Image Credit: BBC
With the United Kingdom being announced as the host country for Eurovision 2023 and Sam Ryder’s sensational performance of ‘Space Man’ in Turin still heavily prevalent in the public and fans’ minds months on from the contest, it’s hard to envision the UK going back to being deemed ‘dead on arrival’.
This wasn’t the case even in 2003 when Jemini was chosen to head to Riga to perform ‘Cry Baby’. They were 6th in the odds, and after Jessica Garlick had given the UK a glimmer of hope in 2002 when ‘Come Back’ finished in 3rd place, 2003 should’ve once again shown that the UK were still a threat in the contest
Instead, 2003 began a run of bad results, changing attitudes, more vitriolic and harsh commentary from Terry Wogan and the UK failing for the next 19 years to really find its lane in modern Eurovision.
But where did it all go so wrong? And how did ‘Cry Baby’ become the nail in the coffin that sealed the UK’s Eurovision fate for 19 years? In this article, we’ll explore the timeline of the UK before, during and after Eurovision 2003, and assess the ever-lasting impacts of getting ‘nil points’ in Eurovision for the United Kingdom.
Entering The 2000’s
Every country has to start somewhere with a run of bad results. With all 5 wins coming across 4 decades, 15-second places and countless top 5 results under their belt in the contest from 1957-1999, the UK should’ve headed into the 2000s on a high. With a strong music industry throughout the 1990s producing global stars such as Take That, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls and Oasis along with more local/European stars that would be more “suited” to Eurovision such as S Club 7 and Steps on the scene, the UK knew how to produce great songs and artists. Eurovision had at that point already launched global stars such as ABBA (Sweden – 1974, winners), Olivia Newton-John (UK – 1974, 4th place), Celine Dion (Switzerland – 1988, winner), as well as more national talents like Lulu (1969, winner), Bucks Fizz (1981, winners) and Michael Ball (1991, 2nd place). Therefore, Eurovision shouldn’t be seen as a death sentence for your career – especially as it began to grow in viewership and in participants.
The 2000s didn’t start off great. Nicki French placed 16th with ‘Don’t Play That Song Again’ – the lowest ever placing UK entry at the time, which was then followed up by Linday Dracass in 2001, who came 15th with ‘No Dream Impossible’. Whilst countries such as Denmark, Latvia and Estonia had found themselves becoming more and more successful, both the UK and Ireland – who’d dominated the contest in the previous decade – began to see their fortunes in the contest slip.
That was until 2002, Jessica Garlick, fresh off of Pop Idol, took the UK back to the top 3 with her ballad ‘Come Back’, proving that the UK weren’t ready to commit to a decade of poor showings. Heading into 2003, the pride Jessica had given the nation was ready to show itself again for the chosen 2003 contestant, which was once again to be chosen via the national selection A Song For Europe.
A Song For Europe 2003
A Song For Europe returned in 2003 for its final edition (under that title). It consisted of a semi-final on BBC Radio 2 and a Final on BBC1 where the 4 semi-final qualifiers would compete to represent the UK.
Song submissions opened on September 20th 2002 and remained open until November 18th 2002. 700 songs were submitted, up 150 from 2002. To submit a song, you had to pay £110, but if you were under 17, the submission fee was under £20. These 700 songs were then whittled down to a 20-song shortlist by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA). This shortlist was then reviewed by a professional panel consisting of BBC representatives, BASCA, and music industry experts, with 8 songs being selected to become semi-finalists.
The semi-final took place from January 27th – January 30th 2003, where all 8 selected songs were played on BBC Radio 2. Ken Bruce and Terry Wogan hosted this show, and over 30,000 votes were cast.
These were the competing entries:
|Ben Plus One
|Rainy Day In Summer
|Do Anything For Your Love
|Ever Since That Night
The songs that didn’t qualify are all available to listen to on YouTube – just click the titles in the table above to listen.
The selection wasn’t smooth sailing from the very beginning. Esther Hart, originally from The Netherlands, who qualified for the final, withdrew to take part in the Dutch Nationaal Songfestival 2003 which she then went on to win. At Eurovision, Esther’s song ‘One More Night’ ended in 13th place.
