John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten, is competing to represent Ireland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The former Sex Pistols frontman said the main reason he is competing is to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.
The singer will be performing the song Hawaii together with his band Public Image Ltd on the Late Late Show on Irish television on Friday February 3, calling it a love letter to his wife Nora Forster who lives with the disease. The couple met in 1975 in Vivienne Westwood’s shop Sex in London, and married four years later.
Reminiscing about the time, Lydon said: “Her absolute independence stuck out to me like no other. She was straight out of a film, just totally individual and oblivious to the fashions of the moment. Of course she was told not to come near me. ‘He’s horrible’. Which piqued her interest.”
On competing in Eurovision, Lydon said the message of the song is more important than winning: “I’m doing it to highlight the sheer torture of what Alzheimer’s is. It gets swept under the carpet, but in highlighting it, hopefully we get a stage nearer to a cure.”
He also added that he won’t be listening to the five other contestants: “I don’t want all that stuff to clutter me up, although if there’s a gold cup in it, I’ll have it.”
John Lydon’s Irish connection
John Lydon was born in London in 1956 to Irish parents, making him eligible to be an Irish citizen. Lydon rose to prominence with the controversial punk band The Sex Pistols, releasing the classic album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols in 1977, spawning songs like God Save the Queen and Holiday in the Sun.
After disbanding in 1978, Lydon formed Public Image Ltd, with which he has released 10 albums to date. Their latest album, What the World Needs Now… was released in 2015.
That the former punk rock legend should compete in Eurovision with a bombastic ballad seems like an odd move, but Lydon said his Irish side had been “courting him” for a while: “I kept telling them, ‘Don’t touch. I’m a married man’. But somehow or other this song got picked up and here I am.”
John Lydon’s love song to wife
Since his wife’sdiagnosis in 2018, John has become her primary carer: “Forty-eight years together isn’t enough, but even in illness we’re still finding out new and great things about each other. With Alzheimer’s, they can’t always formulate the words but the real person is still in there. The saddest thing you can do is cut them off.”
Lydon added he has shown his wife the song, and includes her in rehearsals: “I’m going round the house carrying a ghetto blaster and a Hoover, pushing her in a wheelchair. It’s fantastically hilarious, but that’s the only way I can learn the song.”
Ireland’s Eurovision hopefuls
John Lydon and PiL will go up against five other acts before the country’s winner is presented on Ireland’s The Late Late Show on RTE at 9.30pm on Friday (February 3). The winner will be chosen by a national jury made up of music experts, an international jury and a public vote.
Despite being the most talked about song, “Hawaii” has not been doing great in the polls, and was recently ranked five out of the six songs competing to represent the country, which has won more Eurovision Song Contests than any other country. The current favourite is Connolly with the song “Midnight Summer Night”.
"Eurovision has always been such a big part of my life," Connolly told the BBC. "When I was watching it, Ireland’s never been winning but I know the history of it and it’s always made me go back and think we can do it again."
The other acts competing to represent Ireland are Adgy with “Too Good for Your Love”, Leila Jane with “Wild”, Wild Youth with “We Are One” and K Muni & ND with “Down In The Rain”. Whoever wins will then have to compete in the semi-finals in Liverpool on May 9.