Roberts was last singer to make a Marc for Ireland in Eurovision

Marc Roberts representing Ireland in 1997. His second place finish was Ireland's last best result and the only top five finish in two decades.

Marc Roberts representing Ireland in 1997. His second place finish was Ireland's last best result and the only top five finish in two decades.

As a kid I loved Eurovision. The build-up, that iconic anthem, the sheer fact that across Europe, we were all tuned in to watch the same things. Back in those days, RTE's only eurowide broadcast would have been when they showed the European Cup and European Cup Winners Cup finals.

Fast forward two decades from that and I attended three or four Eurovisions in a world role. Back then, it was the best big in town. Loads of food, drink, goodies.

It is hard to believe that two decades have passed since Ireland had any showing of note in it, our peripherisation in political terms being mired by the eastward look of the heart of Europe.

This week I met up with the last man to bring Ireland into that dreamland of Eurovision Top Five Status — the Mayo-native singer who at the time was dubbed as being the man representing the country that didn't want to win.

Marc Roberts has gone on to forge a successful career as a singer-songwriter and broadcaster, but on one night twenty years ago this week, he was just one place away from becoming yet another Irish Eurovision winner when his performance of Mysterious Woman finished second to the UK's Katrina and the Waves. This morning (Thursday ), his re-release of the song is available on iTunes.

Re-release of Eurovision number

Hard to believe that two decades have passed as Marc still possesses the boyish good looks that could get him a game at minor level. Or as a big U-14 anyway.

"Absolutely! The time has flown but I'm thrilled to say people still talk about it and mention Mysterious Woman and what a great song is was and how we were robbed. The build-up to the Song Contest was crazy. The morning after I won the Eurosong final in Waterford I had about 50 interviews to do. I came down to breakfast and my photograph was on the front of The Irish Times.

"There were a lot of rehearsals and RTE wanted me to be in the papers continuously so they fabricated a few things. I was on the 6 o'clock news celebrating my birthday. Even though my birthday is in June and this was only April. One of the tabloids copped what was going on and asked me what my horoscope sign was ....thankfully I had done my homework."

Does he still think about what might have been if the will to win had been there. This was at a time when RTE's pockets were turned inside out after hosting three Eurovisions, including one held in Noel C Duggan's showjumping arena in Millstream, Co Cork.

"Up until two minutes before I went on stage RTE kept saying we can't win this as we can't afford it They had closed the canteen the year before because of the expense of Eurovision so every RTE TV show I did, everybody kept saying please don't win. But the public were amazing! Paddy Powers even had us tipped to win. The week after Eurovision I was a guest with Richard and Judy in the UK and they introduced me as… "What was it like to represent a country that didn't want to win!' The interview is available online and it was great fun!

The night of the Eurosong final the interval act was "Parazone" which was the Swarbriggs with Brendan O'Carroll. It was a "Boyzone" parody. After the final rehearsal Brendan legged it to the local bookies and told us he made quite a lot of money on me!

"As I walked on stage on the night, I was told that they had done a deal with BBC Northern Ireland, so go and win. I can still see Mary Robinson our president waving from the box! Neighbour's children! I'm from Crossmolina and she's from Ballina. "

Bomb threat

What many people didn't know was that as he sang, the Point was technically under threat of a a bomb attack, as there had been threat to blow up the place at 8.20pm. Just when he was on stage. The place had been checked. But still.

"Afterwards I was contacted by a journalist during the week and asked how did I feel about the coded message that was sent to the Point Theatre earlier? Apparently a bomb was going to go off in the theatre at 8.20pm which was the time I was going to be on stage performing!

"We were turfed out of the Point Theatre a few times, including that morning, and sniffer dogs were brought in to check if everything was ok! Thankfully it was!"

And then the voting started and the douze points started to pour in — but for both Marc and the UK.

"I still vividly remember sitting there with one bottle of champagne between us watching. While in the early stages I would get 12 then the UK would get 10 back and forth. But I still in my mind remembered my Dad always said as kids when we watched, the voting can go absolutely any way. And it did.

"This was the first year they introduced voting by text. It was also the first time the UK give us 12 votes and we gave them 12 votes which was great."

He finished second, about thirty points clear of third, but British ex-Pats around Europe took benefit of the texting to bypass jingoistic national juries and voted Katrina to a massive victory with 225 points, seventy clear of Marc.

Ireland's last best placed entrant

We weren't to know it then, but no other Irish singer has even appeared in the Top Five since that night.

"I know! How mad is that! Recently I did the Late Late Show country special' and one of the guys who worked on all the Eurovisions, said to me we did not realise that that was going to be our last one. We always thought we'd do a few more! So much for that.

Does he cringe when he hears Katrina's song nowadays and think "that could have been me?"

"In fairness we hear a lot more of Walking on Sunshine their only other hit! After Eurovision, it was quite ironic, Katrina contacted me to play her album on my radio programme on Galway Bay fm and I actually did."

And now Mysterious Woman makes a comeback, having been released as a single in the early hours of this morning (Thursday ).

I still love the song! It was written by John Farry who manages Nathan Carter. Regardless where in the country or indeed in Europe that I tour and perform, people still ask me to sing mysterious woman. I suppose I'm lucky that my voice is still the same as it was then. So I can sing it in the same key and it was originally a country song. From the minute I hear the piano intro and back in the moment and it's just like it was 20 years ago.

"John is thrilled as you can imagine. This song when I originally demoed it, was called European Woman, then Mystery Woman and on the final, and successful demo, it was changed to Mysterious Woman. But it was always a country song and I think that's what made it different!

These days Marc is a successful singer/songwriter having penned for artists such as Daniel O'Donnell. Though in between broadcasting and performing his stage shows and concerts, he is keen to get more time for it.

"I'm not very diligent as a writer. I continuously put notes in my phone, suggestions for lyrics and then sing in melody ideas. Then when I decide I'm going to write by myself, or with somebody else, I check through what I have. Well, Declan, you as a writer knows, inspiration comes from absolutely everywhere. It could be something that somebody would say, or do, or something you read. I think the most important thing to do though, is when inspiration hits write it down, make a recording of it, and then just forget about it until you're in the zone to write."

Although he is hoping that his record as Ireland's last best performer is some day removed from his back, he is pessimistic about our chances in the current format.

“I would worry about Ireland’s chances until they change the way they’re doing it. Nowadays they tend to pick the performers and then go looking for songs. It should be the case that the writer's got the chance to put their best song forward and choose somebody who could interpret the song to perform it.”

Marc's successful tributes to John Denver are back on the road this autumn as this marks the 20th anniversary of John Denver's death. He will also be performing in Trad on the Prom this summer. For more details see www.marcroberts.ie

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