WRONG songs, wrong singers and a little bit of politics. Those are the three reasons the UK has not won the Eurovision Song Contest for 17 years and ended up last on three occasions.
So says Cheryl Baker, and she should know. She won the contest in 1981 singing Making Your Mind Up with Bucks Fizz, having also taken part a few years earlier with Coco.
As she heads for Woking to appear in a stage musical based on the TV show, Happy Days, Cheryl says: “We’ve been entering the wrong songs and the wrong singers.
“How could we possibly put Englebert Humperdinck in? And Bonnie Tyler? Bless her, she’s a great singer but absolutely the wrong choice.
“They were banking on people in Europe still loving her enough to vote for her and that didn’t happen.”
She says she’s more hopeful of success this year with the UK’s entry being Molly singing Children Of the Universe.
“At least we’ve got a gorgeous young girl singing it,” she says. “But mainly it’s about the songs. You only have to listen to the calibre of songs that win – and they’re good. The winning songs deserve to win.
“Euphoria (which won in 2012 for Sweden by Loreen) is a great song – but we’re putting in songs worthy of the 1970s not 2014. We’re just too dated (right).”
Cheryl also admitted that politics has also played a part in the UK’s recent poor showings.
“You only have to think of what used to be the Eastern bloc countries,” she says. “Traditionally they’ve been raised to consider us and the Americans as almost the enemy. They’ve been told capitalism is wrong but that will change as the younger generation comes along.
“But for us to win we have to put in a half-decent song.”
Cheryl’s latest project, Happy Days, is packed with great songs and the stage show looks and feels just like the classic TV show – mainly because it’s written by the same person, Gary Marshall. “It’s the same characters and the same stories,” she explains.
“And the stage sets are based on Arnold’s Diner or my kitchen (she plays Mrs Cunningham). I looked at a few old episodes on YouTube and it’s just the same.”
The show is an American 1950s nostalgia fest and Cheryl explains its popularity by saying: “I loved Happy Days. It was escapism in the same way that programmes like Dallas were. Back in the ’70s and ’80s it was a way of life we just didn’t recognise here in Britain – we didn’t have diners just the occasional ‘caf’ – so I loved it.
“I love playing Mrs Cunningham. She’s a real major player. She’s an innocent woman who’s very funny – not because she tells jokes but because she gets things wrong all the time. I remember her so distinctly.”
The central role of the ultra-cool Fonz is taken by Emmerdale actor Ben Freeman and he was helped out by Henry Winkler, who famously played him in the TV series.
“Henry came to rehearsals and did workshops where we did improv and he explained the character relationships between us all,” says Cheryl. “He was very helpful to us and invaluable to Ben.”
Cheryl is hoping Happy Days will transfer to the West End when the tour ends this summer but she’s unlikely to want for work as she’s been on TV more or less non-stop since leaving Bucks Fizz, through programmes like Eggs ’n’ Baker, Record Breakers, Celebrity Masterchef and Pop Star To Opera.
But despite all this success, the 60-year-old says the best moment of her performing career came back in 1970 when she was just 16.
“My first time on stage, singing with my sister Sheila, at a church hall in south London was even better than winning the Eurovision Song Contest,” she says.
“We had no accompaniment but we got a standing ovation. I was as high as a kite for ages afterwards, it was the most amazing feeling and it’s what gave me the confidence to go on and be in a group.”
Cheryl will play Mrs Cunningham in Happy Days at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Monday, March 31 until Saturday, April 5.