Eurovision week kicks off on Sunday in Tel Aviv and the city has one message for the 10,000 expected visitors: We are ready!
The contest will be staged under the slogan “Dare To Dream” at Expo Tel Aviv, a convention centre in the north of the city that has undergone an eight-million-shekel (£1.7 million) investment to meet the high standards that the song contest demands.
A new piazza has been built, signs installed in English and a press centre created to accommodate the 1,500 journalists and bloggers who have flown in to analyse every moment of this global musical spectacular.
Tel Aviv’s mayor Ron Huldai said it was “an opportunity for incredible global exposure”, prompting sweeping changes to the city.
The largest-ever Eurovision Village has been built in Charles Clore Park, north of Jaffa, and between May 12-18 it will host live performances by stars including Dana International and Eleni from Cyprus, who came second to Netta in 2018.
Screenings of the live TV shows and the “Eat Tel Aviv” culinary festival will also take place there and entry to all events is free. It is hoped the village will give visitors a chance to experience the vibrancy and energy of Tel Aviv, without having to spend hundreds of pounds on a ticket.
“White Night”, an all-night cultural festival that usually runs in June, has been moved to May 16, to coincide with the second semi-final, while the popular port nightclub Hangar 11 has been renamed EuroClub for the week and will be open for fans to party every day until 4am.
Everywhere you go, places are being spruced up in preparation for the arrival of Instagram-happy tourists. A lifeguard tower on Banana Beach has been adorned with the Eurovision logo, bus time-tables and announcements are hastily being translated into English, and the local council has even sent some of its taxi-drivers and lifeguards on customer service classes to improve their communication skills.
Daniel Dunkelman, a Eurovision blogger who has travelled with the Israeli delegation to several contests, believes that, in Tel Aviv, Eurovision has found its perfect match.
“There’s a synergy to it being in Tel Aviv,” he says. “It’s a vibrant, multicultural city that brings people together — differences don’t matter here. Also, we’ve never had a beach Eurovision before. There are going to be magical beach parties and incredible energy everywhere.”
As for who might win, the hot favourites with the bookmakers and bloggers are Russia and The Netherlands.
Duncan Laurence, the Dutch entrant, wowed the press at his first rehearsal of his song Arcade. So committed to success, he has even flown his own piano over to Israel with him.
Russian pop star Sergey Lazarev impressed with his staging for his song Scream, which includes inventive holograms. Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke could be a late threat to the male leaders but UK entrant Michael Rice is a distant bet with odds of 150/1.
With just three days to go until Sunday’s orange-carpet launch event in Habima Square, will Tel Aviv be ready? On this, Mr Dunkelman is clear: “Emotion-wise, we’ve been ready for years. And now it can just all come together. Tel Aviv is ready.”
Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals are on Tuesday and Thursday on BBC Four, 8pm. The grand final from Tel Aviv will be live on Saturday, May 18, 8pm, on BBC One