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Italian Eurovision winner tests negative after cocaine snafu

European Broadcasting Union clears Damiano David of suspicion he snorted drug on live TV after winning contest

Italy's Maneskin celebrate on stage with the trophy after winning the final of the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2021, at the Ahoy convention center in Rotterdam, on May 22, 2021. (Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP)
Italy's Maneskin celebrate on stage with the trophy after winning the final of the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2021, at the Ahoy convention center in Rotterdam, on May 22, 2021. (Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP)

GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) — Damiano David, the flamboyant singer for Italy’s Eurovision-winning rockers Maneskin, tested negative for drugs, the contest organizers said Monday, following a furor over speculation he snorted cocaine at the final.

The red lederhosen-clad vocalist was tested after footage of him leaning over a table in the hospitality area of the competition in Rotterdam went viral.

Eurovision, the kitsch annual televised pop music extravaganza watched by hundreds of millions each year, is put together by the European Broadcasting Union.

The Geneva-based EBU said that following allegations of drug use backstage, it had reviewed the facts, including checking all available footage.

It said David voluntarily underwent a drug test on Monday “which has returned a negative result seen by the EBU.”

“No drug use took place in the Green Room and we consider the matter closed. We are alarmed that inaccurate speculation leading to fake news has overshadowed the spirit and the outcome of the event and unfairly affected the band.”

Favorites Maneskin fought off stiff competition from France and Switzerland, surging to victory on Saturday on the back of the public vote to win with 524 points with their song “Zitti e Buoni.”

“We wish to congratulate Maneskin once again and wish them huge success,” the EBU said. “We look forward to working with our Italian member Rai on producing a spectacular Eurovision Song Contest in Italy next year.”

French fury

Such was the furor that even the French government weighed in, seeing grounds for disqualification in the event that David tested positive.

France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune had called for “total transparency.”

“I think there needs to be no doubt here,” he told RMC radio. “If there is a problem, there are penalties… Provisions are made for sanctioning measures, including potential disqualification in case of problems.”

French hopes had been riding high on singer Barbara Pravi, who was a bookmakers’ favorite to end France’s 44-year Eurovision drought with her moody ballad “Voila.”

But she was edged out at the last minute by a surge in public votes for Maneskin.

“I don’t want to be a sore loser,” Beaune said, but “in terms of image, we can’t let people think that such competitions can result in such behavior.”

The president of France’s public broadcasting group, however, said Monday that France would not contest its second-place finish, no matter the speculation.

David was asked about the footage during a press conference early on Sunday, and said he had been looking down because guitarist Thomas Raggi had broken a glass.

“I don’t use drugs. Please, guys. Don’t say that really, no cocaine. Please, don’t say that,” said David, who sprayed his bandmates with champagne during the conference.

The four-piece, which also features Victoria De Angelis on bass and Ethan Torchio on drums, told fans on Twitter: “We still can’t believe what’s going on, these last few days have been incredible and this is just the beginning.

“Our new album ‘Teatro D’Ira’ has just gone platinum, and so has ‘Le Parole Lontane’. This is all thanks to you.”

“We can’t wait to go on tour all around the world and share our music with all of you.”

Italian rock band Maneskin perform the song Zitti E Buoni during the second rehearsal of the second semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam on May 15, 2021. (Sander Koning / various sources / AFP)

UK says don’t blame Brexit

Italy is one of Eurovision’s “Big Five” along with Britain, France, Germany and Spain, who automatically qualify for the finals each year.

Meanwhile, Britain’s crushing “nul points” (Eurovision’s term for zero points) was down to the poor selection process, not bad blood over Brexit, a senior minister insisted Monday.

James Newman scored zero points from both the jury and public vote for his song “Embers” — in only the second time the country has failed to win any points at all.

The last time it happened was in 2003, after an off-key performance by the group Jemini. But Saturday’s poor showing was the second year in a row that Britain came in last place.

“I think there is a fundamental problem with the way that we are choosing our performances and singers,” international trade minister Liz Truss told LBC radio.

But she dismissed a suggestion that voters had passed over the UK entry because of the divisive and tortuous departure from the European Union.

“I don’t think it’s a post-Brexit snub. I think that we need to have more competition to get the right entrant,” said Truss.

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