By what I can only assume was divine intervention by a higher power, I was bestowed an exclusive press pass to this year’s Eurovision, held in the epic city of Liverpool. Most of that time was spent in the hitherto acknowledged press centre. Let’s talk about it!
This year’s Eurovision was of course hosted at the M&S Bank Arena in sunny Liverpool. The arena is located at the southern tip of the Royal Albert Dock, a huge sprawling dockland converted into an endless gentrified sea of pubs, cafés and tourist traps. There’s a big divide between old and new in Liverpool’s docklands, where the old Gothic architecture is violently sandwiched between hyper-geometric, neo-futurist behemoths. The imperial majesty of the impossibly tall Liver Building, a building that makes you feel like an ant in a giant’s world the more you look at it. The jagged, dark crystals piercing from the ground that is the office and art gallery next to the Museum. Breathtaking visuals on the way to work. And there’s also a staircase that doubles as a piano!
I was staying in Moorfields, about ten minutes from the city centre. The docks are also ten minutes away from the city centre, just in the opposite direction. From there, the actual press centre is another ten minutes away from the docks. What I’m trying to say is that it was a long walk, made worth it by the largely stunning architecture. This is except for the last five minutes, where Liverpool seemingly gave up and you ended up down a boring concrete path behind a generic high-rise and a walled carpark that felt like it would never end, with four police officers in the middle of at all times. A bit dystopian, but fair enough – once you clear the endless pale brick road, you arrived at the entrance of Heaven.
Finally, we’re at the palace of the press. A Valhalla of wired cameramen and former Eurovision stars being dragged along by celebrity sponsors. A quick bit of security clearance, bag checking, patting down, invasive cavity searches in front of the entire press delegations – you know, the usual – And finally you’re in the land of the stars. Well, if you consider cameramen from Estonian TV and the Wiwibloggs team stars – which thankfully I do! Unfortunately due to the quite strict rules surrounding what we could and couldn’t take pictures of, I can’t show you everything and you will need to rely on my description of it.
The main bit for press centre was a large convention hall space, this gigantic hangar draped in black fabric, divided into two – the front half of which housed the “Fan Media” (us, and we’ll get to that in a moment), gigantic TV screens showing the live video from the stadium (albeit with the words “PROHIBITED TO FILM“ adorning everything, and by far the most memorable thing: all the free stuff from Eurovision’s sponsors.
Something rather expertly hidden by the Beeb when it comes to Eurovision is the product placement that makes the contest financially possible. This restriction only applies to the TV broadcast, and as such the media centre was decked out in branded content as far as the eye could see. Between the Conchita Wurst video sets brought to you by Booking.com, the endless free Baileys-infused cocktails and the Morrocanoil demo centres in the press lobby, there were branded free treats everywhere.
You could film videos in the Booking.com lounge, which many did. Though when I initially went, I had i thought that they had also installed a tripod and lights ready for you to use – instead, as I discovered whilst exploring the set, this was all operated by a very polite but slightly irritated Polish vlogger. Sorry!
There was, of course, a bit of good-old media elitism. The journos were grouped into two classes: Media and Fan Media. Surge Radio devastatingly is not considered a serious media institution in the way that the BBC is, and as such we were just Fans. Fan and non-Fan Media were separated into the two parts of the hall. On a personal level, no one really cared about that. Largely. One Scandinavian reporter was a little bit snitty about us being “just fan media”, but that’s really it.
Of course, getting to know the other people there – most of whom were self-described Eurofans too – was a real highlight. Throughout the whole thing there was a very friendly atmosphere – I guess news channels from far away are hardly going to send cynics to an event this far flung and internationally recognised.
You got the feeling throughout that the time spent in the media centre, and especially with regular Eurovision reporters and content creators, that you were part of this well-oiled machine, way bigger than you, that really does bring people together. Some of the people I met had been going to Eurovision longer than I’ve been watching Eurovision, or alive – the two being mutually exclusive, of course, as I’m sure I enjoyed Take Me To Your Heaven as a fetus.
Eurovision has been around for just under 70 years – it is a bonafide institution that will be around for at least 70 more, long after I am forced to stop writing. In a time where it feels like we’re all going in separate niche directions looking for meaning, it was nice that this week, in my own little way, I was part of something big – a big party celebrating music.
I hope to bug the EBU again next year for a press pass.