After an extraordinary six-month commissioning spree, the city of Liverpool is opening its heart to a Eurovision song contest unlike any other. It was clear from the beginning that this would not simply be about one venue and 180 million television viewers, but would draw the docks and streets of this maritime city into an extended party that would continue for weeks.
With only days to go before the grand final on 13 May, one memorable image is already bobbing about in the Royal Albert Dock: a 10-metre globe printed with images of the Earth taken from space by Nasa. The Nelson Monument in front of the town hall has, meanwhile, been cocooned in 2,500 sandbags. This is a reference to the protection of historic monuments in Ukraine which, as the contest’s previous winner, would itself be hosting the celebration were it not currently under bombardment and occupation. More positive signs of an entente cordiale between the two communities are everywhere, from a Ukrainian video installation in the cathedral to giant Ukrainian nightingales lighting up the parks.
Liverpool beat 19 other British cities to become stand-in host for the 67th contest, and the rewards are expected to be considerable, not least a £40m boost to the local economy as the Eurovision bandwagon rolls into town. It is a timely fillip for a city that two years ago suffered the ignominy of losing its Unesco world heritage status due to the “irreversible loss” caused by redevelopment of its Victorian docks.
It is true that the city has suffered its share of civic problems over the decades. But part of the deplored redevelopment is the exemplary International Slavery Museum. In the light of recent attempts by other cities, such as Manchester and Glasgow, to atone for their slaving history, it now looks like an inspired act of public conscience to have opened this in 2007, on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire. Currently under construction is a new waterfront stadium for one of the city’s two Premier League football clubs, Everton, due to open next year, albeit with excitement somewhat muted by the club’s struggle to avoid relegation.
If you were to poll people across the 37 nations competing in this year’s contest about what the city was most famous for, however, the answer would surely be the Beatles. The government recently allocated £2m to the development of a new Fab Four attraction to add to the many it already has. The city’s other musical icons range from cult acts Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes to Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the Real Thing, one of the few British soul and funk bands to go global.
Another of its stars, Cilla Black, might have featured in the Eurovision hall of fame, had she not declined the offer to compete in 1968 because she rightly thought no country would win it twice in a row. Her decision is a pretty good reflection of a vivacious and opinionated city that lives by its own rules, but can put on a great show when it wants to. It was absolutely the right choice to partner Ukraine and assure its embattled people that, as the football anthem goes, they’ll never walk alone.