Can Emmelie de Forest swap baker’s dozens for douze points?

The bookmakers’ favourite, a third cousin of Elizabeth II, is bidding to become the queen of Eurovision

The first time I heard the word ‘Eurovision’, I mostly thought it was some television broadcasting company that would one day more than likely control the continent’s airwaves. A bit like Skynet in the Terminator films. But much to the mockery of my non-American friends here, I quickly came to learn about the wildly popular, pan-European singing contest. I’d been so wrong.

As an outsider looking in, Eurovision seems … tired. Singing contests? Everyone’s got one. The UK has The X Factor, the US is still watching American Idol, South Korea has something called I Am a Singer. They might all be different, but they have one thing in common − people singing to win.

Eurovision, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. For one, fairly well established singers can compete. (Germany’s pick this year is Cascada, who have been around and producing music since 2002.) And not only does this contest cover the European continent, but the singers themselves are representative of their country, putting the weight of their nation’s pride on their shoulders.

And Denmark is extremely proud of young 20-year-old Emmelie de Forest.

Earlier this year, de Forest was chosen out of ten hopefuls to represent Denmark in the upcoming Eurovision competition in Malmö. “It’s always been a dream of mine to win,” she tells InOut. “I’ve been watching it ever since I was little.”

De Forest is half Swedish and half Danish, and she has been singing and involved in the musical process since she could remember. “I’ve written lyrics and small stories for a long time,” she recalls. “But [two years ago] was when I started to write songs. For me, the most interesting part has been the lyrics.”

When I first watched de Forest’s winning number, ‘Only Teardrops’ − which was written by Lise Cabble, Julia Fabrin Jakobsen and Thomas Stengaard − I shrugged my shoulders. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. (It was stuck in my head for hours afterwards, though.) But de Forest loves it, and having passion for your music is half the battle. After recording the song and submitting it to DR, she remembers the first time she heard it: “I was working in a bakery, and I was so excited that I was dropping cakes all day!”

The other half of the battle is being a crowd favourite and, by the looks of it, de Forest is just that. It is widely acknowledged that she is the favourite to win the Eurovision title this year − the odds are stacked highly in her favour. Her stage presence is quite interesting and minimal, letting the song speak for itself: she is barefooted and in a white dress with unkempt hair, while two drummers who also dabble on the recorder stand with her and appear unmoved by her emotional words. It’s the juxtaposition of ‘war’ and ‘peace’, she explains.

She has certainly come a long way since her days working in a bakery, and she appears to have become a sensation, not only in Europe but internationally. “There are a lot of fans in Europe,” she says. “But we also get messages from South America and Canada. They even used ‘Only Teardrops’ for a Grey’s Anatomy trailer in Spain. I’ve received emails from, for example, a Spanish lyricist who would like me to sing in Spanish.”

But de Forest hasn’t forgotten about the upcoming contest. Being half-Swedish also makes Eurovision all the more personal and emotional, as it is being held in Malmö. “I spent my childhood in Stockholm, so it’s my second home, my second country,” she acknowledges. “[Going to Malmö] is almost like going home.”

Back when she was still an aspiring singer, de Forest claimed that she is the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, via her son Edward VII, which would make her a third cousin of the queen of England, who is also a fourth generation descendant of a monarch nicknamed ‘the grandmother of Europe’. Given the number of illegitimate children Edward VII had, her claim could be true. “It’s something that has always been well-known in my family,” she said.

But the media pounced on her announcement, and finding proof of unspoken trysts and unintended children is nearly impossible. De Forest dropped the story, but she shrugs off the disbelief many have. “I think it was a funny and interesting story, but I never cared that much about it,” she admits. “Danes thought it was a funny story, so I said: ‘Why not?’ But we just don’t use it anymore. I know who I am and where my family come from, and I just want to focus on the music − that’s the important thing!”

And that’s when I realise this singer, who is competing as the face of Denmark in this international singing contest, is 20 years old. That’s incredibly young to be competing, let alone winning. Last year’s winner was Loreen from Sweden, who is 29. Ell & Nikki from Azerbaijan won in 2011 and are in their mid-30s.

She smiles when I tell her this, and she seems to be aware of how crazy this is. Much more comfortable without shoes, she is sitting in socks with her legs resting on the edge of the chair in front of her. She looks very normal. “I spend time with the people I love,” she says when I ask about how she keeps the stress at bay. “Friends and family. When I get the time to take the day off and breathe, I do the things I love: reading or watching a film or going for a walk.”

I doubt I’ll ever succumb to the Eurovision craze, but I can see why so many people love this contest. The hype, which gradually increases from the moment the country winners are revealed to the day they go to the semi-finals, is tangible whenever the show is mentioned. After all, Eurovision did put ABBA on the map. It’s serious business, and it seems de Forest is ready for it. Mostly.

“I think it’s wonderful that people have received the song so well,” she says. “I love it too, but I’m trying not to get nervous about it!”

Read more in our special Eurovision section.

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