Two weeks on from the official fan zone opening its doors, Eurovision fan David Lloyd, talks warm welcomes, comparisons with previous host cities and tambourines…
I’m jumping up and down at the Pier Head with 25,000 new friends. We’ve all learned a new language – Finnishish. National flags and biodegradable glitter blur in a kaleidoscope of colours as we cha-cha-chant in unison and grin like Moomins. The sun’s just set. A band of gold burnishes the Liverpool Bay horizon, morphing into a sky of cerulean blue. In true Eurovision style, the heavens have had a costume change too – they’ve dressed as a glowing Ukrainian flag, and tonight we’re all huddled together underneath it.
Not to be outdone, the Liver Buildings engage in a call and response, and blaze in blue and yellow spotlights.
It’s the giddy finale to a fortnight when Eurovision lived up to its full potential – and became a global festival of culture, creativity and genuine connectivity. It was always the contest’s true calling, it’s just that it took 67 years for Liverpool to uncover its secret decoder ring. The soft power of Eurovision was there all along – you just needed to open your heart to it.
Every now and then Eurovision shifts on its axis and the contest’s real spirit reveals itself. Sometimes the catalyst is an artist – ABBA, Måneskin, Conchita – sometimes it’s the interval act. For a while, the whole world was hooked on Irish dancing. What black arts did Riverdance cast on us to make that happen? But it’s never, ever, been the host city. Until now.
For two phosphorescent weeks, Liverpool plugged into its power, and half a million visitors fed into that energy source and beamed it right back at us. The love we took was equal to the love we gave.
Of course, if you’ve not been paying attention, you’ll think the contest is just silly, cheesy nonsense. Nothing of nutritional value here. There are still, even now, cynical social media commentators saying that Finland were the real victors: they won the public’s heart and they got away without having to pay to host it next year.
These people clearly weren’t jumping up and down at the Pier Head – of that I have no doubt. They weren’t stretched out on the grass of Chavasse Park listening to a choir in the sunshine. They weren’t watching the English National Opera sing Volare with hundreds of happy school kids. Jake Shears gyrating with freshly landed seagull poop on his gold lame suit (“it’s good luck!” he laughed. And it was). And they definitely weren’t following a thirty-foot-high Octopus and shoals of luminescent disco fish through the streets of the city.
I feel sorry for them. We’re all so busy these days, living our lives through our devices, making ends meet or bingeing on Netflix that genuine opportunities to connect and lay down memories with the people you love are fleeting and precious. You have to grab them while you can.
That’s why I was a little bit nervous when Liverpool won. Because it’s not the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s my Eurovision Song Contest. It’s my family history, it’s parties with people I’ve lost along the way. It’s a touchstone to the things that really matter to me. In another city’s hands it could have all been so different. Silly, cheesy nonsense. Nothing of nutritional value.
Not here. I was struck by how many visitors travelled alone. In the arena for the first semi final, I sat next to a girl from the Netherlands: “How can you be alone at something like this?” she said, “I’ve met more new friends here than in any other city.”
As I weave my way through the Pier Head crowd I meet Shane, a Brit living in Milan: “I’ve never been on a pilgrimage,” he says, grinning from ear to ear, “but this is what it must feel like. The whole city is like one huge Eurovision theme park. I’ve been living my best life, just walking through the streets of Liverpool.”
As the news footage beamed across Europe, tourist chiefs from previous host cities must have looked on in bewilderment: huh, they’ve got tourists arriving from 37 countries, and they’ve arranged things for them to do? They’ve lined the streets with volunteers and put on parties and parades across the city? Isn’t that just cheating?
Honestly, at the Lisbon Eurovision Village there wasn’t a single bar that sold gin or prosecco. Just beer. And our tambourine was confiscated. What, exactly, were they expecting? Did someone write ‘The Euros’ instead of Eurovision on the year planner?
Of course, this year, things were different. This year, we really shouldn’t have hosted it at all.
I was thinking about that when I stood in front of the Nelson monument, entombed in sandbags in Exchange Square, echoing the similarly-shielded sculptures in Kyiv. TV monitors were burrowed deep into its makeshift fortifications, showing a film about music and resilience.
I was trying to process the horror of war and yet, somehow, my feet were tapping. The soldiers on screen were singing along to an infectious Ukrainian folk tune. They were beaming with pride. For three minutes, they were filled with joy. No longer on the front line, they were back home, with loved ones, in happier times. And I got it. Music doesn’t just unite. Music is medicine.
Liverpool isn’t at war. Not even close. But we’re not short of troubles of our own making. Of special measures, missed opportunities and half-realised pipe dreams.
We could have got so mad, told all our friends how mean people are to us. Instead, we hosted a song contest. And everybody won.