In January he finally left a Lisbon hospital after undergoing a successful heart transplant a month earlier.
And on Saturday Eurovision winner Salvador Sobral sat down with wiwibloggs ahead of the Eurovision grand final to shed light on his difficult but ultimately uplifting year.
“It’s incredible,” he tells us. “I had a second chance in life. I don’t think many people can say that. I feel great. I can run. I hadn’t run in eight years maybe and I ran. I played football. I can climb stairs.”
Getting to that point has taken time.
“When you live between four walls in five months, it’s very strange to get out,” he says. “You get physically dizzy with the cars and the roundabouts.”
“It was very strange to me. I remember trying to pay for something. I bought some groceries and I had to pay and I was trying to count the money and I couldn’t. It’s strange. It’s an adaptation to the world.”
Despite the romantic vision some may have of an artist in isolation, he says the hospital stifled his ability to engage with music — at least at first.
“I didn’t write anything at the hospital. I didn’t feel inspired at all to write, even to listen to music at the beginning. I said, ‘Music doesn’t belong here.’ Of course it was stronger than me and I had to listen to music. I never did music there. I never played. I never composed. I never wrote songs.”
Our interview came just hours before the singer — full name Salvador Vilar Braamcamp Sobral — was set to perform his new single “Mano a Mano” during the grand final interval.
His sister Luisa, who wrote his winning Eurovision song “Amar pelos dois”, was resting at a nearby hospital. Heavily pregnant, she’d had “phantom contractions” and was expected to go into labour over the weekend.
Salvador and “fast food music”
His Eurovision 2017 winner’s speech — in which he compared pop music to fast food — raised plenty of eyebrows and offended some of his fellow contestants. But Salvador says the comments weren’t born of spite but honesty.
“I swear I didn’t prepare anything,” he says. “I didn’t think I was going to win for one. When they announced my name that I won, the first thing I thought was, ‘Sh*t — I’m going to have to climb those stairs.’ Before climbing stairs was a nightmare. I thought, ‘Five stairs over there and then to the stage.”
“The second thought was sh-t, I’m going to have to deliver it the next year — I’m going to have to give it to somebody, which means I’m going to have to be there again.”
“My third thought was what I’m going to say. I’m walking there and thinking. The whole show was this music I don’t appreciate and I don’t think it has enough meaning to it. So I thought, ‘Let’s talk about this and say what we feel.'”
More recently, the candid singer faced sharp criticism after he said that Israel’s song “Toy” was “horrible.”
Was he nervous about passing the trophy to her — or any other singer from a pop genre?
“It will be awkward if it’s the girl from Israel because I said that and now it would be a bit strange,” he admits. “She’s gonna be like, ‘You some of a b—-!'”
“It’s OK. I have to do it, so I’m going to do it with a smile on my face.”
Despite his reservations about Eurovision songs generally, he does like Portugal’s entry from Claudia Pasocal and Isaura.
“I like it because it’s different form last year. They’re not trying to imitate anything. She sings very well — she’s in tune. In Eurovision it doesn’t happen that often.”
“Last year I felt that people sang a lot out of tune. This year I don’t know because I didn’t see them. They get really nervous and sing out of tune, so it’s legitimate.”
Adjusting to his new reality
A heart transplant is among the most serious and sensitive procedures someone can undergo. Naturally that has consequences on both the body and the voice.
“I had liquid retention — maybe 20 kilos of liquids which made the diaphragm [move upward toward his lungs]. When I lose the liquids because I’m healthy, the diaphragm goes down, so it’s harder for me to sing. I’m still adjusting but I’m OK with it.”
“People will see that I’m recovering,” he says of his performances. “Sometimes I may shake a little bit. I like to use that. It’s another resource as well. Shaking is fragile.”
“When I went to the hospital, before I retired, my voice was in top shape. And now I need to recover it again. But it will come. I’m positive.”
"Amar pelos cinco" — so nice to break bread with #Eurovision2017 winner Salvador Sobral and Portuguese #eurovision commentator Nuno Galopim in #Lisbon ?????? Next year's show is going to be AMAZING #Repost @wiwibloggs ??? Lovely lunch in #Lisbon. A little blurry, but still #salvadorable. #lisboa #visitlisboa #visitlisbon #visitportugal #eurovision #eurovision2018 #eurovisionsongcontest #eurovisionsongcontest2018 #wiwibloggs
Salvador says it’s too early to know how his recent experiences have impacted him as an artist. But he’s clear that it has already altered his day-to-day.
“I’m more relative,” he says. “I don’t get mad because of traffic. If I’m arguing with somebody maybe I won’t argue because why should you argue? I’m healthy and I’m good. I’m more peaceful at life and getting less mad at stuff. That’s something I gained.”
Are you as happy as we are to see Salvador looking so good and feeling so fine? Are you looking forward to his upcoming tour of Portugal and Spain? And what do you think of his new single, which he performed during the interval? Let us know down below!