Greeks take to streets to celebrate ‘Number One’

ATHENS – Setting off firecrackers, blaring their horns and waving flags, thousands of Greeks early yesterday celebrated the country’s first-ever win in the Eurovision Song Contest. Watched by an estimated 150 million TV viewers, Helena Paparizou, a Swedish-born Greek, stormed Europe’s annual songfest Saturday with the English-language «My Number One,» beating off 23 other countries. Standing on a table and waving a Greek flag, she said after her win: «I’m so happy. Thanks to all the countries (who voted) for Greece.» [President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, opposition leader George Papandreou, Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios all took the opportunity to send congratulations to Paparizou.] The scenes in Athens early yesterday were similar – on a smaller scale – to the wild street celebrations which followed Greece’s sensational win in the European soccer championships last year in Portugal. The main gathering took place outside the capital’s stately Zappeion Hall, where giant screens relayed the contest live. The 700,000-euro costs to state TV for a relentless promotional campaign for the song didn’t please everyone. But a clearly delighted Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos called Paparizou’s win «a great moment.» Under Eurovision rules, the winner hosts the competition the following year. Avramopoulos promised: «It will go very well, just as the Olympic Games did.» Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis said: «We’re ready to host the Eurovision Song Contest next year. Helena was a real professional, and she did great.» The victory was especially sweet as Greece trailed badly in early voting. «Thank you very much Poland,» commented one Greek presenter sarcastically after Poland awarded Greece a single point. As well as the traditional maximum vote from Cyprus, Greece did particularly well among TV audiences in neighboring countries. Albania, Turkey and Bulgaria all awarded the full 12. Even the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in a longstanding dispute with Greece over its name, gave seven points. Before this win, Greece’s best performances came with Paparizou as part of duo Antique in 2001, and Sakis Rouvas in 2004. Both placed third. Greek entries have been eclectic over the years, including a leather-clad group in 2002 and a Charlie Chaplin impersonator in 1978.