Eurovision winner Conchita cancels Festival show after band barred

Conchita Wurst was due to perform in Edinburgh on Friday night. Picture: comp
Conchita Wurst was due to perform in Edinburgh on Friday night. Picture: comp
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Conchita Wurst, the bearded drag artist and Eurovision Song Contest winner, has withdrawn from the Edinburgh International Festival because her Syrian band was denied visas.

The artist has confirmed that Friday night’s concert -— intended to highlight the importance of immigration in enriching European culture —- has been cancelled because officials barred all three members of Basalt from entering the UK.

The artist, who is based in Vienna, refused to travel without Amjad Khaboura, Noor Eli Khoury and Almonther Alshoufi. The trio have all lived in Austria for at least two years.

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A source close to Conchita Wurst and the band told The Times: “This project is about co-operation, about people who start new lives in a new country.

“If Basalt cannot be there it would feel completely absurd for Conchita to fly without them.”

Conchita is the alter ego of Thomas Neuwirth.

When the song Rise like a Phoenix triumphed in the 2014 Eurovision competition, the victory was viewed as a major boost for gender diversity across the continent.

Conchita was due to perform as part of the New European Songbook, a series of concerts focussed on collaborations between “established European artists like Conchita Wurst and ... artists recently arrived in the continent”.

Fergus Linehan, the director of the festival, said cancellation of the show was a tragedy.

He said: “The point of this event was its symbolism.

“This feels awful. This is a very specific project to show the detail of people arriving in our cities, enriching our cultural life and being welcomed here.

“This is more than just ‘the bass player in the band didn’t get in’. It feels particularly painful because of the symbolism of the concert.”

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He added: “We have had to give up for this concert, but we are not going to lie down on this.

“If it doesn’t come to pass this August, we will invite them to the 2018 festival. We are not going to give up.”

The decision by UK Visas and Immigration, part of the Home Office, highlights worries about the effect Brexit will have on international businesses and areas such as the arts.

A Home Office official said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases. All visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with the immigration rules.”