My first ever memory is Bucks Fizz winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981.
For years it has been on my bucket list to actually go and watch it live. I’ve been close twice before. On the first occasion, I got to the page where I needed to select which tickets I wanted and knew I wanted the best seats but I was shocked by how expensive they were and I hesitated too long. The next year I was fully prepared to pay a high price but I got distracted by conversation so didn’t get to the ticketing site in time.
This year I was determined to get there as it was so close by in Liverpool. This had to be the year. I was on the Ticketmaster website in good time, waited impatiently for the bar to move to tell me I was moving up the queue, was thrilled when it finally started moving, held my breath as I neared the front of the queue…and swore profusely when it kicked me out and I had to start again. But start again I duly did…and the same thing happened again. Fuck this shit! My friend was queueing separately and asked if I wanted her to see if she could get me tickets. Ooh yes please! She kept me updated remotely on her progress in the queue…but tickets sold out before she got through. Fucking bastard Ticketmaster bastards! What a ridiculous system!
In the coming weeks I couldn’t bear to read anything about Eurovision or even think about it at all. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t happening. Those fucking Ticketmaster twats had ruined what was usually one of the big highlights of my year.
But – what’s this? A second wave of tickets released a fortnight before the event? Could I bear to go through that trauma again? The day arrived and I still wasn’t sure. The process had been really stressful and I’ve had enough stress this year already, what with the football and all.
‘Do you want me to try for tickets?’
How could I refuse Lee’s kind offer? And that was me decided: if Lee was successful then great – but I was not going through the process again myself. I didn’t labour the point about how traumatic the process was because I did want him to try – although I did worry how he would cope with the stress.
Meanwhile, I was over in Manchester, away from the ticket application process. Lee kept me up to date because he likes to share his stress with me.
My stomach sank and I felt disappointed all over again. I tried to focus on something else. Fucking Ticketmaster.
Shortly afterwards, I noticed a couple of missed calls (and numerous frantic messages) from Lee. I called him back.
‘There’s hospitality tickets available for the Tuesday night. Do we want them? We’ve got one minute to decide before I get kicked out of the queue.’
‘Er – is that for the live semi final?’
‘Er yes I think so. Quick! Decide now!’
‘On the Tuesday?’
‘Yes! 30 seconds! Quick! Yes or no?’
‘Er, well, yes?’
‘Yes? Are you sure?’
‘Yes fuck it just do it!’
Dear reader, it was very emotional! I was finally going to Eurovision! Sure it was expensive but (a) I’d been prepared for that; (b) it was cheaper than travelling overseas to watch it; (c) it was on my bucket list; and (d) fuck it.
After the hasty purchase, we looked into exactly what it was we’d bought. It was two tickets for hospitality for the live televised first semi final on the Tuesday night. The seats looked to be in a good spot. We weren’t exactly sure what hospitality entailed but it seemed to involve some sort of private lounge with food and drink provided. I envisioned something like our private box experience at Sunderland – but it would turn out to be quite different.
The day came round – the day after our last match of the season at Norwich – itself at the end of a week’s holiday. We set off later than planned but still in plenty of time. The hospitality lounge opened a couple of hours before the show started so we wanted to take advantage of that. On the journey we listened to my Eurovision playlist, which includes my favourite songs from recent Eurovisions, including this belter…
…as well as loads of stuff from Bucks Fizz, Abba and Johnny Logan. Oh and of course the soundtrack to the Eurovision movie.
My Liverpool correspondent had recommended a spot for free street parking about half a mile north of the venue, so we parked up there and walked the last leg south to the Liverpool Arena.
There was no avoiding the fact that Eurovision was in town.
I didn’t remember being in this part of Liverpool before, next to the River Mersey. It was a stunning location but I was too stressed about getting in there in good time to fully enjoy my surroundings at this point.
After initially entering the fanzone by mistake (where Sonia was on stage), we finally located the queue for hospitality. Immediately I felt underdressed (despite wearing one of my best dresses). There was glitter and colour and boas and glamour everywhere – and it was fabulous. The man behind us in the queue – wearing a green boa – had a stereo (are they still called ghetto blasters? were they ever?) on his shoulder, which was playing this tune:
A man in the adjacent queue started singing along. I hadn’t listened to any of this year’s entries in advance of the competition – it’s not something I tend to do – but this was clearly a popular one.
Now inside, we followed the signs held by the event volunteers, got given wristbands…
…and were directed through to the hospitality lounge.
Wowzers! This was a huge room abuzz with people but not crowded. There was a DJ to the left as we walked in.
Most of the seats seemed to be occupied but my main focus was on the food and drink – all of which was free on the night (although obviously factored into the price of the ticket). There were a couple of bars – and I was delighted to see there was decent bottled beer available.
There were a couple of counters offering small plates of food.
I scoffed mixed grains, sausages, duck and bubble and squeak – and I think I doubled up on one of those, making five plates in total but, in fairness, they were very small plates.
