Why I can’t stay away from Eurovision

THERE’S usually an awkward pause, followed by the word “really?” (whilst trying to stifle a giggle) when I explain to folk that I’m about to set off to spend the next fortnight amidst diva-esque singers, nymph-like dancers, camp choreographers, overtly fey stylists and a plethora of “hugely important” delegates at the Eurovision Song Contest.

This is always followed by the ubiquitous “why?”

I’ve loved the show since I was a child. It was a “big” event for which I was allowed to stay up late. The spectacle of the flamboyant costumes, the intricate yet easy to imitate dance routines, Terry Wogan’s tongue-in cheek commentary and then the thrill and excitement of the voting and waiting to hear the all-important words, “et finalement ... Royaume Uni, douze points!”.

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And the songs... I’ve always loved the songs. Trite, contrived and supremely catchy masterpieces of throwaway pop with (often hilarious) nonsense lyrics, key changes and more “hey”s and hand claps than you could shake a (brightly coloured) stick at.

Back in 1990 I applied to the BBC for accreditation to attend the Contest as a journalist. It’s a privilege which allows you full access to the rehearsals, press conferences, delegation parties and most importantly, the opportunity to meet and mingle with the performers.

That year I spent a thrilling week chatting with singers about their songs, discussing the (obviously) deep and meaningful lyrics with composers, and the merits of which frock showed up the singer’s natural assets best with their Head of Delegation.

Then it struck me that I was now actually part of the event which I had obsessed about since I was around five years old! In one instant I realised that I had crossed a bridge, and would no longer be content with simply watching the show from the comfort of my living room. I had to be there, and had to be a part of the magic of Eurovision.

And so, some 23 contests later, I find myself on the shores of the Caspian Sea - the furthest east we have ever been.

We’re in Baku, capital city of the oil-rich nation of Azerbaijan. Whether or not this is actually Europe is debatable, but the country has pulled out all the stops to ensure that they stage the biggest and most lavish production we’ve ever seen.

The 16,000 seat Crystal Hall, where the contest is being staged, was erected in less than eight months.

Much has been made about the human rights issues in the country and many political activists have fought to have the contest moved away, but with an Olympic bid for 2020 in the offing, the authorities here are keen to show what is actually a stunningly beautiful city as having the infrastructure and capacity to stage a world-class event.

It won’t just be the eyes of Europe that are fixed on Baku on Saturday night...

As for me, well, I’m having a complete hoot mixing with the great and good of the most fabulous event on the year (in my calendar anyway)... and now I’m off to discuss cake recipes with the septuagenarian grannies representing Russia.

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