Representing the United Kingdom in Hasselt was Joni Fuller who, unbeknown at the time, is currently the last representative to represent the country in Junior Eurovision after ITV subsequently pulled out from the competition. Joni was 14 at the time of taking part, and since entering the girl from Lancashire has barely stopped!
“Two things stand out from back then,” recalled Joni of her Junior Eurovision experience. “Firstly, the excitement of being involved in such a big event, and secondly, being ill!! It was an amazing opportunity and the scale of the event and the media interest really took me by surprise. The UK contest to choose the song for JESC had been much smaller. Within a few days of arriving in Hasselt however, I went down with the worst laryngitis/throat infection I’ve ever had and so this spoilt much of the trip, and compromised my performance as well.” “Oh yes, and there was snow! “She continued. “I had been brought up by the sea in England and we rarely ever got snow!”
“Before and after the show I just felt ill! They had given me very strong medication to try and help me recover from the throat infection, but this had the side effect of making me feel very sick. During the actual performance, the adrenalin kicked in and I forgot about everything and just tried to give the best performance I could,” said Joni of the final night itself. “I remember wishing we had given the song more production. I had recorded ‘How Does it Feel’ months earlier with Guy Fletcher (from Dire Straits) and we had kept it very simple – just like my original demo - with just piano, violin and one vocal line. In the circumstances, it would have been better to have had a bigger production… oh well!”
When the United Kingdom took part in Junior Eurovision from 2003-2005, the participation was handled by commercial broadcaster (but EBU member) ITV. They handled the national selection processes, with the live selection shows coming from their studios in Manchester. How did Joni get involved? “The Director of my music college (The Junior Royal Northern College of Music) gave me the information and encouraged me to apply. I was pleased to be able to enter as I was too young to enter some of the other song-writing competitions, so I decided to give it a go!”
Having battled through being ill just to get on stage, Joni would finish 14th with 28 points. What did she do when she returned home? “Sleep!!!” she told us. “But I didn’t have much time to dwell on it all as I had other performances lined up in Geneva with Phil Collins’ Little Dreams Foundation, of which I was a part for many years. I was soon performing live again and I wrote a song about my JESC experience (Over in a Minute) and included it on my Voices album in 2006.”
And the wasn’t the end for Joni by any stretch! Since Junior Eurovision she has barely stopped, teaching music to younger students, taking part in festivals, and still making her own music. “I have continued to write, record and perform over the past 10 years – I love nothing more than being in a recording studio as my Pretty Blue video (watch: here) shows! I am also very busy as a music teacher. I teach in school and I also have lots of private pupils (violin, piano, guitar, bass, singing and music theory). I really enjoy working with young people and encouraging them in their aspirations as musicians (and songwriters!). But my own music is still very important to me too. I released my most recent EP, Letters From The West Coast’, in May 2015, having written and then recorded all the songs myself in an amazing studio on the banks of Loch Fyne in Scotland,” she told us.
“My video for Wild Wild West (watch: here) tells the story. I also perform live all the time and some of the events have been amazing! I sang and played live (to my own recorded backing track) at the firework finale for Athletissima in the Olympic Stadium, Lausanne a few years ago, which was amazing (not least because the fireworks were exploding all around me as I played!). I have also played festivals up and down the UK and in some great venues such as Ronnie Scott’s in London and Arundel Castle in Sussex. My new solo act uses a loop pedal, allowing me to swap from one instrument to another (guitar, violin, keyboard, bass, percussion) whilst I build the track in front of the audience. After months of practising last year, I launched the act in Scotland last December and it went down so well, I have continued to play live and develop it ever since. I have a number of festival appearances lined up in 2015 and plan to do more recordings too. As it’s the 10 year anniversary of JESC (for me!) I have also recorded a new version of How Does it Feel!”
“The experience of Junior Eurovision made me stronger as a person and as an artist. Dealing with the intense pressure and media attention, especially at a time when I was unwell, was a big learning experience for a 14 year old!” says Joni thinking back to what the competition meant for her. “I often think back to that night in Hasselt when I was walking out to an arena of thousands (and a TV audience of millions!) with hardly a voice to sing with! It has definitely helped me put aside nerves over the last 10 years of performing.”
“I made a lot of friends from across Europe (and beyond) at JESC 2005, and I was (and still am) really touched by the messages of support and appreciation of my music that I received and have continued to receive over the last 10 years! I have a lot of friends on Facebook who linked up with me directly as a result of JESC ☺.”
2005 was the last time that the United Kingdom took part in Junior Eurovision - is this now a missed opportunity for young talent in the country? “Yes – definitely. It’s a shame that the UK and some other countries have dropped out,” said Joni. “The opportunity to perform on such a big stage and in front of so many people worldwide is a fantastic opportunity for any young artist and I think they should be given that chance!”
And finally, what would Joni say to anyone thinking of taking part in Junior Eurovision in the future? “Go for it… with the aim of enjoying the experience and learning from it too. Obviously, not everyone will have success (let alone represent their country or even win!), but the opportunities are great. Preparing the song, practising for the audition, receiving feedback and then performing on such a big stage have all really helped me in building confidence and experience as a performer.”
Check out the new version of "How does it feel" below!