Sophia Paraskeva speaks exclusively to OnThisIsland.com

Sophia Paraskeva, co-host of the JESC

Sophia Paraskeva was born and raised in Limassol. After she finished her degree in the UK, she spent eight years working both behind the screen and on-screen for Sky Broadcasting, before returning to Cyprus. A chance encounter with an old friend resulted in an opportunity to co-host (with Alex Michael) the children’s version of Europe’s most famous song contest, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest which will take place in Limassol on Saturday November 22. Despite her busy schedule this week, Sophia managed to find the time to tell us a little about the song contest and about herself.

How were you selected to host the Junior Eurovision Song Contest? Can you tell us a little about your past experience with BSkyB?

This story amuses me. Sometimes things really do happen for a reason! I had just landed in Cyprus after eleven years in London and I went straight out to a bar to watch my friends’ band ‘Waterblack’ in their first public appearance. I like to think of it as my ‘homecoming tour’. Alex my co-host, who is also an old friend, was at the gig. After a few drinks, we started chatting about life and work in Cyprus. He happened to mention that CyBC may be looking for a female host for the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2008 to be held in Limassol. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but a few weeks later I emailed the Director General of the CyBC telling him a little about my past experience in the industry in London and asking to be considered as I would love to present the show. The very next day, his Deputy called me and asked to meet at the venue. That’s how it all started…I was called in for a screentest without knowing who the male candidate was and Alex showed up. I was thrilled! We’re really comfortable together so it was a breeze.

I spent eight years at Sky. I started as Personal Assistant to the Creative Director of Sky Movies and worked my way up to Production Manager. In that time, I co-ordinated projects like the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the BAFTA Tea Party and the Empire Awards for Sky Movies. I was responsible for all liaisons with the film studios, production companies, publicists and agents in London and Los Angeles. Somewhere along the way, I was asked to make some on-screen appearances. Naturally, I accepted. It’s something I was always keen to try. So I ended up presenting live gameshows for Sky Vegas, studio shows for the Sky Customer Channel, documentaries for Sky Travel and numerous interviews with Hollywood stars on Sky Movies during the promotional period of their upcoming films. It was an invaluable experience! It also gave me the opportunity to go freelance and do some work as a Production Manager for Sky Arts, Sky Creative and Sky Entertainment.

Do you think that the JESC can one day be seen with the same respect and viewed live by as many people as the Eurovision?

I certainly hope so! These youngsters are so incredibly talented, it’s mind-blowing! There is something so unique about their energy and spirit. They ooze confidence, they are uninhibited, positive and so genuine with it all. They are having so much fun! There is so much negative press in our world today, so much dismal news…I think it’s essential we embrace these events that bring cultures together through music and dance. It’s a celebration and if countries continue to participate, I am confident it will be hugely popular within the next few years!

Did you grow up watching the grown-up version of the Eurovision and do you still watch it? Do you think the best song always wins and do you feel performances have become gimmicky? Is it more about the costumes, dancing and presentation than about the music?

Wow! I can’t even pretend to lie about this question. At school, my friends used to call me the Eurovision juke-box. They would name a country and a year and off I would go! I loved the Eurovision…always. We would tape it and stand in front of the TV with friends playing parts for each member of each song. It took up hours of our time! And in later years (not any more obviously) I would prepare a chart and vote predictions for the winning songs, giving them each points just like the jury! In fact, I think I only missed it once and that was the year Greece won…typical! I was in Monaco for the Grand Prix and had to get up early. Back in the day the best song, the winning song, was easy to pinpoint. It was upbeat, catchy and ‘very Eurovision’. It didn’t need much more than that. These days, I’m not so sure. I am also not so keen on so many countries singing in English. I think it should be a celebration of individual cultures…just call me old-fashioned!!!

There has been great interest in the JESC (my sister had to book tickets a month in advance). Do you think that the interest in Cyprus is mirrored by that abroad?

