Austria’s bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst has won the Eurovision Song Contest with Rise Like a Phoenix.
The 25-year-old performer, whose real name is Tom Neuwirth, took the Eurovision crown in Copenhagen despite initial expectations that the act would be too controversial in socially conservative countries.
It was Austria’s first Eurovision victory for 48 years.
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”.
The win was also a victory for all people who believe “in the future of peace and love and tolerance”, said Wurst after the live broadcast, where she cried in front of the cameras.
“I said to myself just this time please just let me be the one with the gold,” she said.
The Eurovision winner secured most of her “douze points” top scores from western European countries including Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.
However, she underlined that she also had fans in countries perceived as being more conservative.
“It doesn’t depend on a country, there are people … also in eastern Europe who believe what I believe.”
Austria last won Eurovision back in 1966 with Merci Cherie, by Udo Juergens, and news of the victory was well received by revellers in Vienna.
“It’s just great that a guy can perform like a woman like this, he has such a great presence,” said Karin Springer, who had gone to a bar with friends to watch the event.
Others emphasised the message of tolerance Eurovision was sending to its viewers.
“I think it’s important that she won because she represents a different part of society that not everyone accepts,” said Fidan Aliyeva from Azerbaijan, who recently finished her studies in Austria.
“She proved that in Europe everyone is accepted.”
Since the contest was launched in 1956, voting has often been tied to politics and the 2014 event was no exception, with the audience jeering countries that awarded points to Russia.
Azerbaijan and Belarus both gave top marks to Russian entry Shine, by the Tolmachevy Sisters.
Austria’s colourful competitor didn’t become one of the bookies’ favourites until Thursday’s semi-final, amid reports that the drag act had prompted shocked petitions in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Even in Austria, the leader of the right-wing FPOe party had called the act “ridiculous”.
“I have very thick skin. It never ceases to amaze me just how much fuss is made over a little facial hair,” Wurst told AFP on Friday.
Half the points awarded in Eurovision are compiled through televoting and the other half come from professional juries in each competing country.