A wind machine, shrieking and a gymnast in a bloody great hamster wheel: we start as we mean to go on.
Mariya Yaremchuk, representing Ukraine, opens the night with Tik-Tock, although the words – indeed, the entire song – are almost wholly subordinate to the staging. It’s not quite clear what the relevance of said hamster wheel is, but that isn’t holding anyone back. The young man inside pulls a number of ever more ambitious poses, and at one point madam clambers on to the top for a bit of artful pouting. Top marks for world-class heaving bodice action.
This opening number is lethal for anyone playing the Eurovision drinking game. Rules, of course, vary, but it’s a fair bet that liberal use of a wind machine appears in pretty much all versions. Many of our party appear to have all but finished their drinks by the end of the first song… Our host comes in with a bowl of rapidly concocted Lithuanian punch, a drink of questionable composition that smells rather like mulled whisky. I am, however, instinctively suspicious of anything over 10% ABV that has to be served with a ladle, so I stick to the Polish beer.
Belarus is second, and it’s a funny number that they’ve prepared for us. Teo swaggers on to the stage, suited and booted, singing Cheesecake and shaking his hips with alarming enthusiasm. The Belorussian Robin Thicke, perhaps…
Azerbaijan, and another victory for the props department! Dilara Kazimova stalks moodily about the stage while somebody on a trapeze prances about rather pointlessly. One suspects that it’s meant to be deep, but it looks to me as if herself on the rope is being airlifted from a sinking ship. Maybe I’m missing the point.
Iceland provide the first act that I can really get behind: four middle-aged men with a song reminiscent of Busted circa 2003 and suits inspired by the Beatles psychedelic phase. It’s fun, it’s cheesy and it’s finally something you can dance to. Norway bore us with a deep and passionate ballad about nothing in particular, the only amusing aspect of which is that the singer looks like a builder.
Proceedings liven up again with Romania: a his-and-hers double act with altogether too much portentous fist clenching for may taste. But they more than redeem themselves with the jaunty, circular piano that gets played intermittently.
Armenia’s offering brings us back to the dull, but thankfully it’s over fairly quickly. Drinks, however, for the gratuitous pyrotechnics at the end. Montenegro is worse, not least because their man looks like someone’s dad. Must do better.
Up next: Poland. And this is anything but dull. We start off with maidens in what looks to be traditional costume. So far, so bucolic. But then we start pretending to wash clothes in wooden tubs. Traditional, yes, but nobody washes clothes that sensually. And the less said about the milk churning the better. Please, Poland: just stop it.
Greece’s entry is more my kind of thing. They have rappers on trampolines, deftly aided by a random bloke quietly getting on with some happy bouncing. Rap should be performed on trampolines more often.
And we make it to the evening’s star attraction: Conchita Wurst of Austria, Europe’s favourite bearded drag queen. I fancy that someone, somewhere may be making a point with this, but it doesn’t much matter. It’s deliciously Eurovision. And the song’s fairly good; it reminds me of Skyfall. In fact, Conchita should sing the title song of the next Bond film. You heard it here first.
Germany and Sweden are so-so, but there’s little as can hold one’s attention after four minutes with a bearded drag queen.
France I like. They’ve finally got the message that a wanna-be Édith Piaf is not a Eurovision vote winner. TWIN TWIN bounce around with admirable energy in an act replete with orange guitars, weird hair and a young man who looks like the French Pharrell Williams. Catchy stuff.
Russia, as ever, has gone a little too left field. Twins. On giant a see-saw. Inasmuch as they must have practised for hours to make sure that they didn’t fall off it’s fairly impressive. But apart from that it’s just odd.
Italy and Slovenia fade from memory as soon as they come off stage. Finland roll out the drum kit – more drinks – but it’s no Lordi. Next.
Then Ruth Lorenzo for Spain, who appears to have just walked out of the shower. The song is dull, but that doesn’t stop her from singing it too loudly. Switzerland have sent their own version of Mumford and Sons – they even have a fiddle – and it’s good, but not very Eurovision.
I’m now thinking that lookalikes may be this year’s ‘thing’: Hungary appear to have sent Drake. He gets off to a good start, but half way through a couple of dancers march on and start throwing each other around in a most distracting fashion. Europe should not have to deal with that much writhing.
Malta: boring. Denmark: quit with the exaggerated knee-jerking. The Netherlands send in a cute couple with guitars and an unfortunate habit of staring into each others’ eyes. But the song itself sounds suspiciously like Every Breath You Take, so we end up singing that instead.
San Marino (population: 32,000) send a knock-off Bonnie Tyler singing a knock-off Holding Out for a Hero. And she certainly gives it her all, even if it is a little dull.
Then, finally, it’s us: Molly Smitten-Downes singing Children of the Universe. It comes off well on the night, but as with so many of our more recent entries it’s got nothing on Scooch. We come a creditable 17th, and at least we beat the French, who come last with a paltry deux points.
In between times, Russia get boo-ed, the reliably irksome hosts arrange for someone to spaff confetti all over Graham Norton, and there are so many gay pride flags in the audience that Eurovision should just give in and let them have their own act next year. Surely there must be more gay Europeans than San Marinans.
Conchita wins, of course, and if there’s anything to be learnt it’s that Europe is therefore a far more open and tolerant place than some – I’m looking at you, Putin– would like it to be. But for the time being, I need a lie down.