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Diva can heava sigh of relief; As Britain's Imaani takes second place.

TRANS-SEXUAL Dana International last night won the Eurovision Song Contest in one of the most exciting finishes for years.

Israel's singer was a Jewish boy called Yaron Cohen before having a sex change operation five years ago.

She had pleaded for voters to forget her sexual history and listen to her song, and they did, making her the winner with 174 points.

But it was a naiiting finish to the contest, held in Birmingham's National Indoor Arena.

Israel only won on the last vote, just beating the UK who came second - for the 15th time.

UK entrant Imaani was an early leader but finished with 167 votes, one point ahead of Malta.

The 4,000-strong crowd went wild when Dana International won with her upbeat song Diva.

She had said her voice was gift from God - and divine providence was on her side last night.

Afterwards she said: "I don't believe it is happening.

"It's time for us to live freely in this world as one nation. That's what I want."

The winner will be taking home a silver and gold trophy, designed by Anongkarat Unyawong, a 24-year-old student at Birmingham's School of Jewellery.

Eurovision was the biggest free advert that Birmingham has ever had, with up to 200 million people across Europe and further afield tuning in to views of the city.

The contest was screened live in 33 European countries, while Australia, Canada and Korea are also broadcasting it.

The first thing viewers saw was an opening sequence featuring how Birmingham used to look - and the exciting, regenerated city it is today.

Old black and white footage of industrial Birmingham faded into modern shots of Brindleyplace, New Street, Victoria and Centenary Squares and our canal network. Birmingham was a big hit with the contestants, organisers and fans who spent a week going Eur ovision crazy in the city.

Kevin Bishop, the BBC's executive producer who organised the event, said: "Birmingham was our top choice, above Glasgow, Manchester and Cardif when we looked for a venue. It scored well in every aspect."

This was the first Eurovision Song Contest in which most countries used telephone voting.

All but two - Romania and Hungary, who did not have the technical capability - asked their residents to phone in, rather than relying on the old-style juries.

No-one could vote for their own country, which led to the suggestion that hundreds of German fans were going across the border to Holland, Belgium and Denmark to vote for cult star Guildo Horn.

But producer Guy Freeman said: "There are safeguards so it's impossible to rig the vote."

The stage included one of the biggest lighting rigs ever seen in Britain, to cast a rainbow of colours and patterns on the set. It had 350 movable lights - a technical achievement when you consider most rock concerts only have 50 lights.

The BBC used the same outside broadcast control vehicle they used at Wimbledon and the Grand National.

Twenty miles of cable were used.

The power at the National Indoor Arena had to be boosted by generators - the lighting alone used one million watts.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 10, 1998
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