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Eurovision Song Contest: Planning for the party is all in a day (and night’s) work

The stage for Liverpool Eurovision 2023
The stage for Liverpool Eurovision 2023 Copyright Eurovision World
Copyright Eurovision World
By Susan Gibson
Published on Updated
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Following the news that the Eurovision grand final will be – for the first time – broadcast in 500 cinemas around the UK, here's our insiders look behind the scenes look at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool.

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Ever wondered what it must be like to be on the organising team for one of the world’s most iconic music events? 

One of the small team overseeing Liverpool’s Eurovision Host City activities is City Events Manager Susan Gibson, and here she writes about how more than 20 years’ experience in event management can prepare you for the juggernaut that is Eurovision.

Anxious and excited pretty much sums up my emotional state at the moment! And that has been the case ever since we found out in October 2022 that we would have the honour of hosting Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine.

I started working on the project well before we won the bid and I was tasked with looking into possible operational sites and making sure we ticked all the logistical boxes which would put us in the running to stage an event of this scale.

It was an intense period but so rewarding that our hard work paid off, but we didn’t have time to bask in the glory of the win and we hit the ground running within a day of being crowned UK host city.

It’s fair to say, until you’re living and breathing Eurovision you don’t realise the magnitude of this event.

And as a city we don’t make it easy for ourselves. We are always incredibly ambitious with what we want to achieve. Every host city is expected to deliver on a number of elements such as a Eurovision village, a great city welcome and a volunteering programme. But that isn’t enough for us. We always need to supersize our events.

For example, our village now forms part of a two-week-long cultural festival which will feature brand new cultural commissions and see UK-based artists work alongside Ukrainian artists. And it goes without saying that of course we will add more to our extensive to-list and curate a live music and entertainment programme across ten days and nights.

In order to get to that point in May, a huge amount of work is taking place behind the scenes and as the event manager I need eyes on everything. With the village, plans can change daily, even hourly, and that has ramifications on so many different aspects.

Liverpool City Council
Susan Gibson, City Events Manager (right) with Kate Gilston, Liverpool's Culture Event Co-Ordinator - on the Pier Head.Liverpool City Council

Located on our stunning Pier Head, and with a capacity of around 15,000 people at any one time, we constantly have to think about how what we are doing will impact on businesses and residents in that location – for example, how do we ensure our traffic management plans don’t prevent a business receiving its essential, daily stock deliveries? What noise management strategies can we put in place that won’t have a detrimental impact on residents and nearby offices, but in turn don’t impact on the enjoyment of our village visitors?

That’s not the only thing to action – we’ve had to appoint contractors for safety, site and production, stewarding, event infrastructure and sustainability. And at the same time we are also planning the content for the village – what music and entertainment can be programmed, how will concessions work, how many toilets are required. Then there are the lengthy talks about transport and how visitors will get to and from the site…. it’s a never-ending list!

And of course, at every step of this event planning journey Ukraine and its people runs through every thread – elevating even more our need to deliver on everything we set out to.

Liverpool City Council
Susan Gibson, City Events Manager (right) with Kate Gilston, Liverpool’s Culture Event Co-OrdinatorLiverpool City Council

I have worked in events for 23 years and for Liverpool City Council for 18 years, so I am well versed in dealing with the challenges staging a major event can throw at you. But one of the big things with Eurovision is time. By May, we will have had just over six months to deliver something that would normally be around 18 months in the planning and delivery. Every day I am pushing to get decisions over the line so I can move on to the next item.

Planning is key and Team Liverpool has truly come into its own. The city itself has that major event experience, so from October all agencies from the police and transport providers to highways and security services all naturally fell into roles we are used to when it comes to organising and co-ordinating activities of scale.

It’s a slick operation that has been noticed by external bodies and we’ve become a real exemplar for event planning across the UK. The speed at which we can deliver is impressive, but importantly this fast pace does not mean we overlook finer details or cut corners – quite the opposite. We are forensic in our approach – when you’re dealing with large numbers of people you have to be confident you are making the right, and the safe decisions.

Eurovision is all-consuming in the very best sense of the word, and I feel like I don’t really come up for air all that often at the moment, as I’m so invested in the planning. But every now and again I allow myself to think ahead to May and the opening ceremony and the launch of the village - seeing all the team’s hard work come to life. It’s a bit surreal to be honest.

We have already done an amazing job and I just know we will make everyone proud when we can show off how much Liverpool has to offer and how friendly and welcoming we are here.

We are determined to make this an unforgettable spectacle, and we’re going to do it in style, like Liverpool always does.

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