Roy van der Merwe of Eurovision South Africa and the ESC Covers website attended several Eurovision song contests in person at the host cities. He is writing down his memories of those Eurovisions he attended with accreditation.

Although I did not like “Rock hard hallelujah” by Lordi a lot, I was happy to go to Finland for Eurovision and especially happy for the country who waited so long for their first victory.

I have been a big fan of Finland and had been there several times before. I remember especially my first trip to Europe in 1983 and the problem with visas. Those years there were no Schengen visas and I had to get an individual visa for each country. Travelling by Eurail to Finland meant going over Denmark and Sweden, both had strange conditions for the visa. Sweden said they will approve my visa once I had the Danish visa and Denmark said they will approve my visa once I had the Swedish visa. So I went to get the Finnish visa (which was easy) and said now tell me how do I get to Finland if you do not issue me visas and then both countries did.

Then came 1988. I was in Europe and watched Eurovision in Amsterdam. After I saw Boulevard as the Finnish entry (just love that song), I jumped on the Eurail to go and meet the group in Helsinki and get the vinyl single.

The Finnish embassy is in a house in Pretoria and really such a nice atmosphere and always fairly easy to get their visa. I guess they are the least busy of the Schengen countries so they treat you really nice and want you to have a good impression of their country.

I decided to fly via Amsterdam to Helsinki as I anyway like Amsterdam and there was a good connection to Helsinki, only waiting 2 hours at Schipol airport (which is a great airport with lots to see and do). I had arranged with Max Mannola to meet me at the airport in his car and take me to the accreditation center for my badge and then to the hotel.

The hotel we stayed in Helsinki was quite interesting – Martti Immonen, the president of OGAE Finland at that time, had arranged this hotel just for OGAE fans, so all the people were OGAE. I again shared with Morten and for some reason they thought either me or Morten was disabled so we got the big room for disabled people – especially the bathroom was tripple the size of most. It was also the first ever time I stayed in a hotel with no service people, all entry is by card and there is hardly anybody on duty to help you. I was a little nervous at first but it worked quite well. Almost all the OGAE Norway fans stayed in the hotel as well, including the board of OGAE Norway.

Having had problems with accreditation for 2005 and 2006, I did not take a chance for 2007 so when Finland offered P accreditation for people working at the fan stand (which I anyway love), I took that offer instantly. The fan stand was at a good position, centrally located and Finland gave each worker at the fan stand a badge to wear with your name on and what languages you can communicate in, so it was so easy, if you want someone to speak German with you, you instantly check who had the German flag on their name badge.

I met wonderful people at the fan stand, one of the Finnish fans had a book which she wanted each artist to sign. Maiken Maites was in charge of the fan stand and it was the first time I met her. She later became OGAE International president. Graham and Mark from the UK also took up the offer to work at the fan stand in return for P accreditation. The fan stand was very busy, if I remember correctly, it was the first time we started voting for who will qualify to the final and then who would end up winning. We lost so many pens at the fan stand as people just helped themselves with pens to complete the voting form and then never returned the pens. I think Maiken each morning came with a bunch of new pens from some hotel group. I think it was the first time we handed out cards with some euro credit so people could SMS votes during the live shows. I remember especially tons of Maltese people came to vote and collect these cards.

Around the fan stand and pigeonholes were wonderful chairs and stuff and TV screens, so people could really relax.

I had some competitions at the fan stand, one was about Belgium female singer DANA WINNER. Although she has never sang at Eurovision herself, she is probably the singer who has done the most covers. My friend Patrick Berini-Pierron in France, who is a big fan of Dana, put a compilation CD together of Dana covers, among them one in Afrikaans of the 1981 Dutch entry and fans could win this compilation at the fan stand.

I also enjoyed meeting interesting people at the fan stand, one meeting that stood out was with Richard Herrey from the 1984 winning group for Sweden, The Herreys.

2007 also was the first time someone from South Africa joined me, Nelius Ferreira who was at that moment a board member of OGAE Rest of the world as the person responsible for Africa. He was able to get a F accreditation from the EBU. He arrived the day of the welcome party. I waited for him at the venue but when he did not turn up, I made my way to the place where the welcome party was, but I did not like it. It was too crowded once I arrived and I was unable to eat a single piece of food and then went home to the hotel. It was quite cold and I got flu.

My friend Andreas from Vienna, Austria also joined me in Helsinki for his first Eurovision since Stockholm 2000. Both he and Nelius were staying in hotels close to where I was staying and we went together to the venue by train (both P and F could travel on the train for free with their accreditation badges).

I also met up one day with my friend Tom Forsman, who lives in Helsinki. I had visited him several times in the 80’s but had not seen him since 1991. He took me to a secondhand record shop where I bought around 10 Finnish CD singles at 1 euro each. One of these was “Den glider in” which feature Kirka who sang for Finland in the 80’s. This song was a song during the Ice hockey world championship in Sweden in 1995.

I was able to find the single UMM MA MA by NYLON BEAT – it is from 1998. I think it was a selection song that year.

