Conchita Wurst: four years after Eurovision win

Publish Date
Sunday, 13 May 2018, 12:20PM

SHE stunned the world to take out the Eurovision song contest with a soaring power ballad in 2014.

Conchita Wurst's Rise Like A Phoenix earned Austria a whopping 290 points with its themes of transformation and rebirth, clocking up more than 13 million views on YouTube in the years since.

Four years on, the "bearded lady" who is a stage persona of 29-year-old Austrian Tom Neuwirth, still feels the need to make it clear her performance is "no joke" after being forced to reveal her HIV status under threats of blackmail from an ex-partner.

"I feel I need to prove myself each and every time [because] I'm a drag act," she told the BBC ahead of the 2018 Eurovision to be held this Saturday in Lisbon.

"It's easy to say, 'This is just a joke.' You know, the bearded lady? And I feel the need to smash it with every performance just because I want to be clear this is not a joke."

It's a stark admission from the star who created her alter ego in 2006 as a way of projecting confidence on stage.

Last month, she was forced to use every ounce of it in a personal Instagram post disclosing she was HIV-positive and had been for many years, which she described as freeing her from the "sword of Damocles" above her head.

"This is actually irrelevant to the public, but an ex-boyfriend threatens me to go public with this private information, and I will not give anyone the right to frighten me and influence my life in the future," she wrote, saying she has been in medical treatment and is unable to pass on the virus.

Conchita said she did not want to go public for fear of how it would impact her family and friends, believing that the information is only relevant to those "with whom sexual contact is an option".

But she decided "coming out is better than being outed," saying: "I hope to build up courage and take another step against the stigmatisation of people who have become infected by HIV, either through their own behaviour or through no fault of their own."

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The move earned praise from HIV advocates who slammed the attempts at blackmail and fans who praised her for being "as always, an example".

It has also given impetus to a personal mission which has seen Conchita host and perform at Europe's Life Ball in 2017, the largest charity event on the continent supporting those with HIV or AIDS.

In 2014, the Eurovision win catapulted Conchita to icon status overnight, as she hailed the win as a victory for "unity" despite suffering a major backlash. At the time, online petitions called for her entrance to be banned, and one group described the competition as a "hotbed of sodomy".

However the star has taken it all in her stride, since launching an album, world tour and being named an International Icon in the Australian LGBTQI Awards. Next year, she will be the main ambassador at Europride held in Vienna, while an album with the Vienna Symphony is out in October.

Speaking after a recent concert in London, the singer appeared to be coming to terms with herself on stage, saying she was "still buzzing" over the event that had "no huge fail".

"That's a really new feeling to me because normally, when I walk off stage, I'm never pleased with myself," she said. "I mean, I would really rip myself apart and destroy the whole vibe."

This year, Australian singer Jessica Mauboy competed in Eurovision, having just made it through to the grand final with the song We Got Love. Ahead of the performance, she described it as the "greatest test of an entertainer" and the "Mount Everest" of pop.

"Australians love a party, Australians love pop, Australians love colour. Eurovision really talks to us Aussies in all its rainbow colours," she said.

It's the fourth year in a row Australia has gained entry to the European contest, sparking a round of complaints about Australia not being anywhere near Europe.

This week Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds complained about Canada being overlooked, saying Europe had awakened a "sleeping moose".

"Our generous gift of Celine Dion alone should earn us an invite," he said. "Don't give me that crap about Canada not being part of the European family. You let in Australia and they're barely on the planet."