The electrifying moment unknown Celine Dion won Eurovision by just one point in 1988

21 May 2021, 15:12

The 22-year-old Canadian singer, who didn't speak english, became a surprising breakout star when she beat the UK favourite, in one of the most thrilling finals in Eurovision history.
The 22-year-old Canadian singer, who didn't speak english, became a surprising breakout star when she beat the UK favourite, in one of the most thrilling finals in Eurovision history. Picture: RTÉ/Eurovision

By Giorgina Hamilton

Celine Dion won the Eurovision Song Contest for Switzerland, beating the UK's Scott Fitzgerald by just one point in the hair-raising final.

An unknown Celine Dion became a worldwide sensation when she won the Eurovision Song Contest for Switzerland in 1988.

The 22-year-old Canadian singer, who didn't speak english, became a surprising breakout star when she beat the UK favourite, in one of the most thrilling finals in Eurovision history.

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Singing 'Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi' ('Don't Leave Without Me in Dublin'), Ireland on April 30, 1988, the voting became so tight that it prompted presenter Pat Kenny to joke: "I have to tell you that we employed Agatha Christie to write the script for tonight!"

An unknown Celine Dion (pictured) became a worldwide sensation when she won the Eurovision Song Contest for Switzerland in 1988.
An unknown Celine Dion (pictured) became a worldwide sensation when she won the Eurovision Song Contest for Switzerland in 1988. Picture: RTÉ/Eurovision
Yugoslavia's jury gave six points to Switzerland and none to the UK, making Celine Dion the winner of the contest with 137 points, just one more than the UK's final 136.
Yugoslavia's jury gave six points to Switzerland and none to the UK, making Celine Dion the winner of the contest with 137 points, just one more than the UK's final 136. Picture: RTÉ/Eurovision

The United Kingdom's entry Scott Fitzgerald was leading by five points when the last country to vote, Yugoslavia, announced their points.

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The country's jury gave six points to Switzerland and none to the UK, making Celine Dion the winner of the contest with 137 points, just one more than the UK's final 136.

After the nail-biting ending Celine Dion's manager René Angélil, who she would later marry, encouraged her to go up on stage to collect her prize and sing her winning song once more.

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Only a few hours later and Celine was back in Montreal, Canada and lauded as a hero and one year later she would open the 1989 Eurovision Song Contest in Lausanne with her song Where Does My Heart Beat Now, which would go on to be a top 5 hit worldwide.

Eurovision presenters Pat Kenny and Michelle Rocca (pictured) struggled to keep the crowd calm as they realised Celine Dion had one the contest by one point.
Eurovision presenters Pat Kenny and Michelle Rocca (pictured) struggled to keep the crowd calm as they realised Celine Dion had one the contest by one point. Picture: RTÉ/Eurovision
As the audience realised Celine Dion had one, the young singer could be seen being congratulated by her team.
As the audience realised Celine Dion had won, the young singer could be seen being congratulated by her team. Picture: RTÉ/Eurovision
An overwhelmed young Celine Dion could be seen crying as she made her way to the stage to be crowned the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, 1988.
An overwhelmed young Celine Dion could be seen crying as she made her way to the stage to be crowned the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, 1988. Picture: RTÉ/Eurovision

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The rest, as they say, is history. Celine Dion has sold over 250 million records, making her one of the biggest-selling singers of all time, and has a reported net worth of over $630 million.

Reflecting on the Eurovision win that catapulted her to superstardom, Celine says she remembers feeling confused on why they wanted her to represent Switzerland and how there was 'a lot of money' on her to win.

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Speaking on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2013, the singer said: "First of all I receive a call and I was in Montreal, where I live and they want me to go to Ireland and they want me to represent Switzerland … as a French Canadian Quebecoise, for the song contest.

"I didn’t get it, so I’m like but what about people in Switzerland? What are they going to think? Where’s she coming from? We don’t even know her."

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"But what I did is, that I went there and I really, I felt like a horse. And let me elaborate on that. You can bet on the artist that you want the country to win.

After the nail-biting ending, Celine Dion's manager René Angélil, who she would later marry, encouraged her to go up on stage to collect her prize and sing her winning song once more.
After the nail-biting ending, Celine Dion's manager René Angélil, who she would later marry, encouraged her to go up on stage to collect her prize and sing her winning song once more. Picture: Getty
Celine Dion became an overnight star and went on to sell over 250 million records worldwide. Pictured at Eurovision in 1988.
Celine Dion became an overnight star and went on to sell over 250 million records worldwide. Pictured at Eurovision in 1988. Picture: Getty

"So my husband, who is a gambler, [Celine raises an eyebrow] bet on me. A lot of money, and I felt like I was a horse and I needed to race. I really needed to win that race. Did you see me? I was like this [Celine impersonates a jockey riding a horse]. I looked like a horse and I felt like a horse."

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"But Switzerland, we won," she said, adding: "So they loved me after. They gave me a lot of chocolate."

But what happened to the UK's Scott Fitzgerald, the young singer who missed out on the Eurovision crown by just one point?

Scott Fitzgerald from Glasgow had entered with his song 'Go' written by Julie Forsyth, Bruce Forsyth's daughter, and was the first UK entry to have been voted in by the public over the phone (rather than by postcard in preceding years).

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Fitzgerald told the BBC that even the producers at Eurovision thought he was going to win.

"I was so close I could taste it," he said in at interview in 2014.

Celine Dion said of her Eurovision win in 2013: "My husband, who is a gambler, bet on me. A lot of money, and I felt like I was a horse and I needed to race."
Celine Dion said of her Eurovision win in 2013: "My husband, who is a gambler, bet on me. A lot of money, and I felt like I was a horse and I needed to race.". Picture: Getty
Celine Dion has sold millions of records has a reported net worth of c.$630 million.
Celine Dion has sold millions of records has a reported net worth of c.$630 million. Picture: Getty

"The stage manager at Eurovision came to me and said 'when you win it, it is going to be mayhem, so watch out for me because I've got to take you back stage so you can collect the award and you can sing the song again'.

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"That was just as the voting started on the last two votes...I said to him 'you'd better hold on there's another couple of votes'."

He was of course right, and lost to Celine by only one point.

"I can laugh about it now," he says. "I have no animosity or anything like that. I never did. I'm a professional singer.

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"You just get on with it. After Celine Dion won I went over to her and gave her a big hug and kiss".