The gulf between the Britain projected to the world during the incredible London 2012 Olympics and the current pre-Brexit model could not be wider. But this weekend’s inevitable bad showing for the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest should not be used as a barometer of how much ‘Brand Britain’ has been impacted in the last 11 months.
Theresa May went on BBC’s The One Show this week. When quizzed on this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest she commented: “Although I'm tempted to say in current circumstances I'm not sure how many votes we'll get.”
I can tell her now – not many. But Eurovision is the wrong barometer, because the UK never does well. Where nul points for the UK at Eurovision is neither here nor there - our significant musical contribution to the world needs no introduction - for many countries, Eurovision is a massive platform.
In 1998, Birmingham hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. I remember it well because I went to it! Birmingham hosted because the year before, Katrina and the Waves had won the competition. It was 1997, and the young, Europhile Tony Blair had just entered Number 10 and Britpop was at its peak. Britain had soft power and Europe loved us for it. A catchy, positive song helped.
The UK has not won it since – even in 2013 in the afterglow of the successful Olympics. There are a number of reasons for this, particularly in the way Eurovision has expanded and absorbed new countries, which has led to neighbours voting in blocs.
Just ask the Russians.
The true barometer of Brand Britain’s perception will lie beyond the annual shoeing at Eurovision.
I asked a Viennese colleague of mine at Mash PR for an Austrian viewpoint. “Opinion is split but on the whole the UK has been downgraded from the value brand it once was,” she told me.
Data from the British Council supports the viewpoint that perceptions of Britain have been damaged among younger Europeans since the EU Referendum last June, while in the rest of the world the perception has improved.
In 2015, the UK topped the world’s ‘soft power’ list, replaced by the US last year. That was pre-Trump, so we may well see another change at the top this year.
There’s a debate going on right now as to where Brexit leaves Brand Britain’s identity, but for me, for Brand Britain to recover - especially among Europeans - the country needs to be truly global in outlook, not just commercially but culturally too.
But on Saturday evening, as the UK entry flounders in the Eurovision table hoping on points from Ireland and Malta to rescue it from bottom place, people will tweet frantically that #Brexit is to blame. It’s not, but it certainly doesn’t help.