This is, of course, common knowledge, and yet the magnitude and madness of Eurovision’s crash landing in Liverpool had not yet dawned until I was on the outskirts of the city – and I found the usual sea of red football shirts had been swapped for an ocean of candyfloss-coloured sequins.
Hints of what to expect from the hen do of the century soon became apparent. Three grandmothers with pink wigs – and matching cans of pink gin and tonic – crossed the road in front of us. Next came the gaggle of twenty-something huns in Ascot-appropriate fascinators. A woman dressed as a pizza wandered down the pavement.
But it wasn’t until I made it to the Docks, where festival stages had shot up in a Glasto-esque Eurovision village and the boom of scouse drag queen presenters mingled with Madonna’s Like A Prayer, that I got the full picture.
My friend and I bought our £5 pints from the sports bar responsible for the gay anthems blasting into the street, and looked on, gobsmacked by the electrifying, contagious thrill of it all. This was all helped by the sun beating down, its searing heat gradually popping the balloon garland above our heads. Each bang warranted yelps from drunk mothers, before they returned to hollering Karma Chameleon to passers by.
By 2:30pm, the road had become a catwalk. Queens strutted in tiered, red tulle poofy mini dresses. There were astronaut looks, at least a dozen brides-to-be, and a group of straight men spraying aerosol glitter into each other’s hair. Chicken soup for the soul stuff.
We hopped in an Uber (“I’ve never seen so many shiny things,” our 25-year-old, Liverpudelian driver sighed) and made our way back to the INNSiDE by Meliá hotel, courtesy of Booking.com who were a main sponsor of this year’s event. It had the feral, nervous excitement of a uni house party, as barely-dressed men in fetish-style unicorn outfits piled out of the elevators. Then came cocktails, and a picture in reception’s deckchair Insta-spot, which was questionably decorated with blue and yellow tinsel and roses. Presumably, it was a a tribute to the would-be host country Ukraine. Soon enough, an LED-stripped coach full of blue wigs whisked us off to the M&S Arena.
And then, onto the rainbow-hued magic itself. Last year’s Ukrainian champions Kalush Orchestra performed their hit Stefania with the help of hordes of dancers, and (quite bizarrely) the Princess of Wales. She flashed up on screen dressed as Katherine Jenkins in a Ukrainian-blue ball gown by Jenny Packham, and played a few keys on her grand piano. It was so short, and so random, that it prompted a weird whoop-actually-wait-what-just-happened reaction from the crowd.
The hosts also understood the brief. Out strutted Graham Norton, wearing a custom blazer from Ukrainian brand LuVi, alongside Alesha Dixon in yellow and Julia Sanina in blue in another nod to the country’s flag. The utter legend that is Hannah Waddingham opted for undiluted glamour in a corseted, metallic purple frock.
Then came the acts, and the following four headscratchers, in no particular order: France’s La Zarra doing her best Beyoncé impression as she rose up on an unstable looking column platform; Moldova’s Pasha Parfen appointing a winged-helmeted dwarf to play the pipe; briefly thinking Norway’s Star Trek-esque Alessandra was Penny Mourdant; and the moment that Australia’s entrants Voyage rocked up, Sheilas’ Wheels-style, in a white soft-top car.
For what it’s worth, I thought Cyprus’ Andrew Lambrou was best, with a melodramatic banger, heaps of pyro, and a great voice. Finland’s runner up act Käärijä had all the neon-punctuated fun you could ask for, which made up for average vocals. Sweden’s now second-time winner Loreen was mesmerising and worthy – even if the staging did look like a set from a Kim Kardashian’s KKW skincare shoot. The UK’s very own Mae Muller – who ultimately came second-last – did a valiant job but really isn’t much more than a Dua Lipa tribute act.
As we filed out, pulling our “united by music” official t-shirts over the top of static-laden wigs, the shadow cast by the Ukrainian war was palpable. Afterwards, we learned that the hometown of Ukrainian electro duo entry Tvorchi, Ternopil, had been bombed by Russia as the final was going on. But though there was darkness, the overwhelming mood was one of triumph and defiance; a beautiful thing to behold.
Despite best efforts, my master-plan of tracking down the chicest after party and declaring my love to the Cypriot entry were quickly dashed in favour of one of Liverpool’s gay bars, called Heaven, where we happily danced the night away with even more Scouse drag queens. Really, it would have been rude for it to end any other way.