Last summer I had the adventure of a lifetime, living and studying in Cyprus for two months before touring the Balkans on my way home. A friend of mine asked me where I’d like to travel to next. Well, I thought, I’d visited Western, Northern, Central and Southern Europe. That left only one region of my home continent I had not been to. The furthest east I’d been was to the Czech Republic or Hungary, or Bulgaria if you count that as Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, I’d never been to a former Soviet state. “Somewhere like Ukraine or Russia” I answered my friend. It clicked there and then, let’s make Kyiv 2017 my first ever Eurovision experience!
My first proper Eurovision event
I’ve been to Eurovision’s Greatest Hits and a couple of months ago I went to Melodifestivalen. Yet, never had I seen an actual Eurovision Song Contest live. My initial plan was to visit Kyiv for a long weekend, taking in the jury first semi-final on the Monday night before I would leave to get home for the rest of the contest and watch it with my family as is tradition for us! Then, I was given the opportunity to go to Kyiv as accredited press with ESCXTRA. This was going to be the ultimate “money can’t buy” first Eurovision experience!
Heading down to London Gatwick on the Sunday night straight after finishing my work shift, I arrived for day two of rehearsals in the press centre on no more than three hours sleep. However, my excitement was through the roof! Immediately I noticed that the security around the International Exhibition Center was impressively tight and the volunteers and security guards were very friendly, the latter perhaps surprisingly so. I already felt a warmth from being in the so-called “Eurovision bubble”.
After picking up my accreditation I entered the press centre. Several years I had seen Eurovision press centres through YouTube videos and the ESCXTRA live stream and now I was finally inside one! It still feels bizarre that I was considered “press”, considered a “journalist” or “blogger” and was following all the signs for press to entrances for press and having my very own pigeonhole!
Experiencing a day in the press centre
I managed to find Brent, despite not wearing my glasses which made it quite the task believe me, who settled me in and took me to the pigeonholes. My first piece of press kit was from Switzerland. Stream viewers will remember this to be a “vote Timebelle” tote bag and a CD. I was immediately thrilled, Apollo was definitely in my top 10 of the year! Then the first rehearsal began, Demy for Greece. It was fascinating to see every performance progress as each run through took place. No more so than Hovig later that day. He was desperately trying to pull off his gravity defying moves initially, and the improvements he made between each run through was fantastic.
My first day in the press centre was also my first day on the ESCXTRA live stream. It was completely bizarre to be on the other side of a stream that I’d watched religiously for a good five years or so. I’m definitely a little shy around new things so it took a bit of getting used to, but I think by the end I was getting there. Our stream regulars are nothing short of excellent… Wiv, you trained them well! Without you guys we wouldn’t have been able to create the fantastic relationships we had with several of the artists… more on that later. Within days of returning home I was missing popping onto the stream and answering your questions!
Getting lost in a park on the way to Euroclub
The next big Eurovision experience milestone came later that day… Euroclub! Not yet realising the amazingness of Uber, I wandered… and got lost… through a giant park at 11pm at night which was quite an experience in itself. Several of the Euroclub nights merged into one as they were all so fun, but I remember O.Torvald were treating us to a VERY loud performance of Time (they hadn’t quite got the sound levels right on opening night!).
It felt bizarre to be in a place where Eurovision music was the only music (well except one night…) and everyone in there knew every word of every song except for the occasions they played obscure songs from before I was born. Yes I Anixi falls into this category, except for the fact that they wouldn’t play it for poor Brent. Although he did get his moment in the end! On every visit I was keen to not leave too late, I was too excited and wanted to be raring to go for the rehearsals the following day!
Entering a Eurovision arena for the first time!
Thursday was the day I entered a Eurovision arena for the first time. Sunstroke Project were taking part in their second rehearsal for Moldova. The enormity of the LED screen was breathtaking. It was made all the more impressive by the relative intimacy of the rest of the arena. I’m aware this was one of the smaller arenas in recent years, but it looked so much bigger on television!