After withdrawing, Esther was replaced briefly by United Colours Of Sound (the backing singers for Jessica Garlick in 2002), who then also withdrew. Eventually, Simon Chapman stood in for both artists, with ‘Wait For The Moment’ being rewritten and re-named to ‘Now and Forever’.
Tricity, a 3 piece band, became Jemini (a play on “Gem and I” according to band member Chris – Gem being his singing partner Gemma) after the third member of the group decided to leave.
The BBC1 Final took place on March 2nd 2003, hosted by Terry Wogan. Jemini performed first, and it’s not hard to see why they won. They only really had competition from Emily Reed, as both Mimi and Simon Champman struggled to hit their notes live – something that seemed to be a running theme with the UK in 2003.
The show featured a regional panel – which was represented by celebrities – who were there purely to announce each region’s votes, even if they themselves had no connection to that region. The regions were split between the North, South, Midlands, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and each gave 12, 10 and 9 points to their top 3. The show was 40 minutes long in total, and all four finalists performed in quick succession. Jemini were the only act to be formally announced by Terry before performing. The first voting recap took place just 18 minutes into the show. The lines were also open for only 10 minutes. The rest of A Song For Europe revolved around the regional panel, reflecting on 2002 and the voting sequence. You can watch the entire show below.
Over 100,000 people voted in the final. During the voting, Jemini received four sets of 12 points, with only the Midlands and Southern England giving 12 to Emily Reed instead. At the end of the voting, only 4 points separated Jemini (68 points) and Emily (64 points). Mimi finished in 3rd, and Simon Chapman received 0 points, finishing last. This meant Jemini were off to Eurovision, which may not have been the wisest choice on reflection. Emily did get to go to Eurovision in 2006 as one of the backing singers for Daz Sampson.
Back in the early 2000s, the BBC produced a show called Liquid Eurovision. It was presented by Lorraine Kelly and acted as a preview show for the contest. It featured multiple guests from British TV like Claudia Winkleman, Lionel Blair and Joe Mace as well as former Eurovision contestants such as Sonja (UK 1993), Gina G (UK 1996), Linda Martin (Ireland 1991) and Sestre (Slovenia 2002). The show also had an expert in the form of Liam Jarnecki. Much of the preview shows included opinions on the other songs, with most of the guests focusing more on the appearance of the singer’s bodies than the actual songs themselves.
Before the show, Sonja, Gina and Jessica were all on the show for the review of ‘Cry Baby’. Both Gina and Jessica liked the song:
I really like this one [..] its really grown on me in the last couple of days. It’s a bit of a rip off, I must say – a bit of *NSync ‘bye, bye baby bye bye’, and I don’t like that, but saying that I think it’s got a good chance now.Gina G, Liquid Eurovision
I think they’re really strong performers, they’re gonna go out there and give it their all aren’t they. I mean vocally they’re fantastic, they’re just gonna go out and have a really good time.Jessica Garlick, Liquid Eurovison
‘I Know You’re Looking For Something Else’ – The Infamous Eurovision Performace
At Eurovision, which was that year hosted in Riga, Latvia thanks to Marie N’s ‘I Wanna’ winning the 2002 contest, all eyes were on Jemini. The duo were said by commentator Terry Wogan during the final to have had some trouble with the foreign press due to their strong scouse accents. After a good performance at the national final and strong acoustic performance prior to the contest, there weren’t many concerns about their vocals – the rehearsals had gone well and were said to be improving each time.
On the night of May 24th 2003, it was time for ‘Cry Baby’ to hit the stage. It was drawn to be performed after The Netherlands and before Ukraine, who that year made their debut in the contest. The crowd cheered, and the guitar intro began. All was well…until Gemma began to sing.
