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

Support for Birmingham to host Eurovision 2023 is growing - but who remembers when Birmingham hosted the song contest in 1998?

The Eurovision Song Contest is usually held in the winning nation’s country.

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 are looking for a different host nation.

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The BBC is currently in talks with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) for the UK to host the 2023 contest with UK entry Sam Ryder’s Space Man coming a close second.

And more supporters are getting behind the Birmingham bid to host it at Resorts World Arena - you can see all the comments below.

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

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 Birmingham

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.

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 1998

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 Arena

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.

“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 1998

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 Birmingham

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.

“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.”

The Eurovision Song Contest at the NIA in Birmingham in 1998

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.

“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. I will personally be making contact with the Director General of the BBC, who has spearheaded their recent significant investment into Birmingham, to see how we can best take this forward.

“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.

“With the West Midlands playing host to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games this summer, we are well placed to continue that momentum and move seamlessly from one international gathering to another the following year.”

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