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Aussie Eurovision Fan of the Week - Sharleen from Sydney

Sharleen with Latvian band Brainstorm who finished 3rd at Eurovision in 2000.

This week our Australian Eurovision Fan of the Week is Sharleen aka the co-founder of ESC Insight and one of those instrumental in setting up the official fan club in Australia. We found out more about her as a Eurovision fan.

What is your name and where are you from? Sharleen Wright, from Sydney Australia (via Melbourne, Canberra, Cootamundra, London, Riga…)

What do you do or tell us something interesting about you? I’ve been working in tourism for a decade, something that was entirely the fault of Eurovision. I was first offered a job in a travel agency whilst booking a trip to go to the Contest because of my knowledge of Europe. I was then head-hunted for a specialist Eastern European travel company because of my love and prior travels to the likes of Russia (again, contest!). Finally, I secured 6-months work with the Latvian Tourism Board all over a conversation about Eurovision. Ultimately though, it would be nice for people to recognise my tourism skills over my love of Eurovision at some point, but I’ll take what I can get for now.

Both equally amazing skills to have! ~ Aussievision

When did you first get into Eurovision? I was flicking channels one evening in 1994, stumbling across the Contest mid-point through a song. The key moment though was actually the interval entertainment – the infamous Riverdance. It was bombastic at the time, and it stuck in my mind enough to be purposefully looking for the Contest in the TV guides the following year. Remember, there was no real internet scene and social media, so I had no idea how big it all was until much later. The year that was really defining for me though was 2000. That was when I went from keen viewer to fan.

Think we often forget (or many fans may not know) just how big Riverdance was globally. Must have been eye opening to connect with so many fans once the internet took off.

Out of all the Eurovision and Junior Eurovision contests you've gone to, what have been some of the highlights? Moscow 2009 was my first proper live at Eurovision experience, and I arrived on the day of the opening party. I had fan accreditation which was just mind-blowing anyway. But then actually walking into the venue where it was literally one long table of caviar against the left wall and another long table of vodka against the right, being welcomed by all these new international people, seeing Dima Bilan, Ani Lorak, Dschengis Khan and so many more on stage. Then there was the show itself – the staging was completely over-the-top in terms of size, and there I sat, 2nd row dead centre at the final next to the Norwegian fanclub. That week was witnessed by me through a wave of happy tears. It was pretty damn special, and set the bar ridiculously high for future experiences.

As for Junior Eurovision, again my first attendance sticks most in my mind. Yerevan in 2011 was actually more about me checking out the region before potentially attending Baku the following May; something I wasn’t overly enthused about. The venue had quite a number of issues (we literally had no heating in the press centre, and no lights in the hallways, leaving us to use torches to find the bathroom – which also had no toilet paper – it was BYO). I somehow caused a security incident by getting lost on the way from the computer room to the stage, and had to be saved by Christer Bjorkman. The set on stage also looked like it could blow over if someone sneezed. But, the city itself was so enthusiastic and the people we met were so friendly. I met kids there who I still keep in touch with, watching them grow up on social media, go to university and achieve their dreams. Amazing food, crazy sights, and taxi drivers who would insist on sharing their love of the city. I have nothing but warm, fuzzy feelings about Armenia after my time spent there, as well as a far greater appreciation of what Junior Eurovision does.

Wow both amazing experience for very different reasons. (BYO toilet paper has to go down as a unique experience!)

Being a keen traveller, which city would you most like to see host Eurovision? I’m drawn to the East; I think their enthusiasm for the contest and their deep wish to show themselves off to the world through the event is something that simply can’t be matched by the West. There is also the fact that they tend to be far cheaper…

I would look to last years Junior Eurovision hosts. The experience of Junior Eurovision 2018 in Minsk surpassed my expectations, and probably beat some of the organisation and staging of recent adult contests. The venues were all easy to reach, the hotels were cheap and excellent quality, the infrastructure of the city in general was even superior in many ways to the likes of Sydney. I may be in Tel Aviv this May, but I’ll be wishing I was in Belarus in its 15,000 seater arena.

