FROM monster-masked heavy metal acts to silver sci-fi suited singers, the history of Eurovision is packed with eccentric performers.
But if former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s bid to reach the final of pop’s most famous competition is successful, it will be the most surprising entry yet.
The Irish-British former Sex Pistol — who as Johnny Rotten once sang “God save the Queen, she ain’t no human being” — is turning his back on his old reputation.
In an exclusive interview, the 66-year-old singer says he is done with confrontation and is never going to perform his song God Save The Queen again.
And he opens up about how his Eurovision track, Hawaii, is packed with emotion for him.
Struggling to hold back tears, he tells me that song — with the refrain “remember me, I remember you” — is about his love for Nora, his wife of more than 40 years, who has Alzheimer’s.
John explains: “We spent a magnificent holiday in Hawaii after a tour once and it was just the greatest week of our lives.
“Now her memories are fading, I wanted to bring something like that back to her. I get broke up even thinking about it.”
Based in California for the past four decades, John did not even know Hawaii — written with his band Public Image Ltd — had been put forward as a potential entry for Ireland in this year’s competition.
The rocker also appeared in I’m A Celeb in 2004[/caption]
It is now one of six songs competing for a place in the final in Liverpool in May.
‘Toffy little voices doing mockney’
Post-punk band Public Image Ltd, with hits including This Is Not A Love Song, will go up against the likes of Irish heart-throbs Wild Youth.
Londoner John’s mum Eileen and dad John Snr both come from Ireland and he says: “I was half raised there, every summer on my mother’s farm.”
On February 3, the rival songs will battle it out on The Late Late Show on state broadcaster RTE.
And John is so desperate to impress the judges, he has been practising while doing the Hoovering.
But the singer, who is a full-time carer for 80-year-old Nora, a German publishing heiress diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than four years ago, still fears messing up this “honour” and breaking down on the big stage.
Hawaii is a hopeful and heartfelt song dealing with a subject not normally touched upon at Eurovision.
Displaying his soft side, John says falteringly: “It is a song about the dissipation of a human being that I dearly love, in front of my very eyes.”
He adds that playing his music around their Venice Beach home helps her to remember him.
He tells how Nora says “Johnny” when the song comes on and how she knew it was him under the Jester outfit when he recently appeared on the US version of The Masked Singer.
Poking fun at himself, John says: “She was quick to point me out and it wasn’t just because of the fake pot belly.”
While he does have carers in to help out, John does not like to leave Nora alone because she panics when he is not there.
That means he is worried about travelling for Eurovision, although one of his brothers and his wife will take over caring duties.
The once fearless performer, who sneered “Boring! You’re boring! I bet you’ve all got piles from sitting down too much” at inmates during a 1976 prison gig, is also anxious about getting back on stage.
He confesses: “All I’ve got is to be honest, but that’s a problem in itself because I might break down.”
And there is not much time to rehearse. He reveals: “The only way I have got to catch up with the song is singing it to Nora while doing the housework.
“I am holding a Hoover, cleaning a carpet, preparing a lunch, all of these things, the endless washing machine cycles, and trying to sing the song without breaking up. As soon as I catch her eyes I just crumble.”
One song he will not be belting out for old times’ sake, though, is the Pistols’ 1977 single God Save The Queen. The punk, who paid his respects to Queen Elizabeth II after she died last year, says: “I don’t think I will ever perform that song again.”
For him it was “ruined” by last year’s Disney+ series Pistol, about the punk pioneers, and made by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle.
John criticised the show last year before even watching it, and now he has seen all six episodes, he is even less impressed.
He says: “It was quite horrible to hear toffy little voices doing mockney. It went off into parody.”
Instead, he would rather be watching reality show Below Deck, about the lives of superyacht crews. He enthuses: “I love all those Below Decks, that’s what Nora loves.
“It is highly entertaining. I used to dream of having one of those holidays on a yacht.
“Not no more. If that’s what goes on below, then no thanks.”
The man who was selected to join the Sex Pistols because he scrawled “I hate” over a Pink Floyd T-shirt, is also a fan of many distinctly un-punk-like songs.
When he was growing up in Holloway, North London, Eurovision was part of his musical education.
John, who appeared on I’m A Celebrity in 2004, reveals: “It was the predominant factor in our youth.
“I remember things like Cliff Richard singing Congratulations. I love that song and I really love Cliff Richard, sadly enough. Sandie Shaw, I remember. Of course, having Irish roots, Johnny Logan was firmly embedded in my youth.”
Sandie was the UK’s first winner in 1967, with Puppet On A String, while Logan won in 1980 with What’s Another Year and in 1987 with Hold Me Now.
‘I hope I can lead us into a better place’
But the modern version of the show is a mystery to him because Eurovision is not broadcast in the US.
John is aware, though, that he will need an eye-catching outfit.
Drawing pins and chains shocked back in his punk days as Johnny Rotten, but he has nothing planned so far. “Look dear,” he says, smiling, “I haven’t got a thing to wear. That’s really bloody important — the visual aspect.
“I don’t want to turn up in a black suit and a dickie bow.
“This is a cold time of year, I am not going to be bouncing around in beach shorts.”
As the winners of the competition in 2022, Ukraine should have had the honour of hosting this year’s Eurovision.
But the ongoing threat of Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin sending missiles towards the country’s capital Kyiv means it is not safe.
Instead, it will be held in Liverpool. It is a decision John supports.
He says: “You can’t ask people to sing and observe the show while knowing a missile could land on you at any second. It is an unfortunate tragedy.
“The world does seem to be full of unfortunate tragedies. I hope with a song and a smile that I can lead us all into a better place, dear.”
What comes across during our chat is how excited John is about his Eurovision adventure.
He talks about the “honour” of being in the running for Ireland and says he is “looking forward to meeting the other acts”.
The “isolated” star, who is still doing Covid tests every couple of days for the safety of visiting carers, is also clearly happy to have a chance to get things off his chest.
He explains: “Since Nora’s illness I don’t socialise at all. Every chance I get to speak on the phone I tend to overdo it. I am gagging to have a conversation.”
While he used to speak openly about politics — once wearing a Donald Trump Make America Great Again baseball cap — these days he rarely has time to keep up with the news.
John, left, with fellow Sex Pistols Paul Cook, the late Sid Vicious and Steve Jones[/caption]
Lydon, who was selected to join the Sex Pistols because he scrawled ‘I hate’ over a Pink Floyd T-shirt, is also a fan of many distinctly un-punk-like songs[/caption]
He says: “I have never liked politicians. And I dislike, bitterly, allegedly famous people trying to sway people’s votes to their own inclinations.”
John is not inclined either to re-open old wounds with his former Sex Pistol bandmates, with whom he has fallen out.
He simply states: “The plain and simple truth is we don’t like each other. Put it this way, I will miss them when they are gone.” He adds: “There is no nastiness in me.”
What he most wants to talk about is his beloved wife and the forthcoming song contest.
The rampant anger of the punk past has been replaced by a different type of defiance.
Rather than giving up in the face of Nora’s incurable degenerative illness, he wants to let the world know how vital life is.
John concludes of Eurovision: “Of course, I am in a state of panic, hoping I don’t make a complete a-hole of myself. But I don’t think I will because I am driven by higher forces than my fears.
“The whole ceremony seems to be of joy and I have a message of joy in a sad situation.”
- Public Image Ltd’s single Hawaii is available to stream now.