Liverpool throwing Eurovision ‘pre-party to end all pre-parties’

<span>Photograph: Yui Mok/PA</span>
Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

The Eurovision song contest always attracts an eclectic bunch of performers but this year’s host city, Liverpool, has tried to go one further for a “pre-party to end all pre-parties”.

An eccentric array of acts including Jedward, the Vengaboys, the English National Opera and Katrina and the Waves will play to thousands of Europop fans before the grand final next Saturday.

The UK is hosting Eurovision for the first time in 25 years after Ukraine, which won last year’s competition, was unable to stage the event because of the Russian invasion.

More than 100,000 fans are expected to descend on Liverpool for a week-long “scouse-Ukraine mashup” featuring a popup Ukrainian village, a wide programme of traditional food and 19 installations by artists from the country.

A TransPennine Express train with Eurovision livery.
A train with Eurovision livery. Photograph: TransPennine Express/PA

The festivities began officially on Friday, when a gigantic blue and yellow submarine parade – a nod to Liverpool’s most famous musical exports – was due to tour the city before opening the EuroVillage fan park. Kalush Orchestra, the Ukrainian group who triumphed last year, were billed to perform a headline set featuring their winning song, Stefania, which was originally composed as an ode to a mother but became a popular wartime hit on social media.

On Sunday, the synth-pop group Hot Chip will DJ at the event Rave Ukraine, being broadcast live in Kyiv.

More than 100 artists will perform at EuroVillage in a series of concerts, including Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Lightning Seeds and Atomic Kitten. All of the gigs will be free to the public except the main fan park concert next Saturday featuring the Vengaboys, Jedward, Katrina and the Waves, and Claire Richards from Steps, for which tickets cost £15 a head.

Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds
Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds. Photograph: David Jensen/PA

The English National Opera (ENO), one of the jewels in the UK’s cultural crown, will perform a hit parade of Eurovision classics in front of 15,000 fans and feature star turns from the tenor Russell Watson, the Ukrainian singer Ruslana, who won Eurovision in 2004, and Liverpool-born Sonia, who finished runner-up at Eurovision 30 years ago with Better the Devil You Know.

Stuart Murphy, the ENO’s chief executive, said the “epic” gig would be the company’s second-biggest audience in its near-100 year history, behind only a Glastonbury performance in 2004.

“We’re good at doing big, but even by our standards, this is massive. It’s certainly the biggest live audience we’ve had for nearly 20 years,” he said, adding that about 2,000 people would be involved in the one-off full orchestra production.

“People are very, very excited about it. Not only is it the scale but it’s the fact that it’s Eurovision in Britain – and it has added poignancy with the war in Ukraine, so it feels like this is bigger. It’s about bringing people together at a time of crisis.”

King Charles, a renowned opera buff, and Camilla, the Queen Consort, were treated to a special preview of the ENO set last week on a walkabout in Liverpool. They were warned it was “pretty bonkers”, said Murphy, but both seemed to enjoy it.

“They were laughing, saying this is hilarious and brilliant and massive,” Murphy said. “The king found it very funny. I’m not meant to talk about what they say but he was like ‘this is incredible’. They were only supposed to walk past the performers but they talked for five minutes and then another five minutes. I think they totally loved it”.

Liverpool beat tough competition from Glasgow and 18 other UK cities to host this year’s Eurovision, with the winner selected last October by the BBC and the European Broadcasting Union.

The city hopes the contest will be a shot in the arm for its tourism-heavy economy, which has struggled since the Covid pandemic. Council figures estimate it could bring in £25m this year and a further £250m from an upturn in visitor numbers over the next three years.

Claire McColgan, Liverpool’s director of culture, said the week of concerts made it a “Eurovision host city village like no other”. “At previous cities this area has very much been a location to screen the shows and give a platform for Eurovision talent – but in typical Liverpool style we have supersized that,” she said.

“The full programme is worthy of a standalone festival in itself and it’s cliched but there really is something for everyone – from amazing family content to household names, up and coming talent and, of course, some incredible Eurovision acts as well as some huge Ukrainian names taking to the stage.”