Austria's 'bearded lady' wins Eurovision

Eurovision queen wins fans for controversial stance as well as her voice

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 1:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 10:51am

Conchita Wurst, the diva with a beard who was crowned Eurovision Song Contest queen, has shot to international fame thanks to her controversial stance as much as a powerful voice.

Glamorous with dark locks but with equally distinctive facial hair, this Austrian drag queen captured European hearts with a Shirley Bassey-like performance in Copenhagen and a humble demeanour. It was Austria's first Eurovision win for 48 years.

Watch: Austrian bearded drag queen wins Eurovision song contest

But critics have also lashed out at what they perceive as an abomination, with voices in eastern Europe and Russia - which last year banned "gay propaganda" - calling for her to be removed from the contest.

This unwittingly played into the hands of Tom Neuwirth, the 25-year-old Austrian singer behind Conchita Wurst, who used the song contest to appeal for tolerance.

"I created this bearded lady to show the world that you can do whatever you want," he said at a recent press conference in Copenhagen. "If you're not hurting anyone you can do whatever you like with your life."

When asked what she would tell Russian President Vladimir Putin - who last year signed a law banning "gay propaganda" - Conchita replied: "I don't know if he's watching, but if so, I've made clear, we're unstoppable."

On her website, Conchita describes her two personas as "two hearts beating in my chest." "They are two individual characters with their own individual stories, but with one essential message for tolerance and against discrimination," she said.

The name already says it all: Neuwirth said he chose it "because it doesn't matter where you come from and how you look" - the German expression "es ist wurst" means "it doesn't matter".

Neuwirth, born on November 6, 1988, in Gmunden near Salzburg, has been well known in Austria since he took part in the talent show Starmania in 2006.

He came second to Nadine Beiler, Austria's 2011 Eurovision contest candidate, but already gave a glimpse of what was to come with a performance of Bassey's Goldfinger.

He then joined a short-lived boy band but it was as Conchita Wurst, an alter ego he created in 2011, that the fashion design graduate gained widespread notoriety. In character, he took part in several talent shows and reality series and came second in auditions to select Austria's representative at Eurovision in 2012.

Conchita Wurst has caused surprisingly little outcry in conservative Austria. Local media jumped to her defence when Armenian Eurovision hopeful Aram MP3 quipped that Wurst's lifestyle was "not natural".

A Facebook page protested at the decision to send her to Copenhagen and there has been some concern in the gay community that her hirsute drag persona could "scare" people coming to terms with their own sexuality.

But the diva, whose song Rise like a Phoenix has become an anthem against bigotry, brushed off criticism. "I am somebody who focuses mostly on the positive things in life. Negativity doesn't get me anywhere," she said in a recent interview.