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Lee Smithurst reveals new BBC Eurovision approach and teases Sam Ryder staging

In an interview with The EuroTrip Podcast, Lee Smithurst discusses TaP Music, the promotion strategy for Sam Ryder and more!

Last October the BBC announced a new collaboration with TaP Music management to find an artist and song to represent the United Kingdom in Eurovision 2022. Earlier this year the BBC confirmed Sam Ryder will take his song, ‘Space Man’ to Turin. Now BBC Series Producer, Lee Smithurst speaks to The EuroTrip Podcast, revealing the story behind the selection and what to expect with Turin only weeks away!

Today BBC Series Producer, Lee Smithurst gave an exclusive interview with The EuroTrip Podcast. Since 2019 Lee, has been part of the BBC Eurovision team working alongside BBC Commissioning Editor of Entertainment, Rachel Ashdown and Head of Delegation, Andrew Cartmell, to change the United Kingdom’s Eurovision fortunes. Below we learn more about the new approach applied by the BBC and the faith they have in Sam Ryder and his staging.

The end of BMG and beginnings of TaP Music

Previously the BBC were in partnership with music publishers BMG. This was a new approach, to use contacts within the industry to source artists and songwriters to work with the BBC Eurovision team. During 2020 and 2021 this collaboration led to the selection of James Newman. However the result in Rotterdam forced the BBC to look for new ideas once more.

“The result last year is just what you needed to get to that next level. To go, ‘something has to change’. Even within the BBC itself, there’s a lot of people now that are behind it and making sure we don’t have a repeat of 2021.”

Lee Smithurst, (BBC Series Producer)

From those discussions the BBC found TaP Music. Led by Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, TaP Music are a music management company. They represent artists such as, Lana Del Rey, Ellie Goulding and Hailee Steinfeld. So of course, with those credentials, the mission was to find the right artist and song for Eurovision 2022.

“It’s a different one to BMG, because obviously they were a label that were across all the funding of the whole project. Whereas TaP have been incredible. Like Ben and Ed at TaP, they are the consultants. So their job, their remit was to go and find the best possible representative for the UK and best song that they could find.”

Lee Smithurst, (BBC Series Producer)

The selection of Sam Ryder

After much speculation, the BBC confirmed on March 10 that Sam Ryder would represent the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 in Turin Italy with, ‘Space Man’. Behind the scenes the BBC Eurovision team had secured Sam as early as January.

It was in January. He said, give me a couple of days, because I need to get this tour out the way first and then have the head space. Then he said yes. So I think it was quite a quick decision after that. Once Sam said yes and that was the song, everyone was in agreement from TaP and the BBC that this is the artist that we want to go with. From that point it became working with Sam’s label [Parlophone]. As they are the ones ultimately responsible for funding the project and they’ve been working with Sam across all his other releases last year.

Lee Smithurst, (BBC Series Producer)

Further to this, the BBC applied a new strategy to assess the public reaction to Sam and his music, without any preconceived Eurovision judgement. Further helped by Sam already being on Radio 1’s radar.

The plan was to launch Sam on Radio 1 without having the Eurovision tag. Everyone just wanted to see, let’s try and get this song out there for two-three weeks before we say it’s a Eurovision entry so we can honestly gauge how it lands and what people think about it. 

Lee Smithurst, (BBC Series Producer)

Changing the narrative

With the help of Warner International and Sam’s label Parlophone, the BBC have deployed one of the biggest promotional tours for a UK act. Over the past few weeks Sam Ryder has recorded his live-on-tape in Bulgaria. As well as performing in London, Barcelona, Amsterdam and many more. Along with various chat show and radio interviews at home and abroad.

I do feel like Sam has made a shift now in perception here. I think there’s a long way to go to change the overall perception of the general public that might tune into Eurovision once a year. But I just think everyone’s hoping that if Sam can do as well as we hope at Eurovision, then that can be the turning point to not have the endless conversations about politics and it’s all about Brexit. Which I think we all agree that that is not the case. So it will be nice if we can get what I think is a deserved good result at Eurovision for Sam. Then we can start to turn the tide in the UK.

Lee Smithurst, (BBC Series Producer)

Of course this is not only to secure a good result for Sam and the BBC, but to ensure Sam has a lasting career after May. As well as the chance to get the UK public excited about 2023 and beyond in the contest.

I think Warner have been so good at promoting Sam at home and in Europe. Yes, it’s nice that they’re getting behind it. It’s a big project for them. So it does feel that every department is feeding into making sure that there’s no stone left unturned. To make sure that we can try and maximize Sam’s chances. As we know there are lots of other countries across Europe who are doing the same for their artists. I know we’ve always sort of felt behind in that respect. So we are trying to do everything we can.

Lee Smithurst, (BBC Series Producer)

Propping up Turin

Of course the biggest talking point whenever it comes to the UK in the contest, is the staging. Formerly the innovators of creative and memorable staging moments in Eurovision history, this has been the one hindrance to the UK in recent years. Due to budget and the strong competition from everyone across Europe and Australia. However a close listen to Lee’s comments in the podcast, reveals we may be in for a surprise in Turin! Also the interview confirms that Sam Ryder had a major role in the concept art and planning.

One thing that I can say is that Sam knows exactly what he wants. Right from the way that he wants the instruments to sound on the track and the way that he wants the staging to look. He had concept ideas right from the very beginning and images he had ready to send through of how he’d seen it on stage. It’s come from Sam and it’s his vision of what he wants it to be. It’s being shipped out to Turin on a P&O ferry and then on a truck. So it should arrive in the next couple of days.

Lee Smithurst, (BBC Series Producer)

Already we know that Marvin Dietmann, who staged Conchita Wurst’s winning entry, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix‘ and Dan Shipton, who is a creative producer for the Brit Awards are working with Sam on the 2022 staging. Recently, Head of Contest, Twan van de Nieuwenhuijzen, revealed the UK are “one to watch.” Are we seeing the changing of the tide? Stay tuned until May 14 to find out!

Are you excited to see the staging for Sam Ryder in Turin? Let us know! Be sure to stay updated by following @ESCXTRA on Twitter, @escxtra on Instagram and liking our Facebook page for the latest updates! Also, be sure to follow us on Spotify for the latest music from your favourite Eurovision acts. As well as YouTube to see our reactions to the news in the run up to the 2022 contest in Turin!

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