The vocals were completely out of tune, and you could tell that the nerves hit straight away. From then on, there was no going back – the hopes of another successful Eurovision result for the UK were over. As Gemma had the entire first verse and pre-chorus, as well as the lead in the chorus, the vocals remained shaky, off-key and unstable until Chris started his verse. Chris wasn’t that bad, and the energy he was throwing into it almost appeared as if he was trying to salvage the performance. Paired with the simple yet unneeded choreography & completely mismatched outfits, there was no hope for the UK. Multiple anecdotes from people who watched the show as it aired have all been in a similar vein – the shock at what was being displayed on stage was just astounding. For a country that had such a strong music industry and a plethora of talent available from TV Singing contests that produced – at the time – stars such as Will Young, Gareth Gates and Girls Aloud, Jemini were not at all the best display of what the country had to offer – and it showed in the voting.
The 2003 Eurovision voting is one of the closest races in history, with the winner being decided by the final votes given. Turkey’s Sertab Erener took the trophy to Istanbul with ‘Every Way That I Can’, beating 2nd place ‘Sanomi’ by Belgium’s Urban Triad by just 2 points. In 3rd, 3 points behind the winner, were international stars t.A.T.u, who gave Russia another great result despite an unimpressive vocal performance of ‘Ne ver’, ne boysia’ & controversial run during the contests build up.
Jemini however finished at the other end of the board, with the infamous “nil points”. This was the first time in the 2000s that this happened and remained the only time up until Austria & Germany’s double 0’s in 2015. It was the first time the UK had ever come last, the first time the UK got 0 points, and the worst UK result in history at that time – previously this was 16th, which was achieved in 2000. It remained the only time the UK ever received 0 points in Eurovision until James Newman 18 years later in 2021. UK commentator Terry Wogan said after the voting:
I hate to say it but the United Kingdom got 0, I think that’s the first time we’ve ever got a big fat 0 […] I think that’s a little bit tough on Jemini – they sang very well they performed very well, they did not deserve to get 0 points but I think as I say there is an element of political voting going on here.Terry Wogan, UK Commentator 1971-2008
The “political voting” of 2003 was blamed for the result instantly instead of the performance. In 2003, the biggest excuse used was that Europe punished the UK for their involvement in the Iraq war, which began on March 20th 2003 – spearheaded by the USA & UK. Terry Wogan also blamed this after the contest saying it was ‘Post-Iraq backlash’. Despite ending in 2011, this excuse is still used to explain away poor results by more casual Eurovision viewers, because they refuse to recognise that whilst yes, there are political undertones to votes and neighbourly voting in Eurovision, people don’t actually use Eurovision to make a political statement as often as many like to believe – Russia won in 2008, Azerbaijan won in 2012, Israel won in 2018 – these countries consistently do well in the contest – which, if European viewers of the contest were to be so politically minded, wouldn’t happen if anti-country voting took place.
The final 2003 edition of Liquid Eurovision was broadcast directly after the contest. Guests Joe Mace, Liam Jarnecki, Lionel Blair, Jessica Garlick, Carrie Grant and Scott Henshall gave their opinions on the show, as well as that performance from Jemini. Jemini also featured live from the arena directly after the contest ended to give their take on the result. They were first spoken to backstage just after Sertab had done her winners reprise, saying:
Well what can we can we say, you know what I mean? We didn’t deserve to come last, we didn’t deserve “nul points” but you know obviously that’s the way it goes and we’re still gonna fly the flag for Great Britain. Sorry guys but you know we give it our best shot and the singles out on Monday. (Chris)
We did our best that’s all we could’ve done and look whats happened, there you go. We give it everything – all our energy, even the last 3 years we give it our energy to get to this point and this is what’s happened. Think what you will of the conclusion but there you go (Gemma)Jemini, Liquid Eurovision…A Little Bit More
They also caught up with Jemini at the afterparty, where they appeared slightly more deflated, but still in good spirits:
Sadly, things haven’t ended up the way we wanted them to, we are a bit sad but you know, still proud to be British and we’re still gonna be coming home smiling and we give it our best shot what else can we say? Even from Terry Wogan, everyone across the board is so surprised, I just expect everyone’s faces in Britain now to be (looks shocked) “oh my god”. Every step of the way we’ve had a ball, we’ve had a laugh it’s been fantastic being here anyway. (Chris)
We’ve spoken to everyone back home and everyone’s shocked just as much as me and Chris are shocked and everyone else who’s here but get on with it smile, enjoy yourselves. (Gemma)Jemini, Liquid Eurovision…A Little Bit More
On Liquid Eurovision, Joe Mace called it ‘post UK backlash’ and was extremely harsh towards the winner Turkey:
Gutted, absolutely gutted. It’s like a performance from a Las Vegas casino as far as I’m concerned. Her gimmick was this, you know toilet roll wrapped round her, unwrapped like an Andrex puppy, sang like a strangled dog I don’t know, it’s obviously some post-UK backlash going on. Fair do’s to her she’s a big star in Turkey and obviously that’s paid off […] I’d have rather Belgium won […] I didn’t see this as a Eurovision winner at all.
