Eurovision: What happened when Birmingham hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998

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There’s so much support for Birmingham to host Eurovision 2023 with the shortlisted cities being announced tomorrow morning (Friday, August 12) - but who remembers when Birmingham hosted the song contest in 1998?

There’s much anticipation over who will host Eurovision 2023 in the UK with Birmingham and seven other cities with bids in.

Liverpool was the latest to announce its application with the other cities being Newcastle, Leeds, Aberdeen, Brighton, Bristol and Belfast.

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The shortlisted cities will be annonced on BBC Radio tomorrow morning (Friday, August 12) by the European Broadcasting Union.

The Eurovision Song Contest is usually held in the winning nation’s country - and Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra swept to victory in Eurovision 2022 - Turin, Italy. But with issues continuing around safety due to the Russian War, the organisers previously confirmed that the UK will host Eurovision 2023 - after Sam Ryder’s Space Man coming a close second.

There is huge supporter for Birmingham’s bid to host it at Resorts World Arena - where the super successful Concert for Ukraine was held earlier this year, and, of course, following the excellent delivery of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Also, the veune is free in May when Eurovision 2023 is due to be held.

But who remembers when Birmingham hosted the Eurovision song contest at the National Indoor Arena (now known as Utilita Arena) back in 1998?

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Here’s a look back at what happened in that competition 24 years ago.

Dana International (centre) wins the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998, held in BirminghamDana International (centre) wins the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998, held in Birmingham
Dana International (centre) wins the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998, held in Birmingham | AFP via Getty Images

Eurovision Song Contest, Birmingham 1998

The Birmingham final of the annual singing contest has been described as “one of the most thrilling voting sequences for years”.

Apparently it “reminded us that Europe is a more open-minded place than we might have thought”, according to the official organisers.

Presented by Terry Wogan & Ulrika Jonsson at the NIA near Brindleyplace in the city centre on Saturday, May 9, the competition got a warm reception from locals.

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But all eyes were on the contestants which included performances from Israeli transexual Dana International who swept to victory with Diva. To date she remains the first and only openly transgendered person to have won the Eurovision Song Contest.

Imaani represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998Imaani represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998
Imaani represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998 | Getty Images

Germany’s entry, Guido Horn, also brought some drama to the competition when he climbed all over the stage during his act. The UK was represented by Imaani,  the first ever black singer to represent the country.

Twenty-five countries competed, including FYR Macedonia for their first ever Eurovision. In another first, televoting took place in the majority of participating countries.

The NIA in Birmingham, now know as Utilita ArenaThe NIA in Birmingham, now know as Utilita Arena
The NIA in Birmingham, now know as Utilita Arena | Getty

The Eurovision Song Contest said of the contest that year: “During the voting process, it quickly became clear that either Israel, the United Kingdom or Malta were going to win, but the FYR Macedonian vote did not give a single point to Malta’s Chiara, giving the victory to Israel.

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“The United Kingdom came in second for a record 15th time, and the Netherlands obtained their best result since 1975 - finishing in fourth place.”

The Eurovision  Song Contest at the NIA in Birmingham in 1998The Eurovision  Song Contest at the NIA in Birmingham in 1998
The Eurovision Song Contest at the NIA in Birmingham in 1998 | NEC

Who is supporting the Birmingham bid to host the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest and why?

Resorts World Arena has a strong track record in hosting major televised events and awards ceremonies in recent years, having previously staged BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2010, 2016 and 2018, as well as the BBC Music Awards in 2015.

The venue was also chosen to host ‘Concert for Ukraine’ on 29th March 2022, broadcast live on ITV, bringing together some of the world’s biggest artists to help raise a staggering £13.4 million for the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian appeal (DEC).

Ulrika Jonsson co-hosts the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998 at the NIA in BirminghamUlrika Jonsson co-hosts the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998 at the NIA in Birmingham
Ulrika Jonsson co-hosts the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998 at the NIA in Birmingham | NEC

Birmingham City Council Leader, Councillor Ian Ward, commented: “To host such an iconic event would be a tremendous honour for our city, especially in light of such a difficult and challenging time for Ukraine.

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“Our hearts go out to them and as a city we are eager to lend our support in any way that we can. The Concert for Ukraine, held at Resorts World Arena back in March, really showed how music can unite us even in the most uncertain and troublesome of times.

“We’re ready to step up to the occasion for the people of Ukraine and make music fans from across the world proud.”

Paul Thandi CBE, CEO of NEC Group, said: “Birmingham and the NEC Group would, once again, be honoured to host Eurovision. There’s no better venue in the country to do this than Resorts World Arena, with our 40-year history of hosting world-class live events.

“Situated on the NEC Campus, we have unrivalled transport links and on-site accommodation, plus technical broadcast capability which is known and been used by the major television broadcasters. We also have all the necessary facilities to turnaround and host major televised live music events at pace, demonstrated at the Concert for Ukraine earlier this year.”

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Guy Dunstan, Managing Director for NEC Group Ticketing Arenas, said: “With the NEC Group’s wealth of knowledge in hosting major international events, we firmly believe we can support our partners in realising the potential of this strategy and host a historic Eurovision that would make our friends in Ukraine proud.

“Birmingham and the wider West Midlands is rich in difersity and there is a realy community cohesion which has been strengthened further by the Birmingham 2022 Commonwelath Games. It is with all these complimentary components, plus the world class facilities of our venues, that make our region the perfect platform to host events that inspre and unite.”

The Eurovision Song Contest at the NIA in Birmingham in 1998The Eurovision Song Contest at the NIA in Birmingham in 1998
The Eurovision Song Contest at the NIA in Birmingham in 1998 | NEC

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The news that Eurovision 2023 could be held in the UK on behalf of Ukraine presents a great opportunity for the West Midlands to shine.

“Not only are we one of the most diverse regions across the whole of Europe, but we also have a proud history with this much-loved song contest, which has become a fixture of cultural life here and on the continent.

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“The last time the UK hosted Eurovision it was right here in Birmingham, and so there is absolutely no reason our city and the wider region cannot host this extravaganza again.

“In the NEC, we have a world class venue and live events partner and it goes without saying that our local residents are sure to offer a very warm welcome, so we have all the ingredients to make this a tremendous success.”

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