Welcome to Liverpool: Home of the Beatles, the Grand National, and for this year....Eurovision!
Eurovision in Liverpool (Credit: Valerio Rosati / Alamy Stock Photo)
As the Eurovision Song Contest rolls into Liverpool, Sophie Church explores how the World Capital of Pop is set to host a competition like no other.
Reverend Dr Tamas Kolych has been a priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Liverpool for seven years. While aspects of his current role have changed since the war in Ukraine began – by helping establish a Liverpool branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, for instance – he has also taken on new responsibilities outside the church. Now, he sits on one of the committees tasked with bringing the Eurovision Song Contest to Liverpool.
“At first Ukrainians here in Liverpool, but also as I gather from Ukraine, had ambiguous thoughts about Eurovision – should we celebrate during a time of war? Obviously, Eurovision is joyful and celebratory,” he says. “But I think the first signs Ukrainians received from the front lines back in Ukraine, were the soldiers saying, ‘well, this is precisely the point of the war – to disrupt regular life and to bring devastation that stops regular activities. We do not want this to happen. We want life to continue.’ So, Eurovision is a kind of expression of that continuation.”
In many ways, however, this year’s contest is a novelty. For the first time in its 67-year-long history, the Eurovision Song Contest will not be hosted by the same country that won the competition the preceding year. This year, the United Kingdom, which came second in the 2022 contest, will host on behalf of Ukraine.
We are also a city of sanctuary, with a long history of accepting people from different countries
“There is a very tight period of time to plan for the next year’s show,” says Dave Goodman, digital and communications manager for the Eurovision Song Contest at the European Broadcasting Union. “So regrettably, we had to move the contest. Because the United Kingdom had come second in last year’s contest, we asked the BBC – the broadcaster representing the UK – if they would host on Ukraine’s behalf and they very kindly agreed to do that.”
The slogan for Eurovision this year is “United by Music” – a homage, Goodman says, to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Choosing a city which understood the significance of hosting on Ukraine’s behalf, therefore, was vital. “It was very important for us to emphasise to the BBC and of course to the winning city that Ukraine had to be really front and centre of this particular event. All of those things were factored into the decision-making process,” he explains.
Around 20 cities responded to the call for bids to host the contest, with organisers whittling the long list down to two finalists: Liverpool and Glasgow. In the end, Liverpool was selected – a city Goodman thinks can cater expertly for the huge influx of tourists due to visit in May.
“[Liverpool] is a great little city in that it is very compact. All the hotels are within walking distance of the venue. So it means it is very easy to move around for all the thousands of people who will come,” he says. The contest will be held in Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena, which will seat the 11,000 people expected to attend the rehearsals, semi-finals and final. Liverpool is also staging a fan zone at Pier Head which will be free of charge for visitors.
Despite tickets for the event going on sale at the end of February, all Travelodge and Premier Inn hotel rooms in the city had sold out within minutes of the announcement that Liverpool would host the contest, as reported in the Liverpool Echo. Prices for the remaining accommodation are rising, with one houseboat listed on bookings site Airbnb for £2,500 a night.
“I’ve heard of so many people [letting their homes out to tourists],” says Tim Shewan, a trip coordinator for a special needs school in Liverpool. “In the old Georgian quarter, [where we live], a lot of it is very picturesque, and there are a lot of places that are Airbnbs that will be sold out. We were looking at some of the places in October and [prices were] literally going sky high.”
Still, Shewan is excited at the prospect of potentially taking some of his pupils to the Eurovision fan zone. “We specialise in autism, and some of the kids would love it – we took them to Euro 2022 last year and we loved it. I think this would really work for them. There are lots of opportunities for school groups in the city, as well as just the general public,” he says.
For the Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, hosting a large-scale event like Eurovision was a “no brainer”. “Our region can handle this,” she says confidently. “We have a million visitors come to the [Grand] National every year. What struck me recently, when I went to the European Cup final, was that it was really badly handled. We did a parade in Liverpool the next day and we had 60,000 people in the streets, cheering on the Liverpool players on the bus going all around the city. Ten minutes after they had left it was like they were never there; our streets were clean, we were organised, the police were fantastic.”
Anderson also thinks Liverpool’s heritage makes the city an ideal Eurovision host. “I certainly think we have got our mileage out of the Beatles!” she laughs. “But we are also a city of sanctuary, with a long history of accepting people from different countries. You would have thousands of people travelling through our shores to migrate on to better and newer worlds. This is about our own identity and personality.”
While Anderson acknowledges what Liverpool can bring to the contest, she is well aware of how the contest can benefit Liverpool. “If you just go on Turin’s figures [the host in 2022] they got around €23m back to the amount that they put in, so the equivalent of three times the return on the investment.” She also takes courage from the fact that Turin saw an 18 per cent growth in visitors and 68 per cent increase in overnight stays with 40 per cent of people coming from abroad.
But one of the statistics that stood out the most, Anderson says, was the fact that of the 18 days Eurovision was televised, there were 120,000 articles posted about the contest, and indirectly, about Turin. “If you were to make that equivalent in advertising value that is £702m worth of additional value created through that exposure,” she says.
Goodman agrees Eurovision brings clear economic benefits for the host city, saying that 76 per cent of foreign tourists surveyed when Tel Aviv hosted in 2019 were visiting for the first time. But he also emphasises the social change Eurovision can bring to the host country. “Essentially Eurovision is a massive party. It is a massive celebration of what unites us,” he says. “I think [Eurovision] is going to provide a lot of joy, particularly as it comes around the time of the King’s coronation. It is a real time where the world will be looking at the UK and seeing the best of us.”
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