Acts from 26 nations are getting ready to perform at the Eurovision song contest, the world’s most popular live music event.

The final of the competition, which returns after being cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, is taking place in the Netherlands.

James Newman will be hoping to improve the UK’s standing at the contest when he takes to the stage on Saturday night. The 35-year-old singer-songwriter will perform Embers, an upbeat dance-pop offering inspired by the end of lockdown, during the climax of the week-long contest.

A limited audience of 3,500 will be admitted into the Ahoy arena in Rotterdam to watch the performances after undergoing testing for Covid-19.

Hours before the show, fans queued outside the venue in the wind and rain to get their coronavirus test out of the way.

“I’m just happy to be here, I’m happy to see a show on stage. It’s just the excitement,” said a Danish Eurovision fan, Tore Peters-Munch, 43, as he waited.

He attended one of the contest’s semi-finals earlier this week and said being in a crowd after so long had taken some getting used to.

“It was a bit weird at the beginning, but just seeing the show and the songs and feeling the excitement from the crowd was just amazing,” Peters-Munch, a choreographer, told Reuters.

The UK’s hope for Eurovision success faces some “stiff competition” but could land a place in the top five, a former winner, Cheryl Baker, has said.

Baker, 67, who won the 1981 Eurovision song contest as part of Bucks Fizz with the track Making Your Mind Up, said she has her fingers crossed for Newman.

She told Times Radio: “It is a great song and he has got great credibility across Europe. They know him. They know the songs he has written.

“We may do much better than we have done in the past 20-odd years. However, some people do not believe there is a political vote. I do. I think that the general public may not like the fact that we have come out of Europe.

“I am hoping. I have got my fingers crossed for James that he is in the top five. There is some stiff competition.”

The older brother of pop star John Newman had been ready to perform the ballad My Last Breath at the 2020 contest before it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

At the 2019 contest the UK came in last place with Michael Rice’s Bigger Than Us, continuing a run of poor results, while the Netherlands came top with Duncan Laurence’s Arcade.

The final features the 20 successful nations from the week’s two semi-finals, as well as the so-called big five of the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The host nation, the Netherlands, will also compete in the showpiece event.

Cyprus’ Elena Tsagrinou will perform the track El Diablo in the opening slot while Senhit will close the show with Adrenalina.

The contest has been disrupted by a number of positive Covid-19 tests among the delegations.

Iceland, one of the favourites to win, will compete in the final despite its entry, Daoi og Gagnamagnio, being forced to pull out of performing live after a positive test. The quirky dance-pop band had been due to perform their song, 10 Years, but will now compete using their rehearsal performance, recorded on the stage on 13 May.

The reigning Eurovision champion, Duncan Laurence, was also due to perform but pulled out after testing positive and developing mild symptoms.

The Eurovision song contest final airs on BBC One from 8pm.

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