In Depth

Engelbert Humperdinck: who, what and why?

BBC picks veteran crooner to salvage national pride at the Eurovision Song Contest

THE HOPES of a nation will rest on the shoulders of one man this May as 76-year-old Engelbert Humperdinck sings for Britain in the Eurovision song contest in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. For anyone wondering who on earth he might be, here is The Week's guide to the ageing crooner. Who or what is Engelbert Humperdinck?Not to be confused with the German classical composer after whom he is named, our hero is best described as an easy-listening pop singer who scored three number ones in the UK in the 1960s. He has sold 150 million records worldwide during his 50-year career. Where does Engelbert Humperdinck come from?Humperdinck was born plain old Arnold Dorsey in Madras, now Chennai, India in 1936. He was the son of British Army officer Mervyn Dorsey and his wife Olive, who was part Indian. The family lived on the sub-continent until 1947 when they upped sticks and moved to Leicester. How did Engelbert Humperdinck become famous?Arnold Dorsey started out playing the saxophone in working men's clubs but took up singing in his late teens, when he adopted the stage name Gerry Dorsey. He sang in nightclubs and recorded a single for Decca under that name but it was not a success. In a bid for fame he started performing under the rather more elaborate moniker Engelbert Humperdinck in 1965. The following year he represented Britain at the now defunct Knokke-Heist song contest in Belgium. Hopefully that experience will prove useful at the Eurovision event this year. What songs is Engelbert Humperdinck famous for?His most famous hit was his first, Release Me (And Let Me Love Again), which got to number one in the UK and four in the US in 1967. His was not the first version of the song, which was already more than 20 years old when he recorded it, but the single went on to sell five million copies. Humperdinck's Release Me is also notable as the song that ended The Beatles’ run of number one hits when it kept Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever off the top spot. His second chart-topper was The Last Waltz later that year and he also scored hits with Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, Quando Quando Quando and When There's No You, his third UK number one. However, the hits dried up in the early 70s and his last chart success came in 1972 with Too Beautiful to Last, which made it to 14. However, he scored a top ten US hit in 1976 with After the LovinWhat happened to Engelbert Humperdinck after that?Known as the King of Romance, Humperdinck may not have enjoyed much mainstream chart success but he developed a loyal fan base and continued to tour and record albums. In 1989 he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Paul McCartney of The Beatles was only given a star in January this year, 23 years after Humperdinck. He achieved cult status in the 1990s when Release Me became the theme music to BBC comedy show The Fast Show and he recorded the song Lesbian Seagull for the film Beavis and Butt-head Do America.

More recently Damon Albarn's band Gorillaz asked Humperdinck to perform on their 2010 album Plastic Beach, but his manager turned the band down without telling him. When he found out the singer said it was the "the most grievous sin ever committed" and fired him. In 2009 he was given the freedom of Leicester. Why is he singing at the Eurovision Song Contest?It could be a political move. Humperdinck has a huge following in many European countries and that could ensure that the UK does not disgrace itself. The diplomatic editor of The Times, Roger Boyes, has even explained how Hump could take advantage of political fault lines in Europe caused by the Euro crisis. The BBC said it had chosen the veteran crooner, who will be the oldest performer in the competition's 57-year history, after hearing the music he was currently working on. What will Engelbert Humperdinck sing for Britain?Anyone hoping for something to rival Tom Jones and the Art of Noise's cover of Kiss or Tony Christie's interpretation of Walk Like a Panther will be disappointed. Humperdinck will perform an unnamed ballad produced by songwriters Martin Terefe and Sacha Skarbek, who has written for Adele and Lana Del Rey. Hopefully it will be enough to see off the challenge of Irish twins Jedward.

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