Eurovision 2021 UK entry: who is James Newman, latest odds, ‘Embers’ song explained – and when is the contest?

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The older brother of pop star John Newman had been set to appear at last year’s contest before it was cancelled

Singer-songwriter James Newman has said he is “excited and honoured” to represent the UK in the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest.

Last year’s contest was cancelled due to the pandemic but in February it was announced the 2021 competition would go ahead but with strict protocols.

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He’s just unveiled the song he’ll be taking with him to the Netherlands in May. But who is James Newman, what is his track about, and what does Eurovision look like in a pandemic?

Here is everything you need to know about it.

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Who is the UK’s entry?

Newman is the older brother of pop star John Newman, and had been set to appear at last year’s contest before it was cancelled.

Could James Newman be the UK's best hope at lifting us from our put of Eurovision despair in 2021? (Photo: Victor Frankowski)Could James Newman be the UK's best hope at lifting us from our put of Eurovision despair in 2021? (Photo: Victor Frankowski)
Could James Newman be the UK's best hope at lifting us from our put of Eurovision despair in 2021? (Photo: Victor Frankowski)

He had been ready to perform the track ‘My Last Breath’ at the 2020 contest, but had to write a new entry after the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) said the 2020 songs would not be eligible for this year’s show.

“I haven’t stopped making new music in lockdown and I can’t wait for everyone to hear the song I’m taking to Eurovision in 2021,” he said.

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Following the initial announcement of Newman’s representation, he was billed as the UK’s great hope after years of Eurovision Song Contest disappointment.

Unlike many recent UK entries, the 35-year old is a proven hit-maker, and has helped write chart smashes like the Brit Award-winning ‘Waiting All Night’, performed by Rudimental and Ella Eyre.

He also wrote ‘Lay It All On Me’, performed by Rudimental featuring Ed Sheeran, and ‘Blame’, performed by Calvin Harris and featuring Newman’s younger brother.

The last time the UK won Eurovision was in 1997, with Katrina And The Waves’ ‘Love Shine A Light’, and the UK has not finished in the top 10 since 2009; BBC bosses scrapped the public vote and teamed up with record label BMG to choose the artist instead.

What is his new song?

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Newman has revealed the new song he is taking to the Contest in 2021 is titled ‘Embers’, a dance track the singer has described as a "banger" and "full of positivity".

"Embers is about those sparks that don't die out," he told Radio 1 Newsbeat. "When we were writing this, it felt like I wanted to show everyone that we were coming back together.

"It's about having that connection and something reigniting. It's about us emerging from this rubbish time we've been having. It fits with the idea that Eurovision is coming back."

Unlike his original Eurovision effort – a ballad – ‘Embers’ is more of an upbeat affair, and is a “celebration of music… hopefully people like it."

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Despite the online enthusiasm surround his new song, and his hopes as the saviour of UK Eurovision shame, he is not expected to win the Contest, with most bookmakers listing him with odds of around 50/1.

When is this year’s contest?

The annual song contest will take place in Rotterdam in May.

The grand final will be held on Saturday 22 May, while two semi-finals will precede that on Tuesday 18 and Thursday 20 May.

What will be different this year?

Organisers have said the usual format of the show will be “impossible” in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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Eurovision contestants will be obliged to take regular Covid-19 tests and must stay in their hotel except when they travel to the arena, according to new health and safety rules published ahead of the competition.

Performers, including Newman, and all other attendees from abroad will be recommended to go into quarantine for five days before departure to the Netherlands and they must test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of their flight.

Sietse Bakker, the show’s executive producer, added: “In recent months, a lot of hard work has been done behind the scenes on this extensive health and safety protocol, in order to allow us to stage this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in a responsible manner.

“With the help of extensive testing, mask-wearing, hygiene measures, attention to ventilation and innovative measures, we will create an environment in which crew, artists and the press can work as safely as possible."

How will social distancing be enforced?

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If someone tests positive, the Contest’s isolation protocol comes into effect, which will support the relevant authorities with track and trace research; if a participant is unable to perform live as a result, a “backup recording” will be used.

The number of people in each delegation has been largely scaled back from previous editions, and they will have to stay in their hotel, except when they travel to Rotterdam’s Ahoy Arena for rehearsals, the live shows and other programme-related activities.

The number of journalists who can attend the event will also be capped at 500 with a further 1,000 able to cover the show in a new online press centre. Everyone in the arena, including crew, artists and press, will be tested regularly in a special facility.

A decision on whether an audience can be present at the shows will be made nearer the time.