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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK
Fans make Eurovision pilgrimage
by Michael Osborn
BBC News Online correspondent in Istanbul

Lisa Andreas singing for Cyprus
Cypriot entrant Lisa Andreas is highly rated by fans
Thousands of fans of the Eurovision Song Contest have descended on Istanbul for Saturday's grand final, turning the city's Abdi Ipecki stadium into a united nations of musical devotees.

Among the crowds of people milling around the venue are many British fans of the annual spectacle, who have made the trip to Turkey especially for Eurovision.

Simon Bennett has been making the annual pilgrimage to Eurovision for five years, and says his earliest memory of the contest is 1972.

"I always thought it was a TV event and that's where I wanted to watch it," says Mr Bennett.

"But live it is even better - there's such an atmosphere," adds the Londoner.

Happy

"It's just fun - a happy thing. There are people here from all these different countries, but they get along," says Mr Bennett, who works in the city.

At 19, Bill Holland is one of the new breed of Eurovision fans, who says he "brings the average age of fans down by about three or four decades", and has been to five contests on the trot.
To come to Eurovision is the best thing a fan can do
Bill Holland, Eurovision fan

"Sometimes the contest is just a by-product of the enjoyment you have all week long," says Mr Holland, pointing out that many fans come early to soak up the atmosphere.

"In the UK we're in a minority, but when you come here you meet other people who are enveloped in it. To come to Eurovision is the best thing a fan can do," says the gap-year student.

Meanwhile, Richard Crane is the UK president of OGAE, an organisation which brings together Eurovision fans from across the continent, and remembers Sandie Shaw's landmark victory in 1967 when he was just six.
James Fox
UK fans are cautious about James Fox's chances

"Fans enjoy coming to the Eurovision Song Contest, as they can endlessly speculate about who could walk away with the trophy - and are able to watch several dress rehearsals before the live televised event."

"Ukraine has a very good chance," says Mr Crane. "Song-wise it has to be the Cypriot entry, while Malta perform strongly. Belgium and Turkey could swing the vote with something more contemporary," he adds.

But the three men agree they are cautious about the UK's chances of winning this year, saying James Fox is an excellent performer - but may not have the best song in an impressive field.

The first full dress rehearsal for the Eurovision grand final on Friday saw Malta's performance troubled by sound problems.

Albania, Serbia and Montenegro, Cyprus, Belgium, Sweden, Greece and Turkey's songs were the best-received by the audience.




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