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Turkey's Sertab Erener Wins 2003 Eurovision Song Contest - 2003-05-25


Turkey for the first time has been proclaimed the winner of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, following a fiercely fought battle with Russia and Belgium. At the opposite end of the ratings came the United Kingdom, the only contestant to score zero points in the event. This year's competition was in Latvia.

"Ladies and gentleman, the winner of tonight's show [is] Turkey, and there is celebration in the sky."

And indeed, when the winner was announced, fireworks illuminated the skies over Riga, capital of Latvia.

But not everyone was overjoyed by the outcome. As he watched the spectacle, British radio commentator Ken Bruce noted that the United Kingdom had its worst performance in Eurovision history. "The ashes that are falling from the sky are landing in my mouth. United Kingdom with no points at the end of a Eurovision Song Contest. I never thought I would hear myself saying that," he said.

Britain's previous worst Eurovision placing was in 2000, when Nicki French took 16th place with a song prophetically titled Don't Play That Song Again.

Some commentators saw a connection between the U.K. failure and European anger over British support for the American-led war in Iraq. Others said it was simply that the Liverpool performers Chris Cromby, 21, and Gemma Abbey, 20, did not have what it takes.

But victory was sweet for the scantily-clad Sertab Erener of Turkey, whose winning song was Every Way That I Can.

Ms. Erener was overcome by emotion by her unexpected victory, a huge boost for Turkey and her own popularity and profits. She has already sold an estimated four million albums.

The audience packed into Riga's Skonto Hall was less enthusiastic about the two young girls making up Russia's entry, even though they had been tipped as favorites to win.

Backed by loud instruments and electronic backing, teenagers Lena Katina and Julia Volkova, known together as Tatu, managed to be only slightly louder than the boos mixed with cheers from the audience.

Their song was Don't Believe, Don't Fear, Don't Ask, and it came out slightly out of tune with the music. The teenagers from Moscow were, prematurely, wearing tee-shirts bearing the number one.

The girls had earlier angered organizers by arriving late for rehearsals and then threatening to perform in the nude. But organizers said no to toplessness. The Eurovision Song Contest, with 26 European countries taking part, is a family event watched by an estimated 160 million television viewers worldwide. Organizers say they want to keep it that way.

Despite their hostile reception inside the theatre, Russia's Tatu group got good support from outside, via telephone votes from television viewers. In fact, host country Latvia gave maximum points to Russia. This was a remarkable outcome in a nation which proudly declared its independence from the Russian-run Soviet Union just more than a decade ago.

As it turned out, Russia managed to get into third place slightly behind Belgium, whose song, made up of unintelligible words, won it second place.

Turkish singer Erener and her band admitted they were surprised by their country's victory. Turkey has never been able to come higher than third place in Eurovision contests. "You see what is happening here? But can you imagine what is happening in your country at the moment?" the Latvian television presenter wondered.

"They are getting crazy I think. Thank you Turkey, thanks a lot," she said.

Latvia became host of the 48th Eurovision Song Contest when 22-year-old law student Marija Naumova won last year's event in Tallinn, Estonia. The contest in Riga's Skonto Hall, with a capacity of 6,000, was described as the biggest indoor concert in Latvia's history.

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