Nostalgia: When Eurovision organisers made their mind up to hold event at Harrogate in front of 300 million viewers

Forty years ago this week, Harrogate hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. If it was a shock to everyone at the time - and it certainly was - this unlikely marketing coup for the newly-built Harrogate Convention Centre has left a glow that current staff at the venue can still feel.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 29th April 2022, 4:11 pm
Updated Friday, 29th April 2022, 4:13 pm

All these years since Harrogate surprised the world, and itself, by hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in front of 300 million TV viewers, this unlikely musical coup has once again placed the town in the media spotlight.

This week’s 40th anniversary of this seminal moment at the newly-built Harrogate International Centre has seen Harrogate grab the national headlines again - just as it did all those years ago.

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Flashback to 1982, the year Harrogate Convention Centre hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. This clipping was part of the official event programme. (Courtesy of Harrogate Convention Centre)

Now renamed Harrogate Convention Centre, the current team at the entertainments and events venue say there’s still a lingering pride of the day the world’s biggest music contest took

place in Harrogate. And it didn’t do any harm to the town’s conference trade, either.

“It is an immense source of pride for the whole town and district that Eurovision came to Harrogate in 1982,” said Harrogate Convention Centre’s marketing and PR executive Carmen Ting. “The event was the perfect showcase to open the brand-new Harrogate Convention Centre.

“The show was broadcast in 30 countries worldwide, putting our beautiful spa town on the world map and cementing Harrogate as a

conference destination.

“The Harrogate district continues to benefit from the economic impact of conference and events hosted by the venue, which amounts to £35 million in a typical year.”

Traditionally held in the country which won the preceding year’s event, the Eurovision Song Contest had been held almost entirely in capital cities since first being launched in 1956.

Brussels, Munich, Paris, London, Rome, Gothenburg, Dublin...

But Bucks Fizz’s triumphant Making Your Mind Up left British organisers with their own decision to make - where to hold it in the UK.

Normally they would have plumped for obvious locations such as London, Edinburgh or Brighton, as they had done on the seven previous occasions Britain hosted the event.

Current thinking is it was, in fact, one of the most controversial aspects of the convention centre, which helped Harrogate pull off its musical coup of the century - its very modern character.

“The decision to hold it here was probably to show the world there was life in the UK outside of London,” said Carmen.

“But it is also possible it was because the convention centre was a brand-new purpose-built venue located at the centre of the country, with an auditorium equipped with translation boxes perfect for international broadcast.”

The sort of publicity money can’t buy - as the judging began that night on Saturday, April 24, 1982 it was almost immaterial to Harrogate that Britain’s entry failed to live up to the success of Bucks Fizz.

Male/female pop music duo Bardo, pictured inset, had formed specifically for Eurovision but, in the event, their rendition of One Step Further finished in seventh - beaten by Germany’s entry, Ein Bichen Frieden (A Bit of Peace) performed by Nicole Hohloch, a 17-year-old high school student who showed off at the end by singing her winning song again in English, French, Dutch and German.

Looking back now, Sally Ann Triplett, one half of Bardo, told journalists this week one of the best things about the Eurovision Song Contest in 1982 was Harrogate itself.

“It really was extraordinary. When we arrived at our hotel in Harrogate the buzz for us was incredible,” Ms Triplett told BBC News.

“I have such a soft spot for Harrogate. Looking back, what a great idea it was to do it in Harrogate. It was a beautiful place to go to.”

Nowadays, Harrogate has grown accustomed to being in the spotlight.

But, 40 years ago, such was the town’s obscurity as a destination, the BBC’s coverage of the live event began by posing a simple but important question in the language of each participating country: “Where is Harrogate?”

By the end of the night everyone across Europe knew the answer - and the impact is still being felt today.