Thursday, 15 May 2014

Rise Like A Phoenix - The Triumph Of Conchita Wurst

OK, so Eurovision is camp, over the top, brash, glitzy, ditzy...insert your personal choice(s) of noun or adjective. But occasionally, just occasionally, it gets something spectacularly right and, for one snapshot of a second, becomes relevant.

When a 25 year old guy from the small Styrian village of Bad Mitterndorf in the south of Austria puts on a fabulous dress and some amazing eyelashes, he ceases to be Tom Neuwirth and transforms into Conchita Wurst. On Saturday night, in front of an esitmated 170 million TV viewers worldwide and a live audience of around 10,000 in Copenhagen, Austria's controversial entry took to the stage and took the world by storm. Her song - Rise Like a Phoenix - couldn't have been more perfect for her. An anthem to the struggle she herself has had to fight against bigotry, prejudice and homophobia.

Her road to fame would have tested the toughest of rhinoceros hides. Growing up for Tom was hard, even with his unstintingly supportive mother, Helga, fighting his corner. With a population of just over 3,000, it was never going to be easy for an 18 year old boy to come out as gay in the traditional ski resort of Bad Mitterndorf. He said, "you need a tough hide to get through it all." With grit and determination, he has found success and now, he is welcomed and accepted there.

Tom Neuwirth

Following a successful stint in boy band 'Jetzt Anders', Tom created Conchita, complete with fabulous hair, lashes, dresses and beard, in 2011. Then her star began to rise. But her nomination for Eurovision sent some ultra conservative elements in her home country spinning. A  Facebook hate page was set up and, within four days, 31000 people had signed up. 

Internationally, the Armenian entrant vented his spleen at her sexuality (he later apologised) and a Russian MP I will not even name here, called for the broadcast to be dropped from the Russian TV schedule if she got through to the finals. She did. It wasn't. And plenty of Russian viewers picked up the telephone and voted for her, making her their third favourite of the contest. Only when their jury contributed their votes did the resulting score drop down to a paltry five points. Now homophobic elements in Russia are campaigning for Russia to quit Eurovision altogether and set up its own 'straight' alternative contest.
When her victory was proclaimed, Conchita was visibly overcome. As she accepted the trophy, she dedicated her winning performance to, "everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity. And we are unstoppable."

 When Tom Neuwirth created his alter ego, Conchita, he chose her surname with care. 'Wurst' is the German word for sausage - but it's also used in the context of,  'it's all the same'.  By way of explanation, Tom said, "It's all the same how you look or where you come from, because the only thing that counts is the person you are." Tom describes Conchita as "simply an artistic creation" and says that when he is dressed as her, he behaves, thinks, speaks and acts as a woman. When back in his Tom persona, he describes himself as "a man, and a very lazy one at that." He credits his mother with providing the inspiration and encouragement to go for Eurovision nomination. As a tribute to her, he has a large tattoo of her on his back.

On Saturday, voters all over Europe looked at Conchita Wurst, heard her sing and voted her the worthy winner. All power to her.

Here's that winning performance:


  1. Antonia, this is a seriously beautiful post and brought tears to my eyes. I watched Eurovision and when Conchita sang, I knew she was there because of her voice, not her beard. All hail to Tom, to his mum Helga, and the best singer won on the night. It's supposed to be a singing contest, right? Eff the Russian voting jury. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Thank you, Noelle. I am so delighted for her too.