Strange sights at Eurovision

On Tuesday the first of two semi-final competitions opens from the vast Olympiyskiy Stadium in Moscow, Russia. Eighteen countries will be whittled down as viewers vote for their favourites to go through to the grand final on 16 May. Paddy O'Connell will be providing commentary on the proceedings while Sarah Cawood will meet the hopeful performers from all over Europe.

As these pictures show, rehearsals and national heats have been taking place with the emphasis on garish costumes, ludicrous haricuts and presumably singing, as well.

Britain's damp and overcast climate may be a fertile ground for pop music, but in recent years we haven't fared so well in Eurovision. We last won in 1997 and until 1999 we would appear regularly in the top 10, but in 2003 we scored nul points. We came bottom of the class again last year. For this year's 54th edition of the competition, we've stepped up our game. Not only did Andrew Lloyd Webber team up with US Grammy-winning lyricist Diane Warren to pen our entry for the Moscow-based competition, but a reality television show was launched to find a singer to perform their ballad "My Time". The winner, Jade Ewen, a 21-year-old from Plaistow, east London, is our hopeful. "I see Eurovision as the beginning of the rest of my professional life," says Ewen. "You're seeing the start of a 20-, 30-year career."