Which is your favourite Eurovision year and why? Just one favourite? Nooooo… sheesh! Riga 2003 – that was the year that I fell in love with Latvia, and it made me want to actually go to the live contest. Excellent show, hosts were fab, and it put the country proudly on display.

If you could only listen to three Eurovision songs for the rest of time, what would you choose? My Star, Brainstorm (Latvia 2000) – my favourite ever entry, makes me happy Be My Valentine, Svetlana Loboda (Ukraine 2009) – for a bit of dance Calm After The Storm, The Common Linnets (Netherlands, 2014) – for relaxing

Love the way you've though that out, couldn't live with three banger or three ballads. Different songs for different moods, *thumbs up*.

Which Eurovision song:

Had the best staging? Playing With Fire by Paula and Ovi (Romania, 2010). Love those duelling pianos!

Best live vocal?

Tough one! I actually think I will give it to Ott Lepland for Kuula (Estonia, 2012). Because I remember his rehearsals and him being so confident to try out variations on each run, and every single one of them was amazing and emotional.

Great choice, has to go down as one of my favourite man ballad vocals ~ Dale

Was robbed?

Eeek, as much as I love Jamala (for her NF entry ‘Smile’), its gotta be both Dami *and* Sergey in 2016

We couldn't agree more (on both)

From before 2000 is your favourite?

Easy choice! Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz. I met them at Roselands Shopping Centre in Sydney 1983. I was a massive fan.

That is AMAZING. For those that don't know, Bucks Fizz were quite big here - 'Making Your Mind Up' reached number 6 in the charts.

Do you enjoy more now, than when they performed?

I don’t really have much of a memory about it when I first saw it, but Vrag naj vzame by Rebeka Dremelj (Slovenia 2008) is on my permanent playlist. It’s a complete bop.

Did you last play?

I Didn’t Know by Serhat. Damn San Marino!

Is your guilty pleasure?

We Are The Winners by LT United

Oh Sharleen, no.... haha!

Any other interesting honourable mentions? 3 that I can think of from the Baltics – Siren by Malcolm Lincoln (Estonia 2010) & Eastern European Funk by InCulto (Lithuania 2010) because I formed quite the bond with them at the contest, and then Love Injected by Aminata (Latvia 2016) because I used to see her in the Latvia University hallways every week when I was there doing my Masters. If I had a gang, they would all be in it!

Which national finals are you most looking forward to? There is the perennial favourite – Melodifestivalen. I was never a devotee, but I attended it for the first time in 2017, and I was really really impressed with the show. I enjoyed the experience far more on the ground than I did Kyiv events that year. There is a reason why it’s considered THE national final to watch. And of course, there is our first ever national final here in Australia up on the Gold Coast on 9th Feb.

Give us your thoughts on Australia in Eurovision, where we've come from and where we are now having a national final? I subscribe to the idea that Eurovision is about Europe – the Euro says it all. To me, it’s about the appreciation of the Song Contest, not our participation in it. My fandom does not rely on Australia being there. However, I give kudos where it is due, Blink TV as the delegation leaders have ensured that every entry we have sent is something that is respectable to the contests history and put in a great deal of effort to make sure its given the attention it deserves on all fronts. I can see this is also carrying on to the national final; it should be more Melodi Grand Prix than whatever nonsense BBC chooses to serve up. We are taking things seriously. In the end, if the song is right – no matter where its from – I will clap and cheer loudly on the night.

Sounds like a great approach. It's been interesting to see it evolve here and for many fans to go from an avid observer and fan, to a fierce competitor.