And there was a dessert counter.
I had the Earl Grey Panna Cotta which Paddington wouldn’t have approved of and it didn’t taste of Earl Grey.
Most exciting of all was the Baileys cocktail bar, but more of that later once the queue has died down.
There was an official photo posing area with a smaller queue so we posed here.
I grabbed a third beer at last orders (1930), which was decanted into a glass so I could take it through to the arena. This was all very civilised and I was love love loving it already.
Eurovision Semi Final 1
As we headed into the Liverpool Arena I remembered I’d been here before, to watch Blackpool in the Masters Football – possibly in 2010.
We took our seats, which were up there with the best in the house, as we caught the end of the warm up – and it was announced that Bucks Fizz were here and seated in the area reserved for the artists.
Lee got chatting to the people around us (I was too overawed) and soon learned that people had travelled from all over the world to be here – and many had already been to multiple Eurovisions. It was like one big happy family and we were surrounded by joy, as everyone was so excited to be here. It wasn’t like the football, surrounded by aggro and swearing and people blocking your view and rivalries and hatred – it was quite the opposite and it was truly wonderful.
As the live show began at 2000, we could watch the pre-recorded televised clips on a big screen to our right. I cried during the opening video and as the scene translated onto the stage in front of us. I was finally here! At Actual Eurovision!
Everything about the show was incredible: the staging (and incredible turn around between acts), the sound, the hosts (especially Hannah Waddingham AKA Rebecca Welton from Ted Lasso) and the acts.
The running order was thus:
1. 🇳🇴 Norway | Alessandra – Queen of Kings
2. 🇲🇹 Malta | The Busker – Dance (Our Own Party)
3. 🇷🇸 Serbia | Luke Black – Samo Mi Se Spava
4. 🇱🇻 Latvia | Sudden Lights – Aijā
5. 🇵🇹 Portugal | Mimicat – Ai Coração
6. 🇮🇪 Ireland | Wild Youth – We Are One
8. 🇨🇭 Switzerland | Remo Forrer – Watergun
9. 🇮🇱 Israel | Noa Kirel – Unicorn
10. 🇲🇩 Moldova | Pasha Parfeni – Soarele şi Luna
11. 🇸🇪 Sweden | Loreen – Tattoo
12. 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan | TuralTuranX – Tell Me More
13. 🇨🇿 Czechia | Vesna – My Sister’s Crown
14. 🇳🇱 Netherlands | Mia Nicolai & Dion Cooper – Burning Daylight
15. 🇫🇮 Finland | Käärijä – Cha Cha Cha
We were amazed that so many people around us knew all the words to all the songs – irrespective of what language they were sung in. I now not only felt underdressed but also underprepared. When I come back next time (I had instantly decided there was definitely going to be a next time) I would listen to the songs well in advance so I could sing along too.
My favourites on the night were Norway, Portugal, Ireland and Croatia. But then came Finland, who brought the house down! Cha cha cha cha cha cha cha! Here they are again in case you didn’t click on the link above.
Exhilarated, I skipped down to the Ladies, where there was already quite a queue. Everyone in it was jolly and the woman in front of me said she was struggling to see because she’d forgotten her glasses and I offered to be her spotter for a vacant cubicle.
I joined the lengthy queue for the bar, giving no thought whatsoever to what I was queueing for. Instead, I was gazing in awe at all that was around me: the outfits, the happy faces, ooh there’s Rylan – and is that Christine from the football? She scooted off before I had chance to call her name (I later messaged her and it was her). Now towards the front of the queue, I saw my options were LAGER or CIDER. I ordered a lager because it wasn’t like I had much choice and besides I was three beers down already and pretty much anything would have done at this point. And, do you know what? It was actually pretty tasty and refreshing. No idea what it was but it did the job.
I trotted back up to the stand, halfway through Rita Ora, and was settled back in my seat supping lager in good time for the announcement of the results. All of my faves got through, with the exception of Ireland.
We headed back to hospitality because we could. Now the queue for the Baileys bar was much shorter, so I was right over there.
Again I was too preoccupied with what I could scoff and quaff to notice who else was there. A friend said she had been chatting with Netta (I’m not your toy) on her night there in hospitality. Note to self: have a proper nose round next time.
We stepped outside after enjoying a truly magical evening. Liverpool looked just as lovely in the dark.
On the way home we listened to the Eurovision 2023 album, which included some of our favourites from tonight as well as some tunes yet to come in the second semi final and final.
We watched the second semi final and final on TV as usual (Finland wuz robbed). This was a different experience, of course, from being there in person – but did offer much better images of the outfits and clearer sound from the hosts. Therefore we got the best of both worlds.
I’d definitely recommend the live Eurovision experience – totally joyful. I can’t wait to go again (Sweden 2024? Watch this space!).
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Next Up: Best Blackpool Boozers #3.