have a massive career ahead of you in the music biz.”
And although Gladys was pleased to hear Arny’s flattering prediction, she began to wonder if a career in the music business was really what she wanted from her life.