In my last blog , I mentioned that it wasn't until the early 1990's that I began to realise the extent of the national finals prior to the Eurovision Song Contest itself. Of course, after I discovered this, along with making new friends all over Europe, my VHS video collection rapidly expanded and my bedroom was soon overloaded!. The anticipation and excitement of receiving the mail, in the hope it would be another national final to watch, particularly in February and March was unparallelled to anything i had experienced before.
These days, most things are broadcast on the internet, and it's pretty impossible I find, to try and hold out and avoid finding out the result of national finals before receiving the DVD. I do miss those days where there was a great air of mystery about who was going to win, and everything was on a par to watching the final live.
It wasn't until 1998 however that I actually decided to try and attend an overseas national final in person. And the first destination was...Malta! This came about as I had made good friends and kept in touch with Miriam Christine Borg who had represented Malta in 1996 in Oslo. She was competing again and invited myself and a friend to go along to the final and watch her. So, after finding a very cheap package for a week's holiday in Sliema, off to Malta we went.
The week itself was terrific, sunny weather too. The Friday evening saw a sort of Semi-Final, which was a bit strange as it narrowed a field of 22 songs down to 20!! Hardly worth it really. You had to feel sorry for the two eliminated acts. Chiara of course won the final and went on to great things in Birmingham in the 1998 contest. This experience had made me very keen to try another national final in 1999 too.
When trying to plan which final to attend, my friend Michael had arranged that we could go to Slovenia's EMA selection, yet i'd arranged tickets for the Croatian Dora festival almost at the same time, and of course we hadn't communicated with each other first! (This was in the days of no mobile phones, and very slow internet connections)!. We both wanted to keep our respective invitations, and when we checked the dates, we realised that they were only a week apart. So we could go to Slovenia first for three or four days, watch the Slovenian final and then head to Croatia for the Dora festival too. Not only this, we broke the trip by visiting Rijeka in Croatia for three days inbetween to catch up with the ENI girls from 1997. A marvellous ten days, followed by another ten of complete detox after all of the Balkan hospitality!.
This was probably the best finals experience, as it felt like an adventure holiday as well as a Eurovision Song Contest related trip. From there I went to the Estonian finals in 2000 and have been every year since then, nine in a row now. In between those years I actually made it to a United Kingdom final at last in 2001!. Haven't been again since then. Also did Slovenia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2005. I think the next aim is to try and attend a Swedish Melodifestival, something i've been meaning to do for many years now. I can recommend the national finals experience to anyone.