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Song and dance on the streets as Eurovision's diva wows fans; Jayne Howarth joined the fans who descended on Birmingham to experience the Eurovision Song Contest.

In the true spirit of Eurovision, Israeli fans hugged the family of the Maltese composer in jubilant scenes outside Birmingham's National Indoor Arena after a nailbiting finish in the 43rd song contest on Saturday night.

As one of the most closely fought Eurovision competitions ever drew to a close, Israel and Malta were neck-and-neck until the ultimate vote from the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia.

But as the glory descended on Israel the two sets of fans forgot the tensions of the

evening and celebrated one of the most entertaining tournaments in years watched by more than 100million viewers in 33 countries, including Australia, Canada and Korea.

Danny, a student from Tel Aviv who is studying in Birmingham, could barely contain his joy the transsexual Dana International had clinched victory.

Waving the blue and white Israeli flag, he described his country's win, the first since 1979 when Gali Atari and Milk and Honey took top spot, as "absolutely amazing".

"We tried to get tickets for the show but we couldn't, so we saw it at home and came here as soon as she won," he said.

It was like a scene from Beatlemania when the woman of the evening, Dana International, appeared outside the arena and greeted her fans.

They hung on to her every word, spontaneously bursting into the winning song Diva and "Hail! Hail, Israel", as she thanked them for their support.

The fans, who were hoping to get to Dana International's party after the show, were too busy to talk about their win, contented instead to scream, shout and sing.

Ron, another Birmingham College of Food student, managed to say just a few words before bursting into a chant: "She said all her fans were wonderful. Dana International is a star."

Just a few feet away, a defeated Maltese delegation comprising members of the composer and lyricist's family, held an impromptu reception, cheering as loudly as if they had snatched victory themselves.

Malta was displaced to third position, behind the UK's Imaani, after Macedonia awarded her ten points to put the Nottingham-born singer just six points behind Israel. Mercon Cassar, the wife of Jason Paul Cassar, the composer of Malta's entry Celui Que J 'aime, and daughter of the Sunny Aquilina, who wrote the words, said she was far from disappointed at the result.

"I thought I was going to die at one point because the scores were so close and then it all hung on the last vote," she said.

But the conversation quickly came to a close when she and her family, all draped in the Maltese flag, joined with the Israelis for hugs and more dancing on the pavement.

Even those who had travelled thousands of miles to see their entrants sink to defeat refused to be downhearted.

Swedish Marianne Jonsson, who lives in London and is a lifelong Eurovision fan, said the event was "pure kitsch".

"You can't take it too seriously but it is such a wonderful event. While I'm in England I knew I had to come and watch it," she said.

Paolo, who had travelled from Lisbon to see Alma Lusa perform Se eu te Pudesse Abracar said he came to Birmingham knowing the Portuguese entry would not win. "I've never been to England before and because I like Eurovision I thought I'd come over here to watch it," he said.

Even before the Concours Eurovision de la Chanson 1998 began, the atmosphere in Birmingham was electric. Never have so many foreign languages been heard in such a small area as thousands of Eurovision pundits eagerly sampled a few beers, soaking up the b almy weather along the Brindleyplace canalside, gabbling to each other about the contest.

There are very few events which could bring so many diverse people together - from funsters in fancy dress to those who obviously took the event very seriously indeed, donning tuxedos and bow ties.

It was Birmingham's privilege this year to host such a prestigious event. Next year, the party will be in Israel.
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Author:Howarth, Jayne
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 11, 1998
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