It’s a new start, it’s a new dawn [for the UK], they’ve done that deliberatley I think somehow, there’s someone up there that’s made that happen, so that next year we’ll come back bigger and better. I don’t think we should be down, [we] should be having a party, look at them [Jemini] they’re flying the flag.Joe Mace, Liquid Eurovision…A Little Bit More
Carrie Grant was glad ‘Every Way That I Can’ won, as it was more contemporary and moved the contest in the right direction. She was critical of the UK’s process in choosing artists, and said that it needs to be looked at:
I think that Britain really does need to seriously look at how we choose the artists, because that was not a bad song. It was sung awfully, I mean particularly the girl was just was so out of tune. We have to have singers that can actually cut it live, that has gotta be an absolute pre-requisite for representing your country really.
I think that it’s very easy for us to make the excuse that it’s a political reason why they didn’t get points but actually, those vocals were really bad […] in fact in the chorus she [Gemma] she went and sang the backing vocals harmony, she couldn’t remember the melody. We have to get good singers first of all, secondly they have to have enough rehearsals so you don’t make those kind of mistakes it’s not like a big number like Jess had last year with big notes in this is a simple song to sing.Carrie Grant, Liquid Eurovision…A Little Bit More
Other comments made in the show included accusing Turkey of ripping off ‘Kiss Kiss’ by Holly Valance, which itself was a cover of Turkish singer Tarkan’s ‘Şımarık‘, and suggestions that if Russia could send t.A.T.u, why couldn’t the UK send Robbie Williams or Kylie Minogue.
Liam Jarnecki, the Eurovision expert of the show, even in 2003 expressed the need for a change in attitude towards the contest – which, unfortunately, only got worse after the failure of ‘Cry Baby’:
I think we’re all going to be very depressed because we can’t pretend it hasn’t happened. It doesn’t mean they didn’t get any phone calls though, it just means they weren’t in the top 10 so there could’ve been tens of thousands of phone calls coming in across Europe for them but not actually translating into any points. They could’ve been 13th, 14th, 15th maybe lower, it’s a bit disappointing but it’s not the first country ever to get 0, it’s the first time we’ve ever done it, people won’t be suprised to hear that’s our least successful ever performance in Eurovision, we’ve never been last.
Actually the last 5 years, with the honourable exception of Jessica Garlick who was, of course, fabulous and came 3rd, we have done really really badly the United Kingdom, and maybe it is time for us to address the way we look at the contest.Liam Jarnecki, Liquid Eurovision…A Little Bit More
Where Are Jemini Now?
After Eurovision, their planned album was scrapped, they were dropped from their label and the group spilt. ‘Cry Baby’ however charted for three weeks peaking at 15th.
In relation to Eurovision, they appeared on the BBC’s show ‘How To Win Eurovision’, which featured past artists, comedians and commentators talking about Eurovision’s history in the lead-up to the 2013 contest. They only appeared for the segment about their performance, in which Gemma was a lot more willing to continue to defend what they did than Chris, who just outright admitted that the performance was bad. Here’s what they had to say:
We didn’t do the gimmick thing, we just thought that we had a strong song, thought we could deliver a strong vocal. You’ve got so much adrenaline running through your system, you seem to forget a lot of what’s actually happening. (Chris)
I knew it wasn’t right when the song started but when you’re on stage in front of however many million people, we were just trying to pull it back as much as we could. All the performance wasn’t bad, it was just mainly that beginning bit and then we were fighting against it then. [We were] the only country in the whole of the competition who didn’t have in-ear monitors. t.A.T.u were completely out of tune right the way through not just in the start, the track they sent out was wrong so we were doomed. (Gemma)Jemini , How To Win Eurovision
They appeared on a Eurovision special of Pointless Celebrities in 2014, and have done further interviews since, but as of recent they don’t seem to be active as a duo They were referenced in You Decide 2019, albeit not positively, during Måns Zelmerlöw’s interval looking back over former UK entries.
