As the lyrics of the Eurovision 1973 entry “Baby Baby” expressed, love is fragile like porcelain. But Nicole and Hugo’s love started on national broadcaster VRT’s stage, blossomed through good luck and bad luck, and lasted more than 50 years until Nicole Josy’s passing last night at the age of 76.
After having successfully battled cancer twice and suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, Josy unexpectedly passed away at home due to falling down the stairs, according to her manager Philippe Draps. She had also spent time caring for her ailing mother, who passed away at the age of 99 last year.
And despite their last place finish at Eurovision 1973, Nicole and Hugo over the years became an iconic and fondly remembered Eurovision power couple, a marriage that stood the tests of both time and hardship and whose entry attracted more attention and fondness as the years passed.
Born Nicole Van Palm on October 26, 1946 in Wemmel, Flemish Brabant, Nicole exhibited singing talent from a very early age. She exhibited confidence in her own ability to the point where she adopted her stage name of Nicole Josy at age 14.
It worked, with Nicole picking up a recording contract early and releasing twenty singles in Belgium, most to critical and commercial acclaim, in the late 1960s. Nicole’s first attempt at Eurovision came in 1968 when she entered “À la Nouvelle-Orléans” in the Belgian national selection.
But Belgian broadcaster VRT would play the biggest part in Nicole’s life, when television presenter Lies Huylebroek brought in Hugo Sigal to replace a sick presenter on a live variety show. Nicole and Hugo hit it off after being introduced to each other that night, and remained inseparable ever since after deciding to team up as a duo.
In 1971 Nicole and Hugo won the Belgian national selection with “Goeiemorgen, morgen.” However, shortly before Eurovision 1971, Nicole was forced to withdraw due to contracting jaundice. Belgium was forced to send in last minute replacements in Jacques Raymond – who had previously represented Belgium at Eurovision 1963 – and Lily Castel. Raymond and Castel came in 14th out of 18 with “Goeiemorgen, morgen,” though the original Nicole and Hugo version remained a chart-topping hit in Belgium during the summer of 1971 despite their last minute withdrawal.
Nicole and Hugo tried again in Belgium’s national selection for Eurovision 1973, with a format that is being reintroduced (somewhat) for 2023 – five acts competed with two songs each. Nicole and Hugo triumphed again with “Baby baby,” and this time were able to go to Eurovision and perform.
Unfortunately, “Baby Baby” came in 17th out of 17, though as is the tradition with many last placed entries at Eurovision over the years, the song would become a cult favorite to such a degree that Nicole and Hugo would reenact their performance – complete with the same purple outfits and signature dance moves – at Eurovision’s 50th Anniversary special in 2005.
“Baby baby” also got the couple on the radar of many international promoters, with Nicole and Hugo going to Japan in 1974 and coming in 2nd at the World Popular Song Festival.
After that, the couple were hired for the cruise ship circuit, entertaining many thousands of seabound couples and families over a span of two decades.
As Nicole told VRT, ““We have seen the world for 25 years. We have seen practically everything that is on the water. In that time we had a very nice life.”
In 2004, Nicole and Hugo tried to give Eurovision another go. They entered a very crowded field with “Love is All Around,” coming in 2nd in Semi-Final 1. Unfortunately, only the winners of the four Semi-Finals and the three highest scoring 2nd place entries made the Final. Unfortunately Astrid, Barbara Dex and Alides, and Raf Van Brussel edged them out as 2nd place semi-finalists.
They kept on competing, and in 2008 won the Belgian cover contest “Zo is er maar een.” Their cover of Liesbeth List and Ramses Shaffy’s “Pastorale” reached Number 1 on the Flanders singles chart, representing a massive comeback for the couple 35 years after their Eurovision attempt.
In 2012, the couple hit Number 1 on the Flanders singles chart with an original composition, “Schietgebed.”
The couple retired from performing in 2016, primarily so Nicole could take care of her ailing mother. Her mother Lucienne passed away in 2021 just shy of her 100th birthday due to Covid-19.
In 2015, the couple were interviewed about their upcoming retirement. The couple matter of factly expressed how they desired to end their lives, with both having drawn up end of life agreements and both wanting their ashes to be scattered together in St. Tropez, France.
In that 2015 interview, Hugo pondered his own mortality should something happen to his true love, who at this time had just defeated breast cancer and who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“I don’t know if we could live without each other,” Hugo posited.
Nicole also asked, “How shall we go? Hand in hand would be nice. In a nice big box, with our purple suits on.”
As they told their biographer Catherine Vandoorne, “We have a beautiful life, and we don’t regret anything. We don’t know what will happen next, but as long as we have each other, that is our greatest good.”
Nicole’s funeral will be held on November 12th, 2022. The thoughts and prayers of ESC United are with Hugo and the rest of their family and friends.
What memory of Belgium’s power Eurovision couple do #YOU hold most dear? Let us know in the comments below, on our social media, or in our forum or Discord.