Exclusive:Eurovision: UK’s contestants have included no Black or Asian artists for past 12 years, analysis shows

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The BBC said it recognised there was ‘more work to do’ to select songs and artists that represent the UK’s diverse population

The UK has put forward no Eurovision contestants from ethnic minority backgrounds in the past 12 years, analysis by NationalWorld can reveal, suggesting the selection process has a major diversity issue.

Despite the country becoming significantly more racially diverse since the 1950s, when the Eurovision Song Contest first started, this has not been reflected in the UK’s representatives, with analysis showing not a single non-white entry has made it to Eurovision since Simon Webbe performed with Blue in Düsseldorf more than a decade ago in 2011.

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The UK’s last solo Eurovision act from a non-white background was Jade Ewen, who performed in Moscow in 2009.

The BBC, which holds the TV rights to the Eurovision Song Contest in the UK, decides how the UK’s entries are selected and since 2020, the corporation and its commercial subsidiary BBC Studios has collaborated with music industry experts to make the choice. 

Left to right, Bonnie Tyler, James Newman, Mae Muller and Sam Ryder have all represented the UK in recent years. Image: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/GettyLeft to right, Bonnie Tyler, James Newman, Mae Muller and Sam Ryder have all represented the UK in recent years. Image: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Getty
Left to right, Bonnie Tyler, James Newman, Mae Muller and Sam Ryder have all represented the UK in recent years. Image: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Getty | NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Getty

A spokesperson for the corporation said: “In recent years the BBC, BBC Studios and music industry experts have encouraged song and artist submissions from the very best music creatives in the UK as together we share the Eurovision Song Contest’s core value of celebrating diversity through music. Whilst we recognise there is more work to do, together we will always endeavour to champion and select songs and artists that represent the diversity of the UK and will continue to do so.”

The Musicians' Union (MU) said there was a "lack of transparency" in the way artists were selected to represent the UK at Eurovision and called for better representation of Black musicians.

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Dr Diljeet Bhachu, the MU's equality, diversity and inclusion officer, said: “Amidst an ever-diversifying society, it’s really important that this is reflected in the media, in who we see on stage, on screen, especially on high profile, national platforms. To date, Eurovision processes have varied year to year, and there is a lack of transparency in who applies, and the criteria by which finalists are selected."

Dr Bhachu said research had shown that Black music creators felt their contributions were not adequately recognised by the music industry, an issue which was "further compounded by a lack of visible role models on high profile platforms".

She said: "The MU believes that more proactive efforts can be made to improve representation on platforms like this, and that transparency in selection processes is key to addressing the issue.”

On Saturday (13 May) Mae Muller will represent the UK at the song contest in Liverpool and perform ‘I Wrote A Song’. Muller was chosen by a team at the BBC and management company TaP Music. 

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Diversity of UK acts falling, analysis shows

From bhangra to grime, the UK’s music scene isn’t short of talent from Black, Asian or other ethnic minority communities. But just nine of the 126 solo artists and band members (7%) who have represented the UK throughout Eurovision’s 70-year history have been from ethnic minority backgrounds, according to our analysis.

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The method for selecting the artists representing the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest has varied over the years, from regional juries or public votes to choices by BBC executives.

Overall, the UK has had four solo acts of non-white ethnicity in the competition since 1957, as well as five members of bands. The ethnic diversity of UK entrants appears to have been declining in recent decades, with five of these artists taking part in the 1990s, dropping to three in the 2000s and then one in the 2010s. 

Love City Groove was the first act to have non-white members when the band performed in 1995, while Imaani was the first solo Black contestant to represent the UK in 1998. 

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How diverse is the UK?

Eurovision aims to champion diversity, with the contest bringing together performers representing cultures across Europe and beyond - and gaining a particular reputation for celebrating the LGBTQ+ community

But the share of UK performers from ethnic minorities is currently far below the level you would expect if it were accurately reflecting the make-up of the population.

In the 2020s so far, all acts representing the UK at Eurovision have been white. But figures from the 2021 census of England and Wales show 82% of the population classed themselves as white. Around 9% of people identified as Asian, Asian British or Asian Welsh, while about 4% identified as Black, Black British, Black Welsh, Caribbean or African. 

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Northern Ireland’s 2021 census shows a lower percentage of minority ethnic groups than in England and Wales. In 2021 the percentage of people from a white ethnic group stood at 97%, while 3% were from a minority ethnic group. Scotland is yet to publish its latest figures on ethnicity from its 2022 census. 

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In the 2010s, 94% of UK artists at Eurovision were white. But census data shows just 87% of the UK population was white in 2011.

There was higher representation of ethnic minority artists in the 2000s. That decade, 21% of artists representing the UK at the song contest - three out of 14 - were Black or multiracial. In comparison, 8% of the UK population were from ethnic minorities in 2001, according to census figures.

In the 1990s, 28% of the UK’s Eurovision entrants - five out of 18 - were from an ethnic minority background. In 1991, the first year a question about ethnicity was included in the census, 5% of Great Britain’s population were from non-white ethnicities (Northern Ireland’s 1991 census did not ask about ethnicity).

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