Friday, June 14, 2024

Liverpool’s Eurovision journey so far

The countdown is on to Liverpool hosting the Eurovision Song Contest. The 31 January saw a milestone moment when 2022 hosts Turin officially handed over the Eurovision keys to Liverpool, so now all eyes are on the city. Director of Culture Claire McColgan CBE writes about how the city has got to where it is right now.

It seems like five minutes ago I was sat in my lounge, watching the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest, cheering on both Kalush Orchestra and Sam Ryder. When the UK was topping the leader board, I started to send texts to my team at Culture Liverpool, saying if we won we had to throw our hat in the ring to stage this incredible event. Liverpool was the obvious and perfect place – it just made sense and felt right on so many levels.

Little did I know that less than a month later, the European Broadcasting Union would announce that Ukraine was sadly unable to host due to the ongoing conflict. We were quick off the mark and were the first British city to publicly state our intention to officially bid to become the host city.

In total, 20 cities joined the competitive process, until eventually it was just Liverpool and Glasgow left standing. Two cultural heavyweights going head-to-head for the ultimate prize and honour of representing Ukraine.  And we never lost sight of that. Throughout the whole, complex bidding process, Ukraine was at the heart of everything we did. This is their show after all, and we’re the stage to celebrate their country and its incredibly inspirational people.

When our city’s name was announced on the BBC in October that sense of ‘rightness’ returned with force. It had been a tough process – we had been the underdog and we had almost let that narrative get under our skin, convinced that Glasgow would edge it. But not quite. Liverpool is the ultimate comeback kid after all.

When it comes to events, we’re one of the best in Europe, if not the world. We know how to use our city to tell stories, to push boundaries, to inspire, to entertain, to keep people coming back time and time again.  I work with a brilliant, creative team which, in a ridiculously short space of time, devised a cultural programme to complement the Eurovision Song Contest which managed to be moving, empathetic, educational, fun and attention-grabbing. This combined, with the amazing venues we have in this city, were some of the reasons the judges ultimately favoured Liverpool.  And a few quirky, scouse touches also made us stand out when the judges visited the city during the bidding process – maybe it was the surprise rendition of All You Need Is Love performed on one of the country’s largest pipe organs in the beautiful surroundings of the neoclassical Grade I-listed St George’s Hall, or perhaps it was when staff decorated the judge’s hotel bathroom mirrors with Eurovision lyrics that secured the win!

We’re a city with a strong identity and we never pretend to be anything else. We’re passionate and we stand up for injustice. And we really love any excuse to have a great time.

So what has happened since that momentous announcement in October?

Well I can honestly say there hasn’t been a day that has gone by without the word ‘Eurovision’ infiltrating, or in fact dominating, a conversation – personally and professionally. It’s wonderfully all-consuming. Culture Liverpool is a relatively small, but highly-skilled team, which is now making our bid proposals a reality – something that we would generally spend years on, is being turned around in a matter of months.

We opened our creative arms wide with a Europe-wide call-out for creatives, artists and dreamers to be part of our cultural programme and produce brand new works which would celebrate music, Eurovision and most importantly act as a platform to showcase modern Ukraine. Within weeks we had in excess of 700 submissions. Shortlisting was a near-impossible task but we are now down to around 50 projects that are in the research and development phase. Just reading some of the proposals was an experience in itself. Inspiring, gut-wrenching, funny, poignant, beautiful, moving… we’re covering a whole spectrum of emotions and I can’t wait to see the reaction of the tens of thousands of people who will descend on Liverpool to engage with the final commissions.

And this is just one element of our host city contribution. Schools and community programmes, Ukrainian community involvement, fan zones, job creation, upskilling, visitor welcome, transport, security and legacy – we have teams working with partners across the city region day in day out, dedicated to these areas and making sure we can make the most of everything we possibly can out of the gift that is Eurovision.

What we achieved during our year as European Capital of Culture in 2008 meant we are still widely regarded as the best city to have ever held the title. I want the same for Eurovision. And not just for Liverpool, but for the UK and, most of all, for Ukraine. The eyes of the world will be on Liverpool in May and our hearts will be with the Ukrainian people. There’s a huge amount of work to do, but in five months’ time we’ll be ready to welcome the world and do everyone proud in the process.

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