Backstage in Rotterdam, Lesley Roy flashes a smile wider than Marty Whelan's moustache. "What's great about Eurovision is that you can come and wear something mad or sing something crazy – and people will either get it or they won't," says Ireland's contestant in the 2021 competition. "That's always how the shows have been."
Roy, who is from Balbriggan, in north Co Dublin, was chosen to represent Ireland at Eurovision 2020 with her ballad The Story of My Life, but then the event was cancelled by Covid. She’s back with a new song, Maps, and an ambitious stage routine that will see her jog on the spot, surrounded by a menagerie of paper buildings. The performance will be shared with the world on Tuesday, when she participates in this year’s first semi-final, ahead of the final, on Saturday, May 22nd.
Roy hopes to be only the second Irish contestant to reach the final since 2013. Is she feeling a responsibility to help heal the country's wounded Europride? 'I'm really not,' she says
“The only pressure was coming up with a new song. That was the most anxiety I have had about the whole thing,” says the 34-year-old, who hopes to become the first Irish contestant to reach the Eurovision final since Ryan O’Shaughnessy, in 2018, and only the second since Ryan Dolan, in 2013. Is she feeling a responsibility to help heal the country’s wounded Europride?
"I'm really not," she says. She spoke to Niamh Kavanagh, the 1993 winner, this morning, and Linda Martin, who won a year earlier, "sent me some great messages: 'We're all behind you,' 'You're doing the country proud,' 'You're shining a great light on Ireland.'"
Ireland’s former winners “are just so supportive. They’re like a little family , as cheesy as that sounds. I feel they are sending positive vibes. There is no negative pressure at all.”
Roy performs in seventh place on Tuesday night, right before the first break. She thinks the running order is to her advantage. “I love where we’re at. It’s just a brilliant spot. I feel really blessed we’ve got number seven. We’re right in the middle. People are going to go and top off their wine and will be able to digest the journey I’ve hopefully taken them on.”
France – among the “big five” that automatically qualify for the final – are regarded as favourites in 2021. Roy is an outsider, at 100/1.
Coronavirus remains a concern. Ukraine’s representative missed her second rehearsal because of ill health; she will be tested for Covid-19. Nonetheless, as things stand, a crowd of 3,500 will cheer on Roy and the other contestants at the 16,000-capacity Rotterdam Ahoy arena.
Every performer is going to be a little upset their family is not going to meet them. But we've all been living in this online bubble – so it doesn't feel like a drastic change
"It's great for the audience," says Roy. "There are so many thousands of people that have wanted to be at this. The fact they're going to have 3,500 people from the Netherlands is brilliant for them."
That isn’t to rule out a last-minute Covid scare requiring a change of plan. “We were very mindful that this show is maybe just going to be for people at home. So we have built the majority of the song for people in their living rooms.”
She has been accompanied from her home in New York by her wife, Lauren. The rest of her family will tune in from Balbriggan. It breaks Roy’s heart slightly to be apart from her loved ones. “Every performer is going to be a little upset their family is not going to meet them. But we’ve all been living in this online bubble – so it doesn’t feel like a drastic change.”
The first Eurovision Song Contest semi-final is on RTÉ2 on Tuesday night at 8pm