I also bought a DVD of Jari Sillanpaa who sang for Finland at Eurovision in 2004 with “Takes 2 to tango”.

The press working area had free yoghurt for the press if I remember correctly.

Something like 23 people came to me asking about Hi 5, the South African boy band who brought out a CD with 6 Eurovision covers and doing a song from Arash “Temptation” which they called “Versoeking” and a great video was made of this song. By this time Hi 5 was in Spain on a 6 month contract, singing there at venues. The Spanish entry for 2007 was D’Nash with “I love you mi vida” (composed by among others Thomas Gson) which I thought would be ideally suited for Hi 5 for their next album. Unfortunately, there was no next album as like with so many boy bands, the members started to argue and the group disbanded. It was a great pity.

I liked the United Kingdom entry “Flying the flag (for you) by Scooch. This was so well presented and so typical Eurovision and was disappointed that it did not do well in the final.

Finland, on home soil, had Hanna and “Leave me alone”. The promo single came in the form of a greeting card – very clever and different.

The Czech Republic finally debuted and they brought a group very popular in their country Kabat but their song “Mala dama” did not really captured the hearts of European fans.

To celebrate the debuting of the Czech Republic, we have a compilation CD called CZECH TRIBUTE TO ABBA. This compilation CD features 23 ABBA songs sung by artists from the old Czechoslovakia and some are in the Czech language and some are in the Slovak language.

Denmark was responsible for some drama in the form of Drama queen and her song “Drama queen”. It is a catchy song and DQ became quite popular among the fans. At that time, I had no idea how important he and his song would be in 2014 when Eurovision was back in Copenhagen.

Cole van Dais from  South Africa covered it as Glans prinses.

One fan had his Eurovision bag with some promo CD’s inside stolen inside the men’s room. Not everybody was convinced this really happened. If, indeed true, it is horrible that such a thing can happen. Several fans also crawled underneath the counter into the pigeonhole area to help themselves to some stuff.

One evening everybody went home before the last press conference which was of Armenia with Hayko. I did stay behind because I quite like the song and also Armenia proved to be one of the most difficult CD’s to get. We were just 7 or so and we all got the promo CD single of “Anytime you need”.

Sveinn Runar Sigurdsson was back as composer for the Icelandic entry “Valentine lost” by Eirikur Hauksson who had been at Eurovision twice before, first in 1986 when Iceland made their first appearance at Eurovision as part of the group Icy and then again in 1991 for Norway as part of the group Just 4 fun. I met up with Sveinn in the center of Helsinki and he gave me the full CD – not sure if there was a CD single as I never saw it at all.

For the first time the Swedish promo single was difficult to get. The Ark was a very well-known group at the time in Sweden but also in Finland and they said fans could go and buy the CD single in record stores in Helsinki. I was able to swap it from someone for a Hi 5 CD.

Three brothers called QUALITRIO covered this song.

Latvia brought a fun group and their song “Questa notte” is so catchy. We used this melody to write a tribute song to Nelson Mandela which Tobi Jooste and Gloria Bosman recorded. I was with Andreas when he got the individual members to sign his photo book.

Romania had an equally fun group in the form of Todomondo with “Liubi, liubi, I love you”. There was a lovely postcard and all the members signed it.

The Netherlands brought a returning artist, Edsilia Rombley who scored high in 1998, but her song “On top of the world” was not on top of the list of the voters and she failed to reach the final.

Verka Serduchka with “Dancing lasha tumbai” represented Ukraine and many fans love this. It was nothing special to me but it ended in second place on the final night.

Russia brought Serebro with “Song number 1” which I still after all these years cannot recall at all, so it made no impression on me.

Belarus had Koldun, a very attractive singer with a song written by Philip Kirkorov and Karen Kaveleryan. When Koldun was born, his mother thought he looked like Princes Diana. Andreas had Koldum signing his photobook. The promo CD also features a Russian version of the song. We also got some Koldun chocolates.

The 2007 winner came in the form of Serbia’s entry “Molitva” sung by Marija Serifovic (who looked like a female Elvis Presley to me). It was the first time Serbia took part as a solo country and it was the first winner of Eurovision since 1998 not to be sung in English. Andy Mikheev wrote the Russian lyrics to the song and they even recorded a Finnish version as well.

Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Germany, Switzerland and Austria all brought fairly well-known artists in their countries with interesting songs. They had a varied degree of success.

The OGAE president’s meeting was quite awful and I rather want to forget what happened there.

The invite to the after party was quite an interesting design.

2007 was not so special for me as not one of the 42 songs got a 9 or 10 from me. But I had a top 8 who all scored an 8.

Belarus – Work your magic – Koldun

Malta – Vertigo – Olivia Lewis

Portugal – Danca comigo – Sabrina

Norway – Ven a bailar conmigo – Guri Schanke

Serbia – Molitva – Marija Serifovic

Latvia – Questa notte –

United Kingdom – Flying the flag (for you) – Scooch

Spain – I love you mi vida – D’Nash

There were some horrors

Belgium – Love power – The KMG’s

Poland – Time to party – The Jet set

Israel – Push the button – Teapacks

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