Austria’s bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest early on Sunday as Europe sent a message of tolerance by supporting an entry which unleashed protests in some more socially conservative countries ahead of the competition.
The 25-year-old performer, whose real name is Tom Neuwirth, secured Austria’s second victory in the competition with 290 points compared with 238 points for runner-up the Netherlands.
It was Austria’s first Eurovision victory for 48 years.
Asked if she had anything to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who introduced a law last year prohibiting so-called gay “propaganda”, Wurst said, “I don’t know if he is watching this now, but if so, I’ll say it: ‘We’re unstoppable.’”
The win was also a victory for all people who believe “in the future of peace and love and tolerance,” said Wurst after the live broadcast, where she cried in front of the cameras.
“I said to myself just this time please just let me be the one with the gold,” she said.
The Eurovision winner secured most top scores from western European countries including Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.
However, she underlined that she also had fans in countries perceived as being more conservative.
“It doesn’t depend on a country, there are people… also in eastern Europe who believe what I believe.”
In fact, for viewers in Russia, Conchita Wurst was the third favourite in the text voting.
The Ukrainian entry came fourth in Russia while Russia’s song was voted third best in neighbouring Ukraine.
Eurovision organisers explained that votes cast in the Crimea region, recently annexed by Russia from Ukraine, were counted as Ukrainian votes for technical reasons.
Proved ‘everyone is accepted’
The bearded Austrian diva was among the top six picks in all participating countries expect in Estonia, where the transvestite came eighth.
Austria last won Eurovision back in 1966 with “Merci Cherie” by Udo Juergens, and news of the victory was well received by revellers in Vienna.
Others emphasised the message of tolerance Eurovision was sending to its viewers.
“I think it’s important that she won because she represents a different part of society that not everyone accepts,” said Fidan Aliyeva from Azerbaijan, who recently finished her studies in Austria.
“She proved that in Europe everyone is accepted,” she added.
Since the contest was launched in 1956, voting has often been tied to politics and the 2014 event was no exception, with the audience jeering countries that awarded points to Russia.
Azerbaijan and Belarus both gave top marks to Russian entry “Shine” by the Tolmachevy Sisters.
Austria’s colourful competitor didn’t become one of the bookies’ favourites until Thursday’s semi-final, amid reports that the drag act had prompted shocked petitions in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Even in Austria, the leader of the right-wing FPOe party had called the act “ridiculous”.
Danish public broadcaster DR had transformed a disused shipyard into a purpose-built arena for the event, creating a spectacular stage for a fraction of the price some previous host countries have spent.