My Visit to Eurovision Song Contest 1998

(Dress Rehearsal)

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National Indoor Arena National Indoor Arena
The National Indoor Arena The Entrance
The Actual Ticket to the Show

Two weeks before the contest, I heard that there were tickets available for the dress rehearsal of the Eurovision Song Contest 1998 at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, England. I managed to get a ticket, costing GBP20. My life dream. When I was younger, I said to myself, "I will go and see the contest when the UK next wins". That is before I heard that the tickets cost around GBP60 for the live show! The dress rehearsal was close enough.

Here's what happened.

I arrived in Birmingham after I finished work, about 4pm, three hours before the show. I thought that there are over 4,000 people going to the contest and parking may be difficult. They closed the two biggest car parks at the National Indoor Arena (NIA). This is because of very heavy security. Parking was easy at Bindley Place. There were policeman at every NIA car park entrance and every entrance to the arena. The only way to get in is to hold a ticket or be one of the performers and delegates. Around the NIA, there is a canal and this means that the towpath was closed to the public. More security guards. Normally, to get from the car park to the NIA takes 5 minutes. Because of the sealed off area, it took 10 minutes!

A walk round the NIA and there were BBC outside broadcast equipment with satellites, other foreign vehicles with satellites equipment with their own recording units and lots of security.

The set itself was 185 feet long and very colourful. The arena had 200 lights, 11 cameras, 12 miles of cable, 100 people involved.

5.40pm. I arrived to what I thought to be the main entrance. There were no sign posts! There were a few people there already. I brought the Birmingham Local Paper about the contest for GBP1.50

6.00pm. Doors opens, nearly! We were given plastic bags to put any loose change, keys and anything metal. We all had to go through what was like airport security procedures. There were searching bags and as cameras were not allowed into the arena, the security people took them away and stored away until the end of the performance.

6.20pm. I got through security and then headed to the souvenirs show. I ending buying a programme for GBP6, a mug for GBP6, a pen for GBP1, a badge for GBP1.50 and a Polo Shirt for GBP13. This brought the total cost of going to the Eurovision Song Contest, including parking and petrol of GBP48!

6.40pm. I headed into the arena and find my seat. First impression of the set. Big and colourful. I had a reasonable view near the back and centre. A lot of people were walking around in the arena.

7.05pm. The big screens played pass UK winners. Sandy Shaw, Lulu, Cliff Richard, Bucks Fizz and 1997 winner Katrina and the Waves. Afterwards, they shown the BBC advertising trailer of "Perfect Day" (UK viewers will know more about this).

7.20pm. The compare went on stage to welcome us all to Birmingham.

7.25pm. Guest singer arrived on stage.

7.30pm. The rehearsal starts. The trailer began on the big screen. They rehearsed, as it was real. Terry Wogan came on stage first and started to speak in English and a bit of French! Then Ulrika Johnson came on. They announced all the regular bit you will find at the contest. For now and the next two hours, it is exactly like the contest if it was shown live.

The audience cheered when the Israel performer came out. For most of you know, she was a he! The German entry went mad on stage, by jumping off the stage and into the audience! Big Cheers for the UK entry as well. The funniest part of the show was then a camera man comes on stage, filming the side and backs of the performers and then when the picture was cut away, the cameraman and helper ran off stage as quick as possible! In between the performance, there were a lot of stagehands to move the microphones, drum, piano, keyboard etc, at super speed. The BBC Concert Orchestra were there, playing most of the music. I think some are played by using a backing tape or the performers played their own music.

9.30pm approx. Finally I heard all the songs. This is when it slightly off beat. The showing all of the songs again did not happen. What happened is that the various countries and performer details was shown on screen, against a countdown clock that televisions normally used behind the scenes.

9.35pm approx. The interval acts. It was impressive but it does not quite match the performance of Riverdance in Ireland a few years ago. It was called Jupiter. Life in the music in the UK! You had Scottish Guards and Bagpipes, Bhangra Dancing, a Welsh Choir, an opera singer (Lesley Garrett), a violinist (Vanessa Mae), a flute player, and others. Don't forget the BBC Orchestra. Over 200 people were involved in the interval. Even though it looked like it has been recorded as the set changed very quickly, I can assure you that it was live. The camera's were pointed to a different part of the set, so the other parts of the set can change.

9.45pm approx. The scoring (not). At this part, in the real contest, the scoring begins. In the case of the rehearsal, it was timeout to talk to the people around Europe, who will be giving the results in the live show. It turned out to be a "Find a Date for Ulrika Johnson!" or "The Comedy channel" as one country said! Nearly all the countries spoke in English. They were discussing topics like the weather, what is their correct pronunciation of their names and how to greet them in their language. A bit of a technical breakdown to begin with. One of the countries lost sound in the chat. The graphics were brilliant. They were showing the green room, where the performers will be, but for the rehearsals they were empty!

10.15pm approx. End of the chitchat. Then Terry went back on stage and announced "Country X won this years Eurovision Song Contest". In the green room, the BBC technical staff cheered, as they would have won! The staff ran walked from the green room to the stage and Terry handed the trophy to the winning team. It finally finished. It was finished off by the singer who started the show.

10.25pm. Everyone leaves.

The traffic was mad when we all left. It could be the car parks busiest day, around 200 people all going at once!

That's it. That's what happens to the Dress Rehearsal.

33 Countries watched the show. In the UK, 3 out of 4 people watched the contest. More watch the scoring than the contest itself!

The full jury score sheet can be downloaded from here, including the entries. Please click here for details.

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