Eurovision Actually: celebrating Lúcia Moniz on Portugal Day
It’s natural to think of Salvador Sobral as the Portuguese poster child for Eurovision. Not only did he win the country’s only Eurovision title to date, but he brought home the trophy with a record-breaking tally of points.
For uninitiated Eurovision viewers, though, there’s a more recognisable face in the catalogue of performers who’ve represented Portugal at Eurovision: Lúcia Moniz. Despite coming in sixth at the 1996 contest in Oslo – for a long time her country’s best result – it’s another performance for which she’s is better known.
For many people, Lúcia Moniz will always be Colin Firth’s love interest, Aurelia, in the 2003 Christmas rom-com, 'Love Actually'. That’s right. The Portuguese housekeeper from 'Love Actually' has also competed on the Eurovision stage! Today, on Portugal Day, we take a look back at Lúcia Moniz’s journey to Eurovision, as well as her career in music and film ever since.
The road to Eurovision
Born Ana Lúcia Pereira Moniz in 1976 to musician parents, Lúcia was predisposed to life of song. She took up music early, enrolling at the Saint Cecilia Music Academy in Lisbon when she was just six years. She learned to play the violin as a teenager and dabbled in musical theatre while on a high school exchange to Minnesota in the United States. But Lúcia was still relatively unknown when she entered Festival da Canção as a 19-year-old.
Her song, 'O Meu Coracao Nao tem Cor' (My Heart Has No Colour), was an ode to the cultures of Portugal and Portuguese-speaking countries around the world.
“We dance the samba, the marrabenta too, we cry fado, roll the coladeira,” the lyrics go.
Lucia eked out a four-point win at Festival da Canção that year but would go on to receive an even warmer reception across Europe, scoring 92 points – including sets of 12 points from Cyprus and host country Norway. (For perspective, the song comfortably beat home Australia’s own Gina G, who finished eighth for the United Kingdom with Ooh, Ah… Just A Little Bit.)
Reflecting recently on the experience, Lucia remembered Eurovision as a joyful experience. “I was just having fun. I had a great, great crew with me. We were singing Portuguese music every day, in the hotel corridors and on the streets,” she remembers.
Criticism about the Contest
Lately she's admitted that her interest in Eurovision waned in the years after her participation, saying she felt the “real purpose” of the contest was being forgotten. "The songs being presented, I didn’t feel were the right approach,” she said in a press interview for her most recent film.
But her attention was piqued again when Salvador Sobral was chosen as the Portuguese entry in 2017. “I thought it was such a stunning song, so beautiful, and that got my attention again.”
Life after Eurovision and 'Love Actually'
For the period immediately following her success at Eurovision, Lúcia focused on making music. Her debut album, Magnolia, recorded in the United States, was released in 1999 and went on to be certified gold. She’s recorded three more solo albums since. But it’s acting that has won her wider recognition. Appearances in Portuguese soap operas and in musical theatre productions would help earn her a coveted role in director Richard Curtis’ star-studded film, Love Actually.
“I was surrounded by Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy,” Lúcia has said about her time on set. “Knowing I’d been on the same set as [Firth], I was, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is happening.’ “My admiration for him is even bigger after working with him.” It’s difficult to underestimate the film’s success: it raked in an impressive $250 million at the box office upon release but has since gone on to achieve cult status as a cornerstone of Christmas viewing. It explains why Lúcia is still approached today by fans wanting to share their enthusiasm for the film. “I got a message around Christmas from someone on Instagram who said, ‘I decided to drop you a Merry Christmas, I’m watching Love Actually’, which I think is great,” she told YouTube channel HeyUGuys last year.
She continues making movies today. In Fatima (2020), she plays the mother of a young girl to whom an apparition of the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared. Based on true events, the film details the start of the now century-old pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal, where the apparition was said to appear. Another of Lúcia’s most recent films, Listen, was named Portugal’s entry for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards but was disqualified before the announcement of nominations – judges determined too much of the film’s dialogue was in English. Her film success aside, Eurovision fans will always regard Lúcia’s performance at Eurovision as the seminal moment in her career – one that launched her into stardom and, for the next 21 years, earned her bragging rights as Portugal’s most successful Eurovision entrant.
She even returned this year to Festival da Cancao.
And on that note, Happy Portugal Day to our Portuguese fans.