Definitely, at least in the participating countries but that is something I would like to see more of in years to come. I left Cyprus to go to the UK for my University degree thinking our passion for the Eurovision here was unusual. Little did I know I would meet fans who travel the world for conferences and parties all year round. It’s a huge celebration and I am sure there will be people tuned in all over the world on Saturday night.

Sadly, the JESC will take place at a time when many pre-teen children in Europe would normally be tucked in bed. Do you feel it could begin earlier?

There are so many countries to take into consideration, so many TV schedules and commercial breaks to take into account…it’s a tough one to organize so I can’t say. It’s a shame but I am sure, being a weekend, that for one night only these pre-teens will get a nice long afternoon nap and stay up to watch it like we used to when we were kids.

What are you enjoying most about this job? Are you interacting with the children themselves and is this fun or exasperating?

I am loving every moment of this! Presenting is something that comes very naturally to me so when the subject matter is something this entertaining, it makes my job an absolute pleasure. The children are amazing! I met them all for the first time at the Carnival parade and their energy is infectious. It’s going to be a great night!

How will it feel to be on nationwide TV in your own homeland and to be seen throughout Europe as well? Were you intimidated at all by the task?

I can’t wait! This is a fantastic opportunity for me. I can’t believe I traveled the world only to find my ideal presenting gig in my hometown. I love the Eurovision and I thoroughly enjoy presenting. I have to admit, the first time the scale of this event dawned on me was when we rehearsed the opening sequence and I heard the Eurovision theme. I don’t think it’s changed in over twenty years! It took me back. It made me realize what a huge responsibility this is but I am ready for it. The adrenalin of live TV can get you through anything…and Alex is great fun. We are going to enjoy it and make sure the viewers at home do too!

How do you think Cyprus will do?

The entry for Cyprus is great…really adorable! They all are. I can’t even choose a favourite but the most refreshing thing is that, during rehearsals, all groups support each other and clap regardless of the country.

Some people might find it a little odd that girls not even in their teens are singing about love and other “grown-up issues”. Do you think this a good or bad thing? And do you feel that children today are forced into thinking like adults earlier than when you were a teenager?

I must admit, there have been occasions in my life when I have looked at teenagers in the street and been shocked by how much things have changed since we were their age. But life has changed, the media, celebrities, images on TV, film…so many factors are responsible for these changes so you can’t fight them. You just have to exercise an element of responsibility and control as a parent and hope your child will grow up capable of making its own choices. Singing about love can’t be a bad thing…I remember thinking I was in love all the time when I was a teenager!

Will it be difficult going back to the day job once this is over? Would you be up for hosting similar events or TV shows in the future?

Fortunately I love my day job! Being responsible for Public Relations for the Limassol Marina is my ideal job. It combines people skills with media relations and all the kind of work I was doing at Sky. The team is fantastic and the project is a first for Cyprus. It is going to change our town for the better and I am so proud to be a part of it! Presenting is something I really enjoy, so never say never, but right now the marina is a priority on my agenda and I have lots and lots of work to do when I get off Cloud 9 this coming Monday!

More information on the JESC can be found at: http://www.junioreurovision.tv or at the event listing.

(c) Lucas Psillakis November 2008 – Interviewed by Lucas for OnThisIsland.com.

About the Author

Lucas Psillakis

Lucas Psillakis is a qualified scientist, a professional writer and a part-time cynic who believes he has elevated complaining to an art form. Lucas has been contributing regularly to a Cypriot newspaper and has also had his work published elsewhere. His aim is to entertain people and make them think.

Lucas loves reading and writing, good music, good movies, good food and drink and good company. He believes that life is too short to drink bad wine, but is willing to try almost everything once. He actually likes people, despite this not always being self-evident, and has a soft spot for his niece and nephew. He hates junk mail and gets annoyed by people who take themselves too seriously. He would like to solve the Cyprus problem by getting the leaders of the two communities very drunk and locking them up in a small room together.

Lucas brakes for animals and is a thoroughly decent person, unless cornered.