“It's amazing how in less than three minutes, one performance, your life can change forever”
As the iconic music city of Liverpool prepares to host the Eurovision Song Contest, Saturday 13th May, ICE 36 sat down with Eurovision royalty, Cheryl Baker, to discuss her experiences performing at the contest – twice – winning it in 1981 with Bucks Fizz, that iconic skirt-ripping routine and her career as a pop star.
Tell us about your Eurovision experience?
Eurovision has been my life ever since I was in the music industry. Within months of joining my first band – Co-Co – I did the Song for Europe (the competition for a place in the contest), which I did seven times. I did Eurovision twice (with Co-Co in 1978 and Bucks Fizz in 1981).
Were there any differences between performing in 1978 with Co-Co and with Bucks Fizz in 1981?
There was a massive difference between competing with Co-Co and Bucks Fizz. When I was there with Co-Co in ’78 performing The Bad Old Days in Paris, we were tipped to win and we finished eleventh, which was the worst the UK had ever done in the competition at that time. I felt animosity from the other artists.
When we came off stage, into the green room, as you leave the stage and walk through the arena, you would usually be applauded by the other artists – we got nothing. I thought that was really weird – they either hated us or it was a really poor performance.
Fast-forward three years and going back with Bucks Fizz, it was amazing. It was in Ireland and the Irish know how to have a great time – the atmosphere was completely different to Paris. Everyone was cheering each other on and we got on really well with the Irish contingent.
It was fantastic. It had always been my dream as a child to perform on the Eurovision stage. To do it in ’78 and to lose, it was quite a dark time in my life. I wouldn’t say that I was depressed, but I was down and so unhappy – it was my dream and we had done the worst ever. I felt like I had let the Queen down.
To go back on that stage three years later and win, getting the complete opposite reaction and experiencing the complete opposite in terms of my emotions, it was phenomenal. The comparison is chalk and cheese. The ’81 experience, not just because we won, was such a fantastic experience compared to Paris. The fact that we won was the cherry on top.
Tell us about the iconic choreography from your contest-winning performance from in 1981 – who came up with the idea and how much of an impact do you think the routine had on your success?
The impact of the choreography was huge! We had a fantastic choreographer – Chrissie Wickham from Hot Gossip – and she came up with the idea. We had the dance routine mapped out and then we had the conversation about the costumes. Everyone was in the room, Nicola, who put the band together, Gill our manager, someone from the record company.
We were all discussing what costumes we should wear for the performance. Nicola wanted us in bright colours, so that is where the green, yellow, blue and red came from. I always had chunky thighs because I’ve always been a bit of a runner, so I said a swing skirt would be best if we did a little rock n’ roll bit because the song was a bit rock-a-billy and there was a rock n’ roll dance in the middle.
I thought having that swing skirt would look amazing when we swung around, with skirt flying everywhere. Jay, who is petit and still is to this day, she wanted to wear a mini skirt, which I didn’t think was right. We were all saying our piece and this conversation was going on and on and on. It was Chrissie who said, “on the line ‘do you wanna see some more’ we’ll tear off the top skirt and have the mini skirt underneath.” It was a stroke of genius. I honestly believe that without that we wouldn’t have won the Eurovision.
Following Eurovision, you had tremendous success with Bucks Fizz scoring three UK number 1’s, selling 15 million records and touring the world. Were you prepared for the mania that greeted the group following Eurovision?
Not in the slightest! When you’re thrown in the deep end, you sink or swim don’t you? Thankfully, we were all pretty strong swimmers. The only one who struggled was Jay because she was nineteen when we did Eurovision. I think mentally, it was probably tougher for Jay, plus in those days, she kept herself to herself.
She didn’t have the same camaraderie with the other members. I was really great mates with Mike Nolan. Bobby was alright – he was a tea drinking man’s man. Jay was left on her own a lot. Thinking back, I wish we had had a better relationship. I was twenty-seven and she was nineteen, and at that age, that’s a big difference.
I’d been in the business for a few years by this point, I had experience gigging, obviously had done Eurovision before. I think Jay may have suffered more from loneliness and she may look on that period differently to me and Mike, we had a great time.
We travelled all over the world. The day after we won, we went straight on tour across Europe and then onto Australia. We did the World Popular Song Festival in Japan and won the Best Song award with Another Night. It was amazing! Everything that was happening to us was wonderful.
We went over to blimmin’ Rio, sat on a beach singing If You Can’t Stand the Heat (laughs). I’m sat on the beach, watching all these beautiful bodies going by thinking what’s happened (laughs). We were thrown on the rollercoaster immediately and we didn’t have time to think about it.
We did enjoy it. I’m thankful that Mike and I struck up such a great friendship, that there was someone in the band to have a laugh with and we did laugh a lot.
Tell us what it was like to win the competition?
Winning the competition was more than the icing on the cake – it’s the biggest explosion of emotions that any musician could possibly have. To win the biggest musical event in the world is just phenomenal. Words can’t explain how massive it was in my life and how it changed my life.
It's amazing how in less than three minutes, one performance, your life can change forever.
What effect has Eurovision had on your life?
Eurovision opened many doors and winning it made me a household name. For me, it’s been phenomenal. It has made my life a success and I have loved every bit of it. To go on Top of the Pops with a number one record, and that only happened because we won the Eurovision song contest, was incredible.
I have had nothing but positive things happen to me because I was part of Eurovision. To be invited to perform on Top of the Pops Christmas Special, where only that year’s highest selling artists performed, that was huge for us and for me. It just confirmed that you’ve been really successful that year and all of that success was because of Eurovision. My whole experience of Eurovision and competition within the music industry has been positive. I can’t think of any negatives. I had such a great career because of the Eurovision song contest.
I ended up marrying Steve Stroud, who we gigged with (he was part of Bucks Fizz’ backing band) and we had two fantastic children. I live in the wonderful house that I am in now because of Eurovision, so there are no negatives, only positives. I thank goodness for that song, that day and Nicola Martin choosing me to be in Bucks Fizz.
Are there any rivalries with fellow pop-stars from back in the day that you would like to share with us?
The record label always used to release a single every three months. Everyone that did Top of the Pops with us, The Human League, Shaking Stevens, I mean there were loads, but we always seemed to be competing with them. You’d really hope that your single did better than theirs.
There was a rivalry, but it was a friendly rivalry. They were our mates. When we do revival festivals now, we get to see all our old mates again and we have a great laugh. To think that we’re still doing it, more than forty years on…it’s amazing.
Who was the biggest diva that you ever encountered in the pop world?
Apart from Mike Nolan (laughs). I don’t know really. I mean we’re all just people, ordinary people in an extraordinary business. Shirley Bassey, she was a diva, but everyone was really lovely. There wasn’t anyone that I thought I don’t want to see them again, they’re up their own backside – I never thought that once. I think we were all really happy to be doing what we’re doing.
If you could have a dream collaboration with another artist past or present, who would it be?
I don’t even have to think twice about that, it’s James Taylor. I adore James Taylor and I would do anything to be one of his backing singers, although I don’t think that is ever going to happen! James Taylor without question.