Preparing For Eurovision With Song Contest Superfans in London
If there were a poster child for the Stronger In Europe campaign, it would be this room full of homos awkwardly singing along to languages they don't understand.
Eurovision. The mere mention can send shivers of excitement through the consciousness of any European gay man, a strong desire to strawpedo a whole bottle of Cherry Lambrini, at least for those with a terrible taste in music and appreciation for the shitter things in life (aka 97% of us). Quite simply, Eurovision is Gay Christmas.
I've been a massive Eurovision fan for as long as I can remember. My first cassette tape was Gina G's iconic/legendary/transcendent 1996 Eurovision entry "Ooh Aah...Just A Little Bit" (my second was Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, but this isn't about my awkward fat teenage goth phase) so I've been drunk on Eurovision euphoria for 20 years.
Last weekend, the annual London Eurovision Party took place. If you have no idea what this is, you wouldn't be the only one. I'd been told about the event by my friend from a high profile UK glossy magazine who said that I needed to be there at any cost: "It's a room full of the most awful gay men in the world and terrible music – IT WAS THE BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE".
Here's what happens at this party. A slew of this year's Eurovision entries are flown in to the UK and thrown into a pit of journalists from every single gay magazine and website in the UK, before performing to a venue full of rabid Eurovision fans. They're asked questions ranging from "what's your favourite Eurovision entry ever?" to "have you ever made out with any of your gay mates?"
It quickly became apparent that I'd have to tackle the dictaphone from the hands of a twink with an asymmetrical fringe if I wanted to get a word in edgeways with the contestants, who had never had their egos stroked quite like this.
I wanted to speak to Joe and Jake, this year's UK entry, but I knew that getting five minutes with two young attractive guys in a sea of middle-aged queens would be no small task. Their PR looked on as one of them pulls down his trousers and flashes his Union Jack boxers in the face of one journalist. It's obvious that every single contestant, especially the straight male ones, have been media-trained to elicit the most primal of instincts from their gay fans: "he is hot, so I will vote for him". I decided to leave them to it.
It's no secret that Eurovision's core fans are LGBT. The competition actively acknowledges and embraces it. Since the introduction of Russia's gay propaganda law, Russia's entries have been consistently booed during their performances, as well as during the vote tallying. They've been entering more tame and conservative entries in the past couple of years, such as 2015's runner-up Polina Gagarina, and 2014's Tolmachevy Sisters, who performed with their backs to one another and their long flowing ponytails tied together, kind of like a Slavic Human Centipede.
Russia's entry this year is much gayer. "You Are The Only One" is performed by one of Russia's premiere pop stars, Sergey Lazarev, and is, in my humble opinion, the best song of the competition and the one most likely to take the crown. It's a classic Eurovision banger complete with a music video that makes you feel as if you're trapped in a camp Oculus Rift. Douze points all round.
Sergey is also my favourite on social media – I find myself Google Translating his Instagram captions daily while frantically tagging equally excited friends. He wears matching two-piece outfits, posts sultry sassy photos of himself in nothing but black leather speedos and American football shoulder pads, as well as photos of his side business – a company that creates decorative edible cakes for cats and dogs. Fab!
Understandly, many people are worried about the possibility of a Moscow 2017 Eurovision. I decide to speak to an expert, Paul Jordan, aka Dr. Eurovision. Paul wrote his University of Glasgow PhD dissertation 'The Eurovision Song Contest: Nation Building and Nation Branding in Estonia and Ukraine' in 2011 as a student of eastern European politics, and has been one of Eurovision's most famous pundits since.
Jordan now works directly with Eurovision. I asked him if it's likely that the world's gayest competition could be held in one of the world's most legislatively homophobic countries. "If Russia wins and they accept the opportunity to host, then as happens every year again, the relevant authorities will sign an agreement with the European Broadcasting Union guaranteeing the safety of everyone that goes - so there will be safeguards in place," he told me.
Amir, this year's French contestant and another favourite to win, said that he thinks Russia hosting the competition may not be such a bad thing. "I think that Sergey is very LGBT-friendly. It doesn't worry me, even if I'm not a part of the LGBT community; Russia sent this guy so it might show a new state of mind." For me, sending a huge swathe of LGBT activists to Russia can only be a great thing, and I'm excited to see what next year will hold for the competition. See ya soon Putin, bbz.
The rest of the entrants were being eaten up by the adoring gay press, so I decide to take to the streets to talk to the real heart behind the competition: its bonkers die-hard fans. Every year, the party takes place in central London's Café De Paris. Nestled in between KFC and M&M's World, I see a huge swathe of people dressed as various European countries all frantically waving flags and fending off perplexed looks from passers-by. I made my way to the front of the line, which, at 2pm, was already impressively long, especially as the event itself didn't start for another five hours.
Many fans had travelled from across the country, some from abroad. The first in line had been here since 11am. I approached a gaggle of Spaniards at the front, loudly dressed in the colours of the Rojigualda. No prizes for guessing who they want to win. At one point, Italy's entrant Francesca Michielin came through the doors after her soundcheck and the queue collectively lost its shit trying to clamour towards her for a selfie, before she was hastily ushered off by her terrified-looking PR.
"Us being here early is as much a chance to meet in person as it is to see the artists as they come by," said a serious-looking woman, who has seemingly elected herself official spokesperson of the line. These fans all speak to one another through Twitter and Eurovision hashtags, and greet each other using their online handles rather than first names. There's an undeniable community spirit to Eurovision. While it may be easy to laugh at the kitschy costumes and dodgy lyrics, it's heartening to see that the competition genuinely does bring people from all European countries together (though let's forget about Australia's sick and wrong inclusion).
At 7pm, it's time to go, and Café De Paris is quickly filled to the rafters with fags and flags. Those queuing since morning have found their spots at the front and are trying to not be folded onto the makeshift 4ft stage by the heathens behind them who decided to arrive when the ticket instructed them to. For the next few hours, 18 of this year's entrants will perform a small set each – which basically consists of their entry songs and former bangers from their respective countries, to which I somehow know almost all the lyrics (spoiler: I'm gay). It's camp, it's drunken and it's pretty much the perfect way to spend a Sunday evening. If there were a poster child for the Stronger In Europe campaign, it would be this room full of homos awkwardly singing along to languages they don't understand while frantically waving their makeshift Latvian flags. I fucking love Eurovision.
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