Outside of Eurovision, the pair have left the commercial music industry. Chris still releases music on SoundCloud, where he has released an album. His main job is, as of 2021, the Global Retail Operations Manager at Ted Baker, where he has worked since 2004. He spoke of Eurovision in 2009 to the Liverpool Echo, saying:
The hall it was held in wasn’t a music stadium, it was a sports hall, so it wasn’t somewhere which usually holds concerts.
The monitors weren’t working, Gemma couldn’t hear herself, so she was out of tune.
The BBC blamed our management and our management blamed the BBC.Chris Cromby, Liverpool Echo
Gemma started her own make-up business in 2010 and went on to study journalism at Liverpool University in 2014, stating that she aims to become a ‘nice’ journalist.
As one half of pop duo ‘Jemini’, we infamously received the dreaded “nul points” out in Latvia (the first time a UK entry had failed to register a single vote) and I found myself at the centre of a media frenzy. With the international press sharing their opinions on Jemini across both news networks and national newspapers – despite a top 20 hit under our belts – we still received profoundly negative articles, and eye-catching front page news headlines written about us.
Some may question my reasoning behind seeking a career in journalism, especially having suffered at the hands of journalists.
Following the ego battering of 2003, I have since taken a greater interest in the way in which the press works and the tools and methods in which the media use in getting news stories across.Gemma Abbey, JMU Journalism
In 2016, Gemma was handed a 30-week suspended prison sentence for tax fraud, after claiming £52,000 in benefits since 2009. Since then, she has kept a relatively low profile.
How Did Jemini Impact The UK
Jemini’s impact on the UK in Eurovision was catastrophic. It paved the way for the political voting excuses to gain more and more traction, it saw the BBC focus on “has-been” talent or safe songs instead of really finding their stride, and has remained a huge part of media and casual fans attitudes who run with the ‘will the UK get zero points again? We always get zero!’ comments every year – even prior to James Newman’s 2021 repeat of the result.
For 18 years, the United Kingdom only reached the top 15 three times, top 10 twice and top 5 once – a country once known as a Eurovision powerhouse fell behind the likes of Sweden, Greece, Ukraine, Russia and Azerbaijan due to it’s uninspired picks for entries, failed and repeated national final formats that didn’t work, and artists that had never had a hit/hadn’t had a hit pre-2000. Jemini should’ve been the first, and only, time that the BBC ever looked to pick inexperienced performers who weren’t used to the stage or TV. Obviously, there is no bigger stage than the Eurovision Song Contest, and you’d be hard pressed to find an artist who is 100% ready to perform in front of such a huge crowd not only in the arena, but also on TV – even Madonna struggled as the interval in 2019 – but you can find people with some experience no matter how big or small. This comes down to the BBC entirely, and we’ve seen how the effects of lacking experience have caused artists like James Newman & Michael Rice to remove all traces of Eurovision from their social media and see singers like Jemini fail to live up to expectations because of the weight on their shoulders to deliver a good result for their country.
Between 2004-2015, the UK only received a combined 468 points (only 2 more points than Sam Ryder got overall in 2022), and after the new systems introduction in 2016, between then and 2021 only 232 points have been achieved – almost half of which come from Lucie Jones’ 111 points in 2017.
Since Jemini, and before Sam Ryder, the average place for the UK in Eurovision between 2004-2021 was around 20th, with 10 bottom 5 placings – four of which were last. For contrast, the lowest ever UK placing from 1957-1999 was 13th of 22 with “Only The Light” by Rikki in 1987.