If you could change one thing about Eurovision what would it be? This is gonna be a tough and controversial opinion to hear, but I think the adult contest could benefit from implementing the same hosting policy as Junior Eurovision. If you have a first refusal and some form of ‘get out’ policy for EBU, it would take the pressure off some countries and allow them to perhaps bring their a-game without having a dread of hosting. I also then think it’s easier for organisation to say that there needs to be standards met in terms of safety, arena size, costs incurred, etc and give them the opportunity to simply say no, its going elsewhere for the sake of the contest.

And finally...

Tonight Again, Sound of Silence, Don’t Come Easy or We Got Love? I think the fact that Guy Sebastian was our first entry, he took the risk, and was a superb ambassador that gave us a 5th place and return invite… it has to be Tonight Again.

Thank you so much for your time Sharleen. but we couldn't let you leave without finding out more about your role in establishing an organised fan club here in Australia, tell us about that?

In the words of Isaiah, it don’t come easy!

The process of making ESCFAN a reality actually took around 7 years. My first experience in dealing with OGAE was trying to join one prior to going to Eurovision for the first time. I joined the UK fanclub because i spent some time living in London and thought that it may give me a better perspective of the active fandom. It was through them that I acquired tickets to Moscow in 2009, I took part in all the fan events it organized and I was encouraged to write for their magazine. So I have them to thank not only for my knowledge in how it all works, but also making me feel so welcome and meeting so many people who I now consider best friends.

Come 2010, it became obvious that there was an increase in Aussie interest and attendance, likely on the back of our first commentary with Julia and Sam. I organized the first meet in Oslo which had around 20 fans attend and gained some media interest. It gathered pace the following year in Dusseldorf with another meet that had more than 40 Aussie fans attend. The question was raised by the German fanclub, why doesn't Australia have it's own club?

I went to make the case at the OGAE meeting for such a move and was told nothing was stopping us - but we wouldn’t be OGAE. As non-contenders, we fell under Rest of the World and that's the way it was, much to my chagrin.

All in all, I wanted to replicate the very positive experience on a local level that I had being part of the OGAE UK chapter. Australia didn’t participate, but we have a very unique position at the contest with a long history of screening, as well as our fandom outnumbering a fair few competing countries at the live events. Even so, attending for many is a once in a lifetime dream, yet information on how to do so was hard to find; a local club staffed by previous attendees and fans could help with that. And being so far from everything, we simply needed our own club to look after our interests and spread the love through the year in our own unique way.

Whilst frustrated, I decided that growing the fandom was important - club or not. I was studying for my Masters at the time and not able to attend the 2014 or 2015 contests, so I organised the first ever Eurovision Preview Party at Trades Hall in Melbourne in late April 2015, investing my own money and time, and then was part of an organising committee for further Melbourne events that year.

Between myself and Alistair Birch, both the unofficial fan gatherings on the ground and the lobbying with the OGAE continued up until 2015 where, as history goes, we finally competed. SBS as an official delegation cooperated with the Australian Eurovision Facebook group (which Alistair and I ran) to have our first official party hosted by the Australian Embassy in Vienna with Guy Sebastian as the guest. In late 2015, the OGAE board finally gave its permission for us to try and forge a recognised club, with a number of requirements to be met before the 2016 contest. These included that we continued to compete, to prove that we were more than a group on Facebook and we would offer more than potential tickets.

I was part of the initial set up Committee starting in Nov 2015, and launched the club in January 2016. We gathered 100 members within our first few months, setting up a website, new discussion board, hosted small city gatherings and running our first club preview party events before gaining our provisional OGAE status.

Our first AGM was held in August 2016, where I was officially elected the inaugural President, taking the club to full OGAE status in 2017 at Kyiv.

It was a hard slog over those years, much of it felt like me banging my head against a brick wall. But I am proud of what has eventuated, with a 500 strong member club. Sitting back now I can relax and still see my legacy with the continuance of member meets at the event, coordination with delegation, preview parties. The club has been left in very capable hands.

I still dabble in fandom elsewhere though; it's no longer out of my blood entirely. I continue to write and co-edit the ESC Insight website and podcast, which I started in 2010 with Ewan Spence.

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