The always lovely Wivian managed to get me an invite to the Nordic Party on the Saturday evening. Turning up at this super posh hotel with the likes of Anja and Koit & Laura immediately visible through the doors was so amazingly bizarre, just like many parts of this whole experience were. Standing in a room with all of these artists just chilling and relaxing was mesmerising, the likes of Lindita and Måns Zelmerlöw just casually entering the party as the night progressed. Anja, JOWST and Robin performed a spontaneous cover of Man In The Mirror with various backing vocalists then treating us to another powerful performance. The whole Party experience was unforgettable.
Perfect weather in Kyiv for a red carpet event
I loved every single part of these two weeks. If I had to pick out a standout moment, we’re talking a 12 out of 10 moment in a field of 11 out of 10 moments here, it would be the red carpet on the Sunday afternoon. It took place on an absolutely gorgeous day . Water bottles became currency amongst the press members. Several people I had talked to before-hand and talked to whilst waiting there weren’t that excited for it. Yet, on the other hand, I was one of the obsessives that watched the YouTube live stream of the red carpet every year and couldn’t wait to see it in action. Although not in our published video, the first artist to come to me and Brent were Naviband from Belarus, my favourite act of the year, and it was amazing to be in this position.
The live stream worked wonders for getting artists to remember us. An eager wave was all it took for Denmark’s Anja to rush over to us! After her earlier TimTam slam, Macedonia’s Jana waved at us from down the carpet. Of course, “official live stream contributor” Jimmie Wilson couldn’t leave the carpet until he’d chatted to us! Brent’s ability to conduct these on the spot interviews was so impressive, I’m ever so grateful I could stand there holding the camera and just take everything in while Brent did the hard work! The whole red carpet event was just fantastic. I’ll be the first to sign up to do it if the opportunity ever comes again.
Finally seeing my first Eurovision show live in full
The show I booked tickets for all those months ago before this accreditation journey came into play finally arrived. It was time for the jury show for the first semi-final on the Monday. It was the perfect show to see. I could relax and watch the performances without having to worry about the results. Furthermore, I was able to see three of the big five perform in full. This included the UK’s very own Lucie Jones and the favourite at the time, Francesco Gabbani. When I returned to the press centre I had a big smile all over my face… although I think that was just as much because of my ESCXTRA friends staring at me in expectation!
And then experiencing that show inside a passionate press centre!
The last milestone I wanted to experience was being in the press centre for the live semi-final broadcast. Another experience I was eager to be a part of, it was a joy to see the Polish press so supportive of Kasia and the whole press centre rapturously applause after Salvador’s mesmerising performance. Then the results came. My favourite of the semi-final was Blanche and I was desperate for her to qualify. I’d been watching the odds and iTunes surge in support of Belgium during the broadcast, but I couldn’t be sure that it was going to be her, rather than Norma John, who would get that last spot. Thankfully it went my way! The press conference afterwards was quite the party too, the Cypriot, Greek and Polish fans certainly the most passionate!
I left on the Wednesday evening. I arrived home in time for the day of second semi-final and would be back at work the following day. It turned out to be the best of both worlds. I experienced the majority of the Eurovision fortnight on-location in such a unique way. Then I was able to watch the last couple of shows at home with my family, as is tradition in our house, and shared the wonderful stories that had happened whilst in Kyiv as the show unfolded!
Becoming part of a new family
My first Eurovision experience has been nothing short of incredible, with not enough superlatives to describe it. The overwhelming take away is that these artists that we obsess over for weeks and months are just real people and it was extraordinary to be able to get so close to them and to get to know several of them really well. Finally, I can’t thank absolutely everyone who I met out in Kyiv enough for welcoming me into what really is an extended family. And to my ESCXTRA crew, Brent, Wivian, and Rodrigo, thank you so much for helping me settle in so well and allowing me to enjoy the experience to the full!
Going to Eurovision: Make it a story in your life
Every Eurovision fan must experience the Eurovision bubble at some point. Whilst not every fan can get accredited access, there are so many places for fans to meet and party – Euroclub, Euro Fan Café, Eurovillage, the arena itself! Whatever capacity you come to a Eurovision event as, you will feel the warmth and joy that surrounds a Eurovision event and, in the words of Naviband, your Eurovision experience will certainly become one of the favourite stories of your life!