Excitement was building in Liverpool on Saturday for the Grand Final of Eurovision 2023, a spectacular that will walk a tightrope between reflecting the situation in Ukraine and steering clear of overt politics.
The city in northern England is hosting the annual song contest on behalf of 2022 winner Ukraine, which was not able to stage, as is customary, because of Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was barred from addressing worldwide viewers – who numbered 160 million last year – by organiser the European Broadcasting Union.
It said granting his request, which was made with “laudable intentions”, would be against the non-political nature of the event and its rules prohibiting making political statements.
Ukraine, however, is set to figure prominently from the very start, with last year’s winner Kalush Orchestra performing its track “Stefania” live in the auditorium, according to the rehearsals.
The 26 competing acts span musical styles from ballads to heavy rock to rap, starting with Austria’s Teya & Salena performing “Who The Hell is Edgar?”, a pounding track inspired by 19th century writer Edgar Allan Poe.
Fans arriving at the arena on the banks of the River Mersey for the final dress rehearsal were draped in the flags of Ukraine, Britain and the other 24 contenders.
The arena can hold about 6,000 plus many thousand more can watch in a fan zone on the banks of the River Mersey.
Pam Minto, a 37-year-old support worker from Liverpool, said she was proud of her city and hoped it was doing Ukraine proud.
“We’ve just loved the whole event right across Liverpool from start to finish, it’s just been amazing,” she said.
Ukrainian Anastasiia Iovova, a 31-year-old teacher who is currently living in Leeds, northern England, said Liverpool felt like home abroad.
“We’re so proud to be here, so proud that people in UK are supporting us in everything and we are so grateful about this,” she said.
The winner is decided by a combination of points awarded by juries and viewers in each competing country, plus for the first time viewers in other countries, who will carry the weight of one participating country.