Frenzied welcome home for Norwegian Eurovision winner


Photographer Alain Douit (EBU)

OSLO (AFP) — Norway’s Alexander Rybak returned home to a frenzied hero’s welcome on Sunday after sweeping the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow with a brash performance of a folk-inspired ballad.

Some 3,000 fans greeted the boyish 23-year-old violinist at Oslo’s international airport, prompting a stunned reaction from Rybak, who some local media have dubbed “Alexander the Great”.

“It’s completely incredible,” he said on Norwegian television amid chaotic scenes. “I thought there would be 20 or 30 (people). I never realised.” By coincidence, Sunday was the country’s main patriotic holiday, Constitution Day, and many of his fans were dressed in traditional national costumes. As the plane carrying Rybak approached the airport terminal, four fire trucks sprayed it with water — a practice usually reserved for retiring pilots.

The classically trained musician born in Belarus enchanted television viewers who gave him the most points ever awarded at Eurovision — 387 — for the song  “Fairy Tale,” which he penned himself. Runners up Iceland and Azerbaijan trailed far behind in the annual contest that pitted 25 European countries against each other in the final.

“Thank you very much Russia. It’s simply wonderful. Thank you,” declared a delighted Rybak, speaking in Russian and clasping flowers and his fiddle after the tense voting was over.

Norway’s prime minister even got in on the act. “This is a great victory for Norway,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said on Norwegian television. “It’s fantastic what he’s done.”

“Alexander III” ran the headline in the online edition of the Aftenposten newspaper, alluding to the fact this was the country’s third Eurovision win. His victory means Norway will host the contest next year.

Dozens of fans who had gathered in central Oslo to watch the contest cheered after Rybak’s victory, television pictures showed, while messages of praise poured onto websites. “It is fantastic that you won next to all these ‘men’ dripping with sweat and half-naked. You are authentic,” wrote Hege, a 42 year-old.

Amid a line-up packed with the sort of over-the-top, kitschy performances for which Eurovision is famous, Rybak conquered with a no-frills show that combined deft dance steps and violin mastery with huge self-assurance.

The annual contest is watched by an estimated television audience of over 100 million people, making it one of the world’s most watched events.

Norway’s victory theoretically marked the end of recent east European domination of Eurovision — but the song by the Belarus-born musician appeared targeted at eastern European audiences. With its catchy refrain “I’m in love with a fairy tale,” it featured east European-style folk rhythms and harmonies. The song was enthusiastically received by Rybak’s native Belarus, which gave it the maximum 12 points possible and where fans celebrated on Sunday. “Super! We here in Minsk are already partying!” a user named Sasha posted on the website of the Nasha Niva newspaper.

Rybak, who emigrated from Belarus in his childhood and began playing violin and piano at age five, modestly played down his talent after his victory. “I still think I’m far from the best singer in this year’s competition. But I had a story to tell and people liked my story,” Rybak told reporters.

Read more on: AFP

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