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Eurovision 2009: The calm before the storm

May 11, 2009

There is a special feeling which Eurovision fanatics experience the day before the main event.

It’s a special time. It’s what might be referred to as a rest day. It’s the time which has to be savoured. If you’ve done the right amount of preparation getting across everything, then the day before Eurovision proper begins is a time to be savoured.

The last time I experienced this bizarre mixture of relaxation and anticipation was on the morning of the Grand Final in 2003.

I’d spent the week in Riga following the Eurovision rehearsals both front of house and occasionally behind the scenes. It was a thrill to go, not least because I’d never have thought I’d wanted to go nor be able to. There I was, following this bizarre series of days in a city I had no knowledge or experience on my first ever loan trip outside of the UK. I was 31 at the time and yes, I have led a very sheltered life.

I’d poured quite a lot of energy into my trip. It had to be relevant. I couldn’t just sponge off the system. I wanted to have a mission. I wanted to find out things. I wanted to gather research.

Schlagerboys in Riga

I almost certainly packed in rather more into my daily schedule than was realistic and ended up spending five days surviving on caffeine and various sweet snacks, burning off calories I wasn’t taking on board by running between hotel, press centre and the arena. I loved it.

Five days of that however, took it’s toll. I was to learn I’d lost three quarters of a stone in the space of a week when I returned home, but by the night before the Grand Final I was wired. I was sick of the Eurovision. If I heard any one of the songs played in any one of the seemingly hundreds of bars in the centre of Riga it would be too soon. I needed a break.

That break came the following morning. I stole myself a day to indulge myself in the stuff I’d wanted to do all week but didn’t dare to because I hadn’t wanted to miss the opportunity to speak to Eurovision-related celebrities. My hotel was slap bang in the middle of recently renovated picturesque Riga. Keep it simple, I thought. Just go for a wander and relax.

As I recall, it was a gloriously sunny day. The sky was the same blue the wallpaper on my laptop is as I type this. Compared to the rest of the week, I wasn’t having to run around like a twat getting to interviews on time. I could walk around at my leisure, take in the sights and (it seemed) bump into every other person who passed me by and talk about a common bond. Everyone in Riga seemed to be there for the Eurovision. As desperate as first felt to get away from the event, talking about Eurovision seemed a much easier prospect. There was no pressure involved. 

Mind you, small-talk during Eurovision week (unless you’re scouting for talent in which case I imagine the conversation topics are probably entirely different) does rather consist of the same predictable questions: ‘Have you been here the entire week?’, ‘Is this your first time?’ (although I conceded that if you’re scouting for talent this question could well be used as well) and ‘Who do you think you’ll win?’

You’d think it would have been hell to engage in such conversations especially given the whole point of walking around in the sunshine had been to get away from it. But the truth was that at that point during the week with the Eurovision final only hours away it made the experience quite surreal, almost as though conversation had suddenly become effortless. This is how communicating with other members of the human race could actually be.

It was all bollocks of course. Everyone was having the same feeling as I was at that moment in time.

The rehearsals were over. The incessant pressure brought to bear by the invisible PR machines of artists who believed their livelihood depended solely on bringing home the Eurovision bacon was no longer there. The rehearsals were over. The talking to the press was largely redundant now. There was nothing for the journalists to do and precious little for the artists to do. Everyone was forced to relax before the main event.

Inevitably, being the naive fool I was I failed to grasp this simple explanation instead basking in the warm glow of naturally induced Eurovision-love. The same kind of love when everything you see in front of you is rich in colour, when the world is a beautiful place and there isn’t a single person you speak to risks ruining your day.

DSC00262It was against this backdrop I met the Schlagerboys and their friends (above). It was nearby I met Jude and Mandy (right) It wouldn’t be a lie to say that I rabbited on at them for hours. I know I bored them to tears. In my defence, I was in Riga on my own.

The same questions were raised in my conversation with them. “Who do you think will win?”

Not one of the many people whose ear I had bent that day had given me the same answer. Everyone had a different spin on events during the week and what would happen during the final. Then the inevitable question came my way. Who did I think would win?

I had no idea. It didn’t really matter either. The need for answers to questions which had motivated me so much during the week seemed redundant. Aside from the last dress rehearsal that day – only a few hours before the live evening broadcast – it was too late to do anything to radically change an act or claw in votes. With only a few hours before the phone lines opened, the Eurovision ship had already set sail.

All those fanatics who like me wandered around the city centre, stopping for a beer or two to talk to yet another random person you foolishly reckoned would be a friend for life, looked forward to the main event.

It was like Christmas was scheduled for 10pm Latvian time. We knew the presents were already under the tree – we’d seen them in rehearsals during the week. All we had to do was wait for Christmas to officially begin.

Admittedly, that was six years ago now and there are now three not one Eurovision event. And even though there are some who are understandably dubious about the audience pulling power for the semi-finals (just look at how many large gaps in the arena there’ll be on Tuesday and Thursday for a real indication of how the semi-finals are a difficult show to sell) the air of excitement is undeniable.

Today is the calm before the storm. Yes there are dress rehearsals which could, theoretically offer the opportunity for last minute analysis or a quick change of heart about who might succeed and who might fail.

But why bother? Why spend that time poring over the same acts yet again?

Like Christmas, I can’t bear to anything but the most indulgent things on Christmas Eve. To do so merely reminds me that my obsessive nature has failed me in preparing for the event.

Fanatics need a moment in time to stop and think, to enjoy it. They need to indulge themselves in the anticipation of the impending competition. Having completed the necessary preparation, there needs to be time to indulge in one or two dreams for a nail-biting finish to a cracking final.

More than any of that, he calm before the storm provides an opportunity for good mental housekeeping. Because as any committed fanatic will tell you, the odds are always high that late Saturday night and quite possibly all of Sunday will be devoted to intense disappointment, bitter recrimination not to mention the wailing mourn the passing of the most bizarre few weeks or months of the year. It’s then a dirty feeling descends as we wonder what an earth that was all about and question whether or not we’ll get as excited about it next time around.

The day before the Eurovision is quite possibly the most important day of all.

  1. Aw, that was a beautiful post. For me, the day before Eurovision is about frantically cleaning my flat before guests arrive tomorrow night for a party!

    Hope to go to Eurovision some time – it sounds great. Maybe I’ll see you in London in 2010 (in the O2 arena…). My money’s on Jade!

  2. Chris permalink

    I too can’t wait for a western European ESC again – and it really is about time I went to one again.

    Nice pictures. If I’m not mistaken, the young Schlagerboys are photographed with the young Melodimen!

    The last thing I said to Mrs P last night before turning off the light was “first semi tomorrow!” and she knew then that I would have a restless night’s sleep. I woke at 2.50 am and instantly thought Eurovision and it was gone 5.00 before I nodded off again. I told her this morning of my poor night’s sleep and she wasn’t remotely surprised!!

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