Page last updated at 11:17 GMT, Sunday, 25 May 2008 12:17 UK

Emotional night for Eurovision fans

By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Belgrade

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Russian star Dima Bilan performs his Eurovision-winning song

An Olympic figure skater, a violinist and a pop star helped Russia walk away the winners of this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade.

As the points came thick and fast, Greece and Russia became the front-runners very quickly.

But it was Dima Bilan's ballad Believe which eventually took the lead and remained on top of the scoreboard.

"I thought it was a boring song. I would rather have had Ukraine or Armenia win," said Alexaudra Marij from Sweden, who was at the final in Serbia.

She was not alone in feeling that way.

Seweryn Hsias, from Poland, is a life-long fan of the competition but wanted to turn his back on it after seeing Saturday's show.

"I hate Eurovision from this moment. It doesn't make any sense anymore. I was a big fan all my life, but now I'm hating it," he said.

British fan Dean Asker, 37, blamed political voting - a regular Eurovision complaint.

"I think Russia had a mediocre song. It's the same old story," he said.

"The big four countries need to pull out and say 'let's have our own contest, just with the western countries'.

"With the eastern countries you just know where they're going to put their votes."

'So sexy'

Winner Bilan, who came second in the 2006 competition, had a huge army of fans in the arena who would not hear a bad word said against him.

"We are so happy that we are winners. It's great, it's fantastic. I don't think I will sleep," says 28-year-old Russian fan Kim Anastassia.

Russian singer Dima Bilan
Bilan has been dubbed Russia's version of Justin Timberlake
"Dima is a big star, and we truly love him because of his voice and because of his style," she added.

An army of female fans jumped around, phoned friends and threw their flags into the air as the man dubbed Russia's version of Justin Timberlake was declared the victor.

Liza Yakovleva, a 24-year-old lawyer, said: "He is so sexy, I just love him. I'm just so happy for him."

Impromptu song

During Friday's dress rehearsal a small group of Serbian workers from the venue snuck in just to watch him sing and sat there looking starry-eyed as he removed his shirt -something he chose not to do in the final.

Russian journalist Vasily Koivkov was screaming so much for his idol he almost lost his voice.

"It was our dream - we believed in it. And Dima believed in it and we won," he says.

Andy Abraham
The UK's Andy Abraham said he probably would not compete again
After the show hundreds of journalists and photographers crammed into the press conference to hear Bilan's first words.

He appeared on stage to rapturous applause and explained he would be talking in his native language so he could express himself properly.

"I can't understand my emotion at the moment," he said.

"I am crying, and yet I am so happy. I just want to say thank you, thank you."

Later, he treated his smaller audience to an impromptu song.

One British fan, Judith Mullineux, found herself making money on Bilan's song after backing him right from the beginning.

"I love it because it's about believing in Eurovision," she said.

"If you believe in Eurovision you will win Eurovision."

She dismissed Andy Abraham's British effort, Even If, as "a weak song".

'Once bitten'

Despite scraping only 14 points from San Marino and Ireland Abraham remained upbeat and refused to blame his timeslot - appearing second - for his failure.

"The performance was as good as we could have done it. The feeling was great. The people in the audience loved it," he said.

Asked if he thought he had fallen victim to political voting, he says he was a "musician not a politician".

But he added: "It's very easy to pick a country that's going to give another country 12 points. It's sad, it's really, really sad.

"It was all talked about beforehand and I decided that I was going to dismiss it but it's very difficult to dismiss something that's right in your face."

Would he do it again?

"Probably not, unless the situation changes. Once bitten twice shy."


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