If you were to ask a casual Brit what UK entry they remember most, they’d probably say Jemini. Despite it being 19 years since the 2003 contest, the performance and its result has stuck in people’s minds so much – even for those who weren’t even born, or aware enough to remember 2003. It’s regularly referenced and seen to be the “standard” of the UK in the contest to this day. After Jemini, UK entries became less serious – whilst James Fox respectably managed 16th in 2004 with his acoustic ballad “Hold On To Our Love”, Daz Sampson (2006), Scooch (2007), Andy Abraham (2008), Josh Dubovie (2010) and Electro Velevet (2015) were not taken seriously, and the entries between and after them such as Javine (2005), Molly (2014), Joe & Jake (2016) and SuRie (2018) were just safe bets – especially those that came late into the 2010s. The BBC settled for mediocrity, and never showed any signs of wanting more success.
Ultimately the blame comes back on Jemini – after all, they did go out and give one of the most out-of-tune performances in the history of the contest – but at the end of the day, the blame lies at the BBCs door and their refusal to pick it back up has meant the reflection on Gemma and Chris has become far worse than if the BBC could’ve returned to their 90s glory, leaving Jemini as a mistake in the past. Gemma and Chris were not ready for that stage, and that was the fault of the BBC. Giving people new experiences in the industry is excellent, but maybe Eurovision isn’t the right place for an artist to give their first ever performance on TV in front of 200+ million people across Europe.
Repeating History With James Newman
For the UK in the years following, nothing really seemed to make much of a buzz aside from 2009 and 2011 results-wise, and 2014 and 2017 odds and hype-wise. The BBC decided to change their tactics after the failure and outrage over their selection of Electro Velvet in 2015, with You Decide – which ran for 4 editions before the BBC reverted back to an internal selection for 2020 after Michael Rice failed to deliver in Tel Aviv, placing last – saved by the new system, as under the pre-2016 system he’d have gotten 0 too.
However, the new system couldn’t save James Newman in 2021. Originally selected to take part in the 2020 edition with ‘My Last Breath’ before it’s cancellation, James was re-selected to take part in 2021 with ‘Embers’. The BBC selected James in collaboration with record label BMG, who were partnering with the BBC to find an entry to begin an “exciting new chapter” for the UK in Eurovision.
Long story short, it didn’t. After a disastrous reaction to the staging (polystyrene trumpets are still questioned), and James’ failure to be able to provide a live, solid vocal on the night, the UK’s fate was sealed. In 2021, under a new system designed to stop a country from crashing and burning in the contest with 0 points, James Newman did the unimaginable – and got 0 from both the televote and the jury. Even though he had a great reaction to the result, 2021 came with outcries from fans for the BBC to just do anything to get the UK to at least the top 20. ‘Embers’ was for younger Eurofans what ‘Cry Baby’ was for the older fans – an out of tune performance, sang by an inexperienced performer(s), with bad staging and costumes.
Nineteen Years Later: From 0 to 466
Coming off the back of 0 points isn’t easy, and many expected the BBC to follow the 2003-2004 model – select a mediocre, inoffensive track that does a decent placing and then regress back to their old ways. That, however, was utterly wrong. The BMG collaboration had ended, and now TaP Music- a management company for artists such as Lana Del Rey and Dua Lipa – were trying their luck at helping the BBC find something credible – and they did just that.
Sam Ryder, a singer who found international fame on TikTok, became the 2022 entrant for the UK with ‘Space Man’. Unlike what we’ve seen in the past, Sam was given creative control from the start and to the end, and turned everything around for the UK.
The UK went from last in 2021 with the jury, to first in 2022, and 5th with the televote – placing 2nd overall. Due to this – and with Ukraine unable to host despite ‘Stefania’ storming to victory with the biggest televote score in history – the United Kingdom will now take the reigns and stage the contest in 2023.
20 years will have passed since 2003 when the UK hold the contest, and the idea that in 2003 this would be a possibility would be completely unthinkable. The UK may not have won the contest in 2022 but due to the BBC realising what they need to do in Eurovision propelling them to 2nd and giving them hosting rights, it’s given UK fans hope that they won’t be back in a 2003 or 2021 situation again. The entry in 2023 is still yet to be known, but hopefully, this really will have been the end of the “Jemini curse”, and the UK will return to the glory they had before Chris and Gemma stepped foot on stage in Riga.