The Eurovision Song Contest, has long been a guilty pleasure of mine, and also a profitable one, as I have backed the winning entry six times in the last eight years. It’s purpose was always to pay for an early holiday to Ibiza, to enjoy the opening parties and an opportunity to afford the island more than twice a year. This years Eurovision Song Contest is being held in Tel Aviv after, Netta Toy, won last years event in Portugal for her home country of Israel, which last won the competition over two decades ago, with an iconic performance from, Dana International, breaking the mould by becoming the first transgender winner of the event since it was first staged in 1956. The Eurovision has always respected diversity and has been a beacon for peace and harmony down through the decades, however politics has tried to hijack the event on a number of occasions. This year, there has been moves to try and boycott the event due to Israels treatment of Palestine, but it has been unsuccessful as the organisers understand that it should always be about the music and not about politics.

All eyes were on Tel Aviv last night as the world tuned in to watch the first semi final and to see how the Israelis would host the event. The tagline of this years competition is “Dare To Dream” reflecting the recurrent theme of last nights broadcast, peace, love and looking towards the future. The set was stunning, a slick sci-fi looking stage, with military tones of polished black steel and minimalist styling, providing an impressive stage for beautifully enhancing the Australian and Serbian entries. The production quality of last nights event was the best I have ever seen in my 45 years watching the competition and the quality of the songs have also improved a lot, feeding into what promises to be a vintage year for the old contest which has retained its independence amid political upheavals and wars across Europe.  Four hosts present this years event and they have already referenced a few political jibes but all delivered with sharp Jewish humour, which lends itself to the event. According to one of the hosts, the name of famous Swedish group, Abba, translates to mother in Hebrew.

A highlight of last nights show was Dana International’s cover version of Bruno Mars #1 Hit single, Just the Way You Are, underlining the all inclusive ethos of this years event, Eurovision it seems, is keen to project an image of respect and diversity, something that could greatly improve the current conflict in Israel. The competition for me always reflected diversity and last nights 18 songs presented a wide range of styles, voices and cultures. The Australian entry, Zero Gravity, sung by the classically trained singer and actress, Kate Miller-Heidke, stole last nights show with angelic vocals and an out of this world stage performance with the singers balanced on floating poles while delivering a pop-opera song with effortless and artistic style. A truly magical performance  that tackles the subject of mental health in today’s society. At odds of 10/1 its an each way certainty in my book, even before checking out the second semi final entrants, which feature the current favorites for the event, Sweden and The Netherlands.

Other musical highlights from last nights first semi final was the entry from Serbia which benefited greatly from the stages visual effects alongside the Greece entry, which underlined the talent of the artists voices performing this year. Two other acts to pick out from last night was the cute Slovakian love song simply performed by a shy young couple who hid under a blanket as the votes were being counted. The Iceland entry with its heavy metal/dance elements, was technically impressive and its the type of song that could do well for itself as a wild card. It was a really good start to this years competition and its building up to be one of the best quality renewals in years, with some really well written songs all in with a chance of winning. As usual voting blocks and political allegiances will play a big part in determining the winner, when the votes are counted up at the end of the final on Saturday night, so its all to play for right now. Tune into the second semi final via the excellent coverage on BBC4 tomorrow night and watch the hot favorites, The Netherlands, perform their powerful ballad Arcade by Duncan Laurence.