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Liverpool Wins As UK Loses At Eurovision 2023

'Drone at Sunset, Liverpool Waterfront' Photo by Ant Clausen / Marketing Liverpool, Courtesy of Eurovision Press Gallery

“I nearly wept when they announced it,” one woman told me the day before the Eurovision 2023 final, recalling when Liverpool was confirmed as the competition's host city. She may well have wept again on Saturday night. Despite the wonderful hosting, the UK did not pull off a victory, or even a respectable loss. And, worse, the one we wanted to win didn’t get there either. Instead, we had to watch — nervously, through the gaps between our fingers — an anal-bead-sleeved Fin despair as he lost to an emotionless (in her words, "meditative") Swede, who had smugly re-entered the competition despite being a previous winner, in 2012.

For a city so centered on social justice and community organisation, Loreen winning again felt vaguely like an affirmation of hereditary power, similar to Princess Anne winning Olympic medals; perhaps deserved, but with the whiff of a stitch-up — especially given that next year, as many on social media have since pointed out, conveniently marks the 50th anniversary of her Swedish compatriots ABBA winning the contest themselves...

But enough complaining. This is Britain, there will no doubt have been enough so far. Let us instead celebrate how, for once, something in the UK wasn’t rubbish! After the humourless snooze-fest coronation, you’d be forgiven for thinking we couldn’t do anything particularly well.

But Liverpool really went for it. The Eurovision Village, a festival-like stage with crowds lining the (recently dethroned of UNESCO status) docks, was a stunning display of the city’s party atmosphere. I attended the exhilarating pre-party on Friday night, which felt very close to a Pride event — just with even fewer straight people. I never thought I’d see Sophie Ellis-Bextor mince about beside the Royal Liver Building, with a vast orange sky stretching over the sea, but how glad I am that I have.

The fact it was all free only added to the jubilance (I was born in Yorkshire), giving the whole affair a surprising lack of cynicism. The queue to the stage felt so inclusive, with people from Germany, Spain, and even the Wirral being welcomed with open arms to celebrate.

The whole city was awash with Eurovision parties, colour schemes, and oh so many outfits. The best I saw? A Conchita costume so well-constructed that it provoked one baffled scouser to point and yell “how?” at the poor Eurovision-goer’s well-tucked groin. The news reporters were not exaggerating when they talked of the atmosphere in the city as electric.

Even the trains got dressed up for the occasion! Much was made of the new Merseyrail carriages being decked out in Eurovision logos, with Rylan doing the announcements. At one station, Graham Norton kindly informed me to mind the gap. If only this could become a permanent, nationwide feature of our railways. I look forward to the day when I hear Shaun Ryder telling me to text British Transport Police.

The actual event showcased the city well too, with a parade of Eurovision veterans all coming up to butcher a host of Merseyside classics. Every time someone said Liverpool, the crowd cheered wildly; a somewhat lamentable importation of the American tendency to applaud nothing at all, which at least showed an enthusiasm that Europe rarely attributes to us. Stuff like Eurovision is great at making you forget everything that drives you mad about your country.

And speaking of national pride, thank god the BBC was in charge. Imagine the horror of an ITV broadcast: nobody from Europe understanding Ant and Dec’s accent; a squabbling Holly and Phil interviewing the acts through a grimace; Coleen Nolan commentating, telling us all how much the late Queen would have enjoyed each performance.

Instead, we had Mel without Sue, the towering Hannah Waddingham, Julia Sanina in a lovely dress, and Alesha Dixon at her least irritating. Graham Norton was his usual self, holding the whole thing together, although his hosting duties neutered the cattiness that often makes the contest worthwhile.

The final’s disappointments were limited to Italy’s baffling success, Croatia’s punk grandads keeping so many clothes on, and Belgium being criminally underrated — Gustaph’s disco-inspired “Because of You” got everyone on their feet in the Liverpool Philharmonic, where I was lucky enough to watch it performed live. Also, the UK’s entry was not brilliant, with Mae Muller ending up as a sort of Dua Lidl, and the song rightly going unappreciated by the jury.

I enjoyed the acts who floated around the middle of the leaderboard the most — France’s La Zarra was a powerful performer, and Austria’s entry, “Who the Hell is Edgar?” seemed to do better with our crowd than the voters, hitting the sweet spot between Eurovision novelty and a genuinely good pop song.

So, after all, it was as good as we could probably manage. Britain didn’t bottle it, Ukraine wasn’t sidelined, and the music was slightly above average. Liverpool proved an ideal choice, its musical heritage and openness perfect for Eurovision. And on top of it all, we had Cheryl Baker (real name: Rita Crudgington. You’re welcome) appearing at every turn, Rylan steadily reaching national treasure status, and Sonia turning up to try and sing.

Nul points? A distant memory!


Edited by Barney Nuttall, Deputy Editor, and Talia Andrea, Editor-in-Chief


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