To the victor, the spoils.
And all Hartlepool’s Michael Rice really really wanted in the wake of his victory in last night’s Eurovision You Decide was a crisp sandwich. He absolutely loves ’em.
The 21-year-old was presented to assorted Eurovision fans and bloggers last night in a suite a few floors up from the studio in Salford’s MediaCity UK where about 20 minutes earlier his version of the her-yooge gospel anthem Bigger Than Us was announced as the public choice to go forth for le Royaume Uni at the 64th Contest in Tel Aviv in May. You could safely say he was chuffed.
“I was never expecting it, honestly,” he told interviewer Mans Zelmerlow. “I thought Kerrie-Anne was gonna win it to be fair. Even from that second [when the announcement began]I just thought ‘she’s got it’ and then when they called me name, I was like ‘oh my god!’.”
Our boy in Israel is a very likeable chap. Unassuming, honest, humble and just the sort of everyman a world can get along with (could this be just the ace up its sleeve a post-Brexit UK needs on an international stage?), one of the biggest things on his mind during his light grilling was that he still hadn’t had a chance to speak to his mam after a brief whirlwind of reprises, press shots and now winding through the rabbit warren of Dock 10 Studios to chat with a gaggle of loyal Eurovisionistas.
“I felt like I just had to go out there tonight and perform.” he says in a discussion of his tactics for the show. “This is for our country and I had to show that I could do it.
“I think the new format [with two versions of the same song]was good. People have different tastes so it gave people a different like, genre and variety of what could be taken to Eurovision. Me and Holly [Tandy, the other performer of Bigger Than Us] have become best, best friends. We’re going to do a duet of our song and she’s been lovely. I’ve said I’ll get her tickets to Tel Aviv, she has to come!
“It’s a really big powerful song and that’s the kind of stuff I’d sing. That gospel choir and the lightning on the stage and everything, it just looked so good so I can only imagine what it will look like at Eurovision. “
Eurovision 2015 winner Mans, certainly earning his fee after an evening of presenting, singing and having to do two takes of a pre-recorded homage to the UK’s Contest glory years after his pants fell down in the first run (not that most of the audience minded), noted similarities to Lewis Capaldi and James Arthur in Michael’s delivery. Michael agrees. “Yeh, definitely. me mam’s James Arthur’s biggest fan!”
His mam is also someone he’s shared Eurovision night with over the years. He remembers: “It’s always been on in the front room. I really like [Portugal’s 2017 champ] Salvador and I’ve said from the beginning I just think, how he just stood there and just sang. Everyone else had big songs and was dance-y and he stood there and even though it was in a different language and I didn’t understand what he was saying, he won everyone over. I remember watching Netta last year as well. You just don’t know what’s going to come out do you, the next person.What are they going to sing, who are they going to be like but Netta was just like the most outrageous performance but the best one. I love ABBA too.”
Although both Michael and his song were largely lauded by the panel of Rylan Clark-Neal, Mollie King and Marvin Humes during the big decider, there were some comments about his choreography which he was happy to address while discussing the staging for Tel Aviv. Basically, he doesn’t know yet (which is fair enough, he’d only found out he was going half an hour earlier). “I want to make this the biggest production I possibly can,” he grins. “Hopefully, I can have fire and smoke and a choir! Nah, I’m dreamin’… it’ll end up being just me on stage on my own but hopefully we can make it the biggest performance we can for the UK.”
Not that there was anything small about the performance of Bigger Than Us in Salford. At one stage, Michael was giving it so much welly, he thought his blazer was going to rip. “It was dead tight! I thought, ‘it’s going to rip any minute and I’m going to crouch down and my trousers are going to split! It went really well though and I can’t wait to watch it back and see what I did.
“I believe in this song,” he adds. “One hundred per cent. I think it’s incredible and it might just be a ballad but that song has got a big message and I can’t wait to perform it and show the rest of the world what the song’s all about, really.”
As far as Michael is concerned, the 99 days between You Decide and the final in Tel Aviv will be chock-a-block with rehearsals and a promo trail he’s really looking forward to as besides everything else, he’s rarely been abroad. There’s even the possibility of a Eurovision logo being added to his collection of tattoos. The family’s waffle and crepe shop may just introduce a Eurovision-themed filling to the menu and there’s a strong possibility he will ditch the blazer that caused him those wee onstage niggles. Otherwise, he sounds ready. He sounds raring. He sounds as though he can’t wait to be Contest ready. And he’s unequivocally earned that crisp butty, hopefully served with a flute of champagne.
“I definitely think you have a really good chance,” Mans says at one point, completely unprompted. And a winner, you can argue, should know. After so many years in the Euro wilderness, could we finally be on the cusp of something? Only three months ’til we find out.