Israeli transsexual wins Eurovision Song Contest
May 10, 1998
Last night, the 43rd annual Eurovision Song Contest in Birmingham was won by Israel's Dana International, an Israeli transsexual born Yaron Cohen, whose song Diva beat Britain's entry to the title after a close finish.
For the first time the result was decided by a telephone poll, rather than a jury. To an audience of 100 million, Vili from Slovenia wanted to know Will the Gods Set Me Free?, Spain's Mikel was wondering What Will I Do Without You, while M?anie from Belgium pleaded Say Yes. Entrants also included Guildo Horn, a middle-aged German man squeezed into a jade-green velvet suit with his backing band the Orthopedic Stockings and the British entry, 25-year-old Imaani from Derby, who had shimmied around the stage in dark glasses and a leather jacket, plaintively asking, "Where are You?"
These were the exceptions. There were Croatian and Greek Bonnie Tylers, a Swedish Kate Bush, a Hungarian Van Morrison, a Dutch Aretha Franklin and from Poland, Romania and Portugal: three C?ine Dions. This is the last year that all competitors must sing in their national language. In future, virtually everyone is expected to perform in English. Yet even this year, the Diggi-Loo, Diggy-Leys (Sweden 1984) or Boom Bang-a-Bangs (UK 1969) that had given the contest its dubious image, were notably absent.
Instead, there were endless Euroballads written by committee and sung by female singers in long dresses. Richard Crane, of the Eurovision Fan Club (British branch), said: "The British may laugh at the contest, but other countries take it very seriously indeed." Norman Hamilton, the head of the Maltese delegation, said: "It's true. We are a country of only 250,000 people, so the international recognition we get from Eurovision is vital. In Malta, 98 per cent of the population watches the contest. On the island, there won't be a soul outdoors between 9pm and midnight."
21-year-old Dawn, the Irish representative, whose country has been the most frequent winner, said: "In Dundalk, where I come from, it's like the World Cup." More interesting was whether political scores, always meticulously observed by juries, would be kept by the general public. Ms Sorrell said: "I don't think they will, I think this will mean an end to Greece always giving nul points to Turkey and instead we will see Europe voting for the best song".
Inside the walls of the National Indoor Arena, however, old hatreds were still alive. With Israel participating, a branch of the Territorial Army had to be drafted in, and special escorts had to be provided to ensure that the Greek and the Turkish delegations never met. The popularity of the show with homosexual men, and by extension in night clubs, has given Eurovision a cult quality in Britain -- something which the BBC exploited to the full last night.
It spent ?5 million of license-payers' money, the most expensive enterprise yet, to lure the ultimate Euroblonde presenter, Ulrika Jonsson, and to persuade the violinist Vanessa Mae and the opera singer, Lesley Garrett, to perform the interval act against a sprawling, post-modern set.
by Julia Llewellyn Smith, Daily Telegraph