Liverpool’s fan village has thrown open its gates ahead of the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Ticket-holders gathered for hours in the beating sun ahead of the Eurovision Village on the historic Pier Head opening to the public on Saturday.
There were cheers from fans dressed as Ukrainian acts Verka Serduchka and Kalush Orchestra and families in Union flag outfits as the stewards removed the barriers.
Some ran straight to the front of the stage to claim a prime spot for the performances from acts including Claire Richards from Steps and Katrina Leskanich of Katrina And The Waves, ahead of the screening of the grand final from 8pm on the big screens.
Sean, 28, from Liverpool, came wearing a T-shirt featuring Finnish entry Kaarija, the eccentric rapper whose hyperpop hit Cha Cha Cha is among the favourites to win.
He told the PA news agency: “As you can see, I think you know who we are supporting today. Obviously the favourite is Finland. I do think he has got a chance.”
Speaking about UK entry Mae Muller, who is performing last, Sean added: “I enjoy the entry. I think there have been some issues with the vocals.
“But I think it is a good closer. It will be a nice way to round off the show.”
Mark, 29, also from Liverpool, wore a luminescent green outfit reminiscent of Kaarija’s own bolero-style jacket.
He added of Muller’s song: “It is very typically pop, it is not typical Eurovision style which I quite like. I think it will do quite well.”
Speaking about Liverpool’s showcasing of Ukrainian culture, Mark added: “I think it is amazing. If you go around you can see Ukraine everywhere, whether it is the signs or flags, it is just Ukrainian.
“It is even the case that they have brought a Ukrainian host in to help with Liverpool. I hope we have done Ukraine proud.”
Nicki, 30, from Darlington, came to the fan zone dressed as Serduchka with the Ukrainian flag painted on her cheeks, and told PA she usually watched the grand final as part of a viewing party but had been “wanting to do this for years”.
She said she was supporting Loreen from Sweden, another favourite to win, but also backed Muller.
However, Nicki added: “I think it’s hard to compete with last year’s act. We kind of hit our peak last year. It is just unfortunate we missed out on winning but obviously everyone wanted Ukraine to do well. So hopefully she will be on the left side of the board.”
She said Liverpool’s showcasing of Ukrainian culture around the city was “fantastic” and showed “we are united”.
The grand final on Saturday night will see Muller finally take to the stage, after it emerged Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky had been barred from addressing the event.
After months of preparation, the 25-year-old singer from north London will finally perform her track, I Wrote A Song, for the international voting public.
She is hoping to continue the success of last year’s UK entry Sam Ryder, who finished second behind Kalush Orchestra.
Twenty-six acts will perform at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool to an expected global audience of 160 million viewers, according to the BBC, after the UK agreed to host the contest on behalf of war-torn Ukraine.
It comes after the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which produces the event, said it had declined Mr Zelensky’s request to speak on Saturday over fears it could politicise the contest.
He had wanted to make an unannounced video appearance and had been expected to implore the global audience of millions to continue backing his country in its fight to repel Russian invaders.
The EBU said Mr Zelensky had “laudable intentions” but “regrettably” his request was against the rules.
The move prompted criticism from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his predecessor Boris Johnson, among other figures.
The EBU has declined to comment further.
The Eurovision grand final will air live on BBC One from 8pm on Saturday.