Eurovision 2023

What a blast!

When Ukraine won in 2022, but were unable to host it, the UK, whose Sam Ryder had been runner up, took on the responsibility. The host city was declared as Liverpool, a good choice given its rich musical heritage. Having previously been able to attend the world’s greatest party in EuroViennaSlava, I was very excited to be able to attend this one.

It got off to a worrying start. The plane prices had been extortionate, so I was booked as a foot passenger on the 10.30 ferry from Belfast to Birkenhead. At 7.30 am I tried scheduling a taxi, but was unable to. At 7.45 I tried booking a cab for now, and kept getting automated messages saying “we’ve got your booking, thank you for your patience”. At 8.20 the cab company rang me to say they wouldn’t have anything for at least another 15 minutes, and did I want to cancel. The ferry had a 30 minute delay, which gave me a wee bit more time, but check in was due to close at 9.30. I grabbed my wheely suitcase and set of to speed walk to the train station a mile away, hoping to catch a fast train to Belfast and then pick up a taxi to the docks there. And as luck would have it, there is a taxi rank at the top of the hill, where a vacant cab was waiting. I explained the urgency of our mission, which the driver accepted, and we set off, both anxiously biting our nails in the slow moving rush hour traffic. But as we emerged from the Westlink at 9 o’clock, we knew we were going to make it OK. I’d had visions of me doing a Will Ferrell in Fire Saga and having to swim part of the way!

The boat was remarkably quiet. I’m familiar with the Scottish routes, which are usually packed and noisy, but when I secured a seat in the Hygge lounge I was the only person there! I broke the 8 hour journey up with reading my book, playing Scrabble online, doing a crossword, watching a movie in one of the ship’s 2 cinemas, taking a walk round the whole of the boat, enjoying a GnT from the bar while passing the Isle of Man, and discovering licorice flavoured Haribos in the shop.

As we glided onto the Birkenhead terminal, the familiar Liverpool skyline was clear on the other side of the Mersey, with a big Eurovision welcome banner, and bright lights shining from the Eurovillage stage. Former neighbours of mine, and fellow parkrunner, were to be my hosts for a few days, and they met me at the pick up point. We had a good catch up over a lovely dinner.

Thursday was semi-final day, and I had managed to get tickets for the afternoon preview show. I was dressed in tribute to last year’s winners, the Kalush Orchestra, and on the bus journey into town we played “spot the other Euroviz fans”. Liverpool had totally embraced its job as host city, with huge brightly coloured signs everywhere, lots of blue and yellow for the Ukrainian flag, pop up performances, Ukrainian songbirds, and volunteers ready to answer any question or take photos. We spotted radio star and Strictly contestant Ritchie Anderson, who was happy to pose for a picture with us, and said “loving the Kalush pink hat!”

A glass of fizz to get us in the mood by the waterfront, admiring the floating globe, and then we made our way to the queue at the arena. It didn’t take overly long to get through, with plenty of opportunity to admire the great costumes of other audience members.

And then we were in the arena. Gasps of wonder and astonishment at the sheer size of it and the amazing stage, plus pinching ourselves that were actually here! Previous Euro tunes kept the audience’s spirits up, with lots of singing along, and chatting to neighbours. A warm up man came out to go through housekeeping rules, and check that we were able to cheer loudly.

And then, the familiar Charpentier Te Deum began, with a shiver of excitement rippling throughout the hall. The presenters appeared and the dress rehearsal began. Each of the live shows has a number of full run-throughs, to allow all the camera positions to be checked, timing of bits in between songs, any interviews to be fine tuned, and other technical aspects to be tested. The stage was very shiny, with LED lights that could pin point where each artist was to be position. When one song ended, and the TV footage switched to the “postcards”, an army of stage crew appeared and cleared the stage of the previous performer’s props and staging, sweep the floor with at least 3 or 4 wide brooms, and get the next performance ready to go. It was a majorly impressive operation.

I’d already listened to all the of songs, so I knew which one was going to be my “toilet break” song. And after one particular number, (I’ll spare their blushes), I said “If that qualifies I will eat my pink bucket hat!” This semi finished with my own favourite, Australia’s Voyager fulfilling one of their own dreams. “Promise” is a proper stadium rock song with a synth-tastic 80s influence, complete with a keytar, and it proved to be a fittingly rousing way to round off the show

In the preview shows the voting is also rehearsed, with stand in crew in each of the green room pods, and fake results announced. We decided we would avoid the crowds and leave before these were complete, and on exiting the arena we were given a Moroccan Oil tote bag in fetching teal and white, containing a miniature hand cream and hair treatment. They are the main contest sponsors, and the bag will be a very useful beach bag.

Heading to the Eurovillage, there was quite a queue to get in, and as we entered the rain started, and there is nowhere to shelter. I was disappointed by the village – I know it had lots of great live performances throughout the week, but I’d expected more stalls from the participating countries, not just bars and burger vans. We took shelter in Mowgli, a great Indian street food restaurant, before making our way home in time to watch the semi live on TV.

On the Friday we took a break from Euroviz and headed to Chester for a lovely stroll around the walls, through the gardens, before lunch at the new Chester market (highly recommended) and a drink in a sunny beer garden. It was great to hear the Mersey Rail announcements being made by Graham Norton.

Saturday morning is parkrun, and I was delighted to tick off another event in the gorgeous Birkenhead Park. They had a suitable Eurovision them, with blue and yellow bunting at the finish line, and costumes/ blue’n’yellow encouraged. I gave the Kalush outfit another go to dry it out after Thursday’s drenching, but it was quite warm running in a hat and waistcoat.

For the evening Final, I’d brought several possible outfits with me, but eventually chose an all over sparkly sequinned top. We were watching a live screening at the Everyman Theatre, and the buzz walking through the city centre was incredible. A welcome glass of prosecco greeted us, before we took our seats for some pre-show entertainment, emceed by a drag queen. When she found out I’d been to the same ballet school as Dana, she dragged me onstage for an impromptu duet. (“Do you wanna see me dance?”) Other audience members performed karaoke of some Euroviz classics, and did rather well, I thought!

The class of 23 included some typically bonkers entries, the most outstanding of which was Cha Cha Cha from Finland. This was a HUGE crowd pleaser – the energy in the arena with every one chanting along was electric, and a few of us took to the stage to dance along with the moves during the performance.

We’d agreed to leave after all the songs had been performed, switch off all social media, beat the crowds home and then watch the results on catch-up TV. Much as I loved Finland, I was delighted for Sweden, joining Ireland as the most successful countries, and for Loreen to be the first woman to win the contest twice. Hey, last time I was at the contest in 2015, when Mans won for Sweden – maybe I am their lucky mascot! Do you think if I contacted them they would give me a VIP pass to Stockholm next year?

The boat home on Sunday was just as calm and uncrowded, I even treated myself to the Stena Plus lounge, which has snacks and drinks available all day.

Well done Liverpool, a host city which totally embraced the madness, providing lots of activities, pop up performances and things to enjoy even for those who hadn’t got tickets. You’ll never sing alone.