Norway s Alexander Rybak swept this year s Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow with a brash performance of a folk-inspired ballad that he penned himself.
The boyish 23-year-old, a classically trained musician born in Belarus, got a rapturous reception from television audiences who gave him the highest ever number of points awarded at Eurovision – 387 – for the song Fairy Tale.
Runners up Iceland and Azerbaijan trailed far behind in the annual contest that pitted 25 European countries against each other in the final.
Thank you very much Russia. It s simply wonderful. Thank you, declared a delighted Rybak, speaking in Russian and clasping flowers and his fiddle after the tense voting was over.
Thank you very much. You re the best audience in the world! he added.
In an event that is variously loved and loathed for its over-the-top, kitschy performances, Rybak conquered with a no-frills show in which he combined deft dance steps and folk violin playing with huge self-assurance.
Formally, the victory for Nordic Norway marked a departure from the recent east European domination of the contest.
However the song appeared targeted at the heart strings of eastern European audiences.
Rybak was himself born in Belarus while the song, with its catchy refrain I m in love with a fairy tale, features east European-style folk rhythms and harmonies.
Rybak, who began playing the violin and piano at the age of five, modestly played down his talent afterwards.
He told reporters he thought Ukraine s entry – featuring camp Roman soldiers with bare thighs and silver breastplates – was the best.
I still think I m far from the best singer in this year s competition. But I had a story to tell and people liked my story, Rybak said.
The annual contest is watched by an estimated television audience of over 100 million people, making it one of the most watched events on the planet.
Past winners have variously shot to meteoric fame – Sweden s ABBA being the most famous example – or disappeared without trace.
Rybak was hailed early Sunday back home in Norway.
Alexander III ran the headline in the online edition of the Aftenposten newspaper, alluding to the fact this was the country s third Eurovision win.
This is a great victory for Norway, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said on Norwegian television. It s fantastic what he s done.
Host country Russia pulled out all the stops to use the show to put a fresh gloss on its ice-hard image. But its efforts were undermined when Moscow police broke up a demonstration by gay rights activists protesting against entrenched homophobia in Russia.
Images of Miss World beauty queen Ksenya Sukhinova festooned the hulking Soviet-built concert hall, dancers performed in a transparent mid-air swimming pool and there was an even a link up to astronauts on the International Space Station, who officially launched the tele-voting.
However Moscow police arrested about 40 gay rights activists including crusading British activist Peter Tatchell after campaigners timed a series of events to coincide with Eurovision, tapping into the contest s iconic status among European gays.
Rybak was ready with an answer when asked about the abortive gay parade.
I think it s a little bit sad that they chose to have this parade today because they were spending all their energy while the biggest gay parade in the world was tonight, he said, alluding to some of the evening s camper performances.
Amid complaints of an east European bias in recent contests, several acts catered for a perceived liking for folk motifs among avid east European fans.
Portuguese act Flor-de-lis lent heavily on flamenco tradition, while Azerbaijan pioneered a distinctive brand of high-energy Caucasus pop.
However veteran French songstress Patricia Kaas, performing a more classic love song, Et S il Fallait Le Faire, was well behind the leaders in eighth place.
Voting by specialist juries in each country was reintroduced this year alongside tele-voting in order to dilute the tendency for audiences to vote in regional blocs, something west European critics say has tended to skew the results.