Eurovision 2018: Here’s what it’s actually like in the ridiculous world of the song contest
I’d always considered myself a bit of a Eurovision geek, dutifully turning up to parties, singing along to the best bits and generally having some kind of opinion. That was until I turned up at Eurovision itself.
Arriving in Lisbon for the 2018 competition, with all hopes pinned on the UK entry SuRie, I was suddenly confronted with the reality I actually knew nothing about Eurovision. Or at least not like the people here do.
Don’t you know the name of every band who’s competed since its founding in 1956? Didn’t you realise there were three live audience rehearsals for each show? How could you not know none of the instruments are played live?
The Eurovision village and press areas are worlds away from the rest of Lisbon, and unlike most of us in the UK, journalists and fans here have been on the Eurovision bandwagon for the best part of two weeks, with gossip rife about who’s in with a shot.
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Early rehearsal performances from UK entry SuRie leave us with more of a chance than you might have thought, with rumours of audience microphones being turned up thanks to excitable crowds.
The perhaps more realistic hype surrounding Cyprus, Israel and Estonia remains, as well as one incredibly enthusiastic Hungarian man watching from the press gallery who leaves me questioning my own patriotic credentials.
However, as many of the Eurovision veterans here can attest, it’s not actually about the performances in the arena, with the seemingly endless rehearsals all in aid of creating the slickest performance and the best chance of hitting the right camera angles.
No part of the performance is left to chance – all of the jokes are written ahead of time and repeated in each rehearsal, the audience is told when to use their phone lights, and there’s even a fake vote reveal, with a completely random allocation of points.
Sadly, the UK’s points are often grossly inflated in these, leaving you with a feeling almost like hope.
The grand jury, who make up a significant share of the scoring, actually cast their votes based on a dress rehearsal performance held on Friday.
Watching from the arena also provides a completely different experience.
Stunning scenes such as Estonia’s Elina Nechayeva incredible projection dress are almost completely lost on the crowd (though her astounding vocal skills are undeniable), and there’s a notable absence of Graham Norton’s dry commentary.
Attempting to recreate his witty banter, we’re swiftly told off by an Italian crowd member, who warns us that other people “actually care” about the competition. It’s almost as if our apathy is entirely a British trait.
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The most bizarre parts of Eurovision though, are decidedly off stage. Less than five minutes after arriving in the media centre we’re presented with a press release supposedly from the head of the San Marino delegation, accusing an Italian broadcaster of “fake news” and “scandalous and intolerable behaviour.”
Casually walking around, we spot Lordi, the competition’s one and only hard-rock winners from Finland in 2006.
We’re also presented with a ceramic tile, as a thanks for coming to report on the conference, alongside a CD for seemingly every artist in the competition, like we’ve stepped back into a world before MP3s and downloads existed.
Then there’s the Euroclub, open every evening for the entirety of the competition, exclusively playing tracks which have entered the competition – though they could have been knocked out at any stage, and from any year since Eurovision’s inception.
As we sit in the press centre once more, waiting to watch the show for the fourth and final time, it also dawns on me that I’ve hardly seen anything of Lisbon itself, despite being constantly bombarded with propaganda tourism videos the entire time.
Eurovision is perhaps almost an entity itself, regardless of where in the world it happens to rock up. And I, for one, can’t wait to see where this wonderful mash-up of music, drama, and stage management (as well as an undeniable hint of a gay club) ends up next.