As the dreadful situation in Ukraine sadly made it impossible for this year’s winners to stage the event, for the first time in twenty-five years the Eurovision Song Contest will be hosted in the UK. With an audience of over 150 million, the contest is without doubt the biggest music festival in the world.
From an initial list of 20 cities who expressed an interest, Birmingham has made the shortlist. The other cities still in contention are Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. With such a large audience, the host city will attract a huge amount of attention, boosting tourism for the whole region.
The Commonwealth Games have shown Birmingham is exceptionally well-prepared to host major international events. This has long been the case. Back in May 1998, a week after hosting Eurovision, the city went on to welcome the G8 world leaders’ summit, then two weeks later the Lions International Convention, attracting yet another 25,000 delegates to the city. The eyes of the world really were on Birmingham back then.
With a vast array of hotels, an international airport – and two venues willing and more than capable of hosting the competition – it’s going to be hard to beat as a host city.
The event now needs venues to be available for around six weeks to prepare, so perhaps having two possible (venues) locations might give Birmingham an advantage. Whichever city is chosen to host the contest will have to move existing bookings. As the Birmingham bid has two possible venues, both of which come under the management of the NEC group, schedules might be able to be tweaked more easily than in the other shortlisted cities.
Why has the UK been chosen?
Hosting the contest is an honour for the winning country, although special arrangements are in place should Australia win. Eurovision hasn’t always been taken as seriously in the UK as in many other countries, but hosting is still seen as an honour and a privilege rather than a right.
Some might say the contest should have been hosted in Moldova. Indeed, the tiny country came second in the televote. When it became clear that Ukraine couldn’t host the contest, the European Broadcasting Union turned to the BBC as the UK came second in the overall vote – and even topped the jury vote, beating the Ukrainian entry by a huge margin of 283 to 192.
Things have moved on significantly since 1998. The contest held in Birmingham was the final time a live orchestra was featured. It was also one of the first to feature televoting, making Dana International’s victory a truly popular choice.
When Israel hosted the contest the following year backing tracks were used, some say changing the contest forever. The real change came in 2008 when the format we know today of having two semi- finals was introduced.
With the influx of new countries joining the contest, the host city now needs to be able to welcome countless more attendees – just 25 countries competed back in 1998. Nowadays that figure is around 40. This makes producing the contest a much longer process, with venues now needing to be available for up to six weeks before the show.
Why does the UK still bother?
It’s fair to say Eurovision hasn’t always been universally popular in the UK over the years. However, Sam Ryder’s result this year has definitely put a stop to UK fans consistently being asked “Why do we still bother?”.
Most fans simply reply “so when – and how many times – have we won the Football World Cup?” Eurovision is so much more than football – or any sport. It’s an exchange of culture in a region of the world which has known – and still knows – horrendous conflict.
When countries come together in peace and harmony, they can learn so much about each other. It’s a huge (but necessary) shame that Russia and Belarus have had their membership of the EBU suspended so they can no longer compete. Then there are countries like Turkey (Türkiye) who have left the competition as it was too inclusive and featured LGBT+ performers.
Thankfully the BBC and UK have never expressed an intention of leaving the contest. Let’s hope it stays that way. Let’s also hope that one day welcome back a peaceful and more tolerant Russia, Belarus and Türkiye.
Will Brexit hinder things?
Back in 1998, the UK was a fully-fledged EU member state. 2023 is very different.
With the loss of freedom of movement, it will be up to the new minister for culture to decide what the visa regulations will be for the contest. If visa regulations aren’t relaxed, there might be a huge amount of extra paperwork – and cost – for delegations and even fans who might write an occasional article so they can get a highly prized press pass. This lets a fan into the inner workings of the contest, giving access to endless press conferences and rehearsals, and perhaps the odd soirée. Especially the not so odd soirée.
The current Culture Minister Nadine Dorries, along with the current prime minister both expressed their wish that the contest should go ahead in war torn Ukraine. By the time the contest is held, both should be footnotes in history books.
However, the new government’s stance is unlikely to be very different, so let’s hope Joe Lycett will repeat his now immortal words from the Commonwealth Games ceremony “Now, I’m going to do something now the British Government doesn’t always do, welcome some foreigners”. And Birmingham will definitely give those “foreigners” a huge welcome.
On a hopeful note, perhaps hosting Eurovision might just be a catalyst for sorting out the mess caused by Brexit for musicians who now find it so very difficult to tour abroad.
Birmingham or Solihull?
Unlike 1998, when the contest was held at the National Indoor Arena (now the Utilita Arena), two venues are being considered. The frontrunner, also West Midlands Mayor Andy Street’s favoured venue, is Resorts World, geographically in neighbouring Solihull Metropolitan District Council.
Given the Ukrainian emphasis on the contest, it would be great if all the shortlisted places initiated a town twinning process with a Ukrainian town. In fact, Birmingham has been twinned with Zaporizhzhia since the 1970s.
Town twinning gives Solihull a very tenuous Eurovision connection. One of its twin towns is Cholet, a place in France probably most famous for lending its name to one of the Wombles who were the interval act at Eurovision in 1974! Whilst memories of the Wombles may have faded, most people will certainly have heard of the winners from that year: a Swedish group called Abba. On a poignant note, the UK’s entrant was none other than the recently departed Olivia Newton John.
One thing’s for sure, for so very many of us, hosting the contest in the UK will help make us feel a little more European. It’s one step back to feeling a part of, rather than apart from, the great family of European nations once again.this