Every May, a group of Europeans gather together, carrying the hopes of their countries for an important reason. Mrs R readers, this is not for an economic or political summit but something altogether different.

There’s no simple way to explain the Eurovision Song Contest but one thing’s sure; once you know what goes on (this year it was in Copenhagen), it’s going to make you feel very sane and possibly quite proud (or perhaps disappointed, depending on your point of view) that Canada doesn’t have a part in this silliness.

Here’s what happens. Each European nation sends a performer or group with a roughly three minute original song to sing at the semi-finals, before moving on to the televised three-hour final. Each participating country then awards points to its top few songs to decide the winner. Voting is notoriously political.

Started in 1956 by the European Broadcasting Union as a way of bringing some harmony (no pun intended) to post-war Europe, only seven nations took part. These days, with the break-up of the former Soviet Bloc, there are many more competing, which has led to some very ‘individual‘ entries trying to make their mark. In 2014, there were 26 acts performing, so that’s 26 chances to lose your hearing and/or your sanity.

Eurovision has never been dented by punk or rap but is a hotbed of eye-watering ballads and thumping disco pop. Generally the competition is very tolerant of an array of musical styles, ranging from the Finnish Lordi’s 2006 hard rock (and rubber-masked) winning entry, guaranteed to scare small children, to six folk-singing grannies from Russia in 2012.

Novelty songs such as that from Ukrainian comedian Verka Serduchka, who performed entirely in silver with a matching silver star hat and giant glasses, or Latvia’s Europop pirates of 2008 are a normal feature. Step forward too,  Ireland’s memorable protest song sung by a puppet turkey, (Dustin the Turkey), ‘Ireland Douze Pointe’. 2014 featured Russian twins and a drag artist from Austria, Conchita Wurst, complete with floor-length sequin dress and, er…..beard.

But stop! It’s not all camp madness. The contest has been the launching pad for a little-known Swedish band called ABBA who won by a landslide in 1974 with Waterloo and went on to become the biggest success story created by Eurovision. The contest isn’t immune to famous faces such as Englebert Humperdinck or Bonnie Tyler being used to boost a country’s chances either and it’s been an early stop on the way to worldwide fame for superstars such as Celine Dion, who won for Switzerland in 1988.

Eurovision 2014 had an estimated global TV audience of 125 million, so despite the jokes it does matter. The winning country can expect a rush of tourist dollars as the next host.

So who won this year? Yes, it was the drag queen……

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