Sylvia’s eyes twinkle in tandem with her Union Jack sequined dress as she takes a moment to think about my question.

“For us, being a fan of Eurovision is like following your favourite football team around the world. Except you don’t care who wins – and there’s way more glitter”.

We are in Liverpool for the world’s biggest, and most obsessed-about song competition. I’m chatting to Sylvia and her BFF Fiona – who has just spent 40 hours flying in all the way from New Zealand – as the hyped-up crowd file out of the arena after the rollercoaster of the live semi-final one.

I’m here to talk to the fans who help make the competition so special and to find out what Eurovision – and its long-awaited return to the UK – means to them.

The road to the competition

When Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest last year, hopes were high that Ukraine might still be able to host the show. It soon became clear though that the ongoing war would make that impossible, so it fell to the UK – after our spectacular second placing with Sam Ryder – to step in to host the contest.

I’m an unapologetic Eurovision fan, so like many others, I’ve dreamed of attending the competition in the UK. But first, we fans had to face a number of hurdles. From the traumatic rush for tickets to transport and accommodation woes, many fans have been through the mill already, despite this being an event on home turf.

Yet having Eurovision in the UK gave thousands of people priced out of traveling abroad a shot at finally seeing the show live.

I spoke to Sally-Ann [Sadler], as I scoped out where the Eurovision Fan Ferry ride would begin (yes, really), who speaks for many:

“I’ve always wanted to go to Eurovision but I just couldn’t afford to travel abroad or get the time off. This is why Liverpool is so important for us. I’ve waited a lifetime to actually get to go to the contest and I’m so excited to be here, even though I couldn’t get all the tickets I’d have liked”.

Like many people, Sally-Ann and her mates might not have tickets for the big live shows, but they most certainly are out in force for the many public events in Liverpool over the week, including the grand screening of the final.

The rail strikes on Friday have chucked a spanner in the works for many fans and forced them to change their plans. I’d opted to travel up with my fellow Eurofanatic Christine on the Euro Party Train – a special fan only train from London to Liverpool.

I was a bit worried that we’d all peak too early, but let me tell you, a train packed with Eurovision obsessives was a joyous way to begin our Euro odyssey. I think we’d have been quite happy staying on for another few hours tbh, but there’s much to do!

Of course, some fans have travelled from much further away. At the main stadium, I got chatting to Martin and Darron, who flew in from Connecticut in the USA on the weekend. They’ve attended every Eurovision since 2006. I asked Martin why traveling around the world to each completion was so important.

“Put simply, to see each host city putting their best foot forward and rolling out the carpet for ESC fans, while also bumping into all the friends we have met over the years is a massive gift beyond compare.  We would not have experienced the wonders of Baku or the stunning Torino, or seen how impressive Dusseldorf is without Eurovision”.

Nearby I grab a quick hug from Dale and the team from AussieVision, the Australian Eurovision fan site, who flew in last Friday. I make a mental note to not bitch about jet lag ever again.

Liverpool and Ukraine

There’s really nothing to describe what it’s like wandering around Liverpool in the run up to the competition. The whole city is covered in Eurovision paraphernalia. King Charles must be furious.

I get chatting to Dan, who is taking in the sites like me. “Liverpool has really gone to town this year” he says, gesturing to the street’s festooned in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. “What’s most moving is the fact that Ukraine is being celebrated everywhere you look”. No-one is forgetting why we are here or who won in 2022”.

“Best of all is the Soloveiko Songbird trail around the city. The nightingales are the symbol of Ukraine and each one plays songs and stories from the country. Kids just love pressing the buttons and finding them all”.

Without a doubt, one of the most striking things about being in Liverpool in person is how moving this whole event is. The excitement and party spirit abounds, there’s a huge amount of admiration for our Liverpudlian hosts, and it’s all surprisingly emotional.

I get chatting to Eddie as we plot playing ‘spot Sonia’ on Friday (trust me, it’s ‘a thing.’) Eddie is with his long-suffering, non-Eurovision loving partner Phil, who is gamely getting in to the spirit of things.

“I first got in to the competition the year that Sonia entered”, he tells me. I was so convinced she was going to win, and when she didn’t, I was devastated. Yet from then on, I was hooked”.

“I’m the eldest of 5 so we didn’t get to go on holiday abroad when I was younger. So I learned about Europe from Eurovision – about different cultures, politics and so much more”.

I had a lovely chat with Eddie about his love of Eurovision, his mum, who sadly has Alzheimer’s, and how she still remembers Sandy Shaw when he sings Puppet on a String to her. “Being part of the fandom is like being part of a family”, he adds. He’s not wrong.

At the stadium

Along with Christine, I’m staying with ten of my closest Euro fans, which feels a bit like living in a reality TV show (don’t vote me out boys). But it’s clear that even those attending the Eurovision events alone won’t feel left out.

I took a trip to check out the ‘turquoise carpet’ where the artists do their first photocalls during the opening of the event, and bump into Eurovision blogger and broadcaster, Martin Palmer.

I ask him about how he fitted in with the fandom when he made his first tentative steps to the events.

“It was a big leap in to the unknown”, he laughs. “A lot of people assume that the show is all about camp, which is part of the fun. I’m not gay and wasn’t sure how I’d fit in at first. But everyone was so welcoming. After all, it’s the music that brings us together”.

Over at the stadium I meet my friend Bryan, who’s wowed us over the years with performances of Eurovision stars like Azerbaijan’s Safura, Austria’s Conchita, and most recently Sweden’s Cornelia Jakobs’ masterpiece, Hold Me Closer. He’s rocking a Sam Ryder bejewelled jumpsuit I would KILL for. Bryan sums things up best.

“I have been continually bowled over by the warmth and openness of the international community. The shows themselves are some of the most wonderful concerts I’ve ever been to. For those attending for the first time, I’d thoroughly recommend putting next year in your diary already… the upside if we don’t win is that we can visit some amazing countries too!”

It’s pretty clear from the younger people I keep tripping over that the next generation are already becoming full on Euro-obsessives. I spoke to Hayley who told me how she had attended the London Eurovision Party in April. Where she met Austria’s hugely popular act, Teya and Salena.

 “My son is now Eurovision obsessed and they are his favourite. They happily recorded a video message for him and have caught up with me and Harry since the show”. 

Rebecca Fergurson has just blown the audience away with a powerhouse performance on the main stage. I quickly pounce on her on the way to the green room. What’s it like to have Eurovision in your home town, I ask?

“It’s one of those things that’s in the once in a lifetime bracket for a city to host, so for Eurovision to be in Liverpool is amazing for my city and for the people. I’ve walked around the city and seen all the amazing events that have been put on and I think Liverpool City Council and the BBC have done an amazing job at putting on a brilliant event and incredible set of shows.

I finally leave the stadium and head towards the Euro Club for a wobble about on the dancefloor. My heart is still hammering in my chest. Sylvia sneaks up on me and gives me a big hug (there are lots of those here in Liverpool).

“You know, I’ve made such amazing friends and family at Eurovision”, she says. “And every year I don’t know where our holiday is going to be next year. Isn’t that wonderful?”

Thanks to Sally-Ann Sadler, Dan Doyle, Martin Phillips, Darron Copeland, Eddie Molloy, Martin Palmer, Sylvia Rook, Bryan Scott, Hayley Marsh, Rebecca Ferguson and Christine O’Brien

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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