Russia wins 2008 Eurovision
Russia won the Eurovision Song Contest last night, with Dima Bilan beating 24 contestants to clinch his country's first victory in the event with the impassioned rock ballad "Believe".
Bilan received 272 points from telephone voters in 43 countries. Ukraine came second with 230 points and Greece third with 218 points.
"Thank you Belgrade, see you in Moscow," said Bilan, an established pop star at home who came second in the 2006 contest held in Athens and hopes to launch an international career with an English-language album this year.
His performance also featured figure skating from Russian Olympic gold medallist Evgeni Plushenko and a head-banging violin accompaniment from Hungarian Edvin Marton on his centuries-old Stradivarius.
The contest, held in Belgrade after Marija Serifovic's ballad clinched victory for Serbia in its debut as a solo nation in 2007, was broadcast live across Europe to an estimated audience of 100 million people.
Most of the songs sounded dated and lacking in energy, but the accompanying performances more than made up for it with richly imaginative visual components.
Highlights included writhing angels and devils from Azerbaijan, a band of swashbuckling pirates from Latvia, a robot zombie dance routine from Georgia and several contestants who appeared to be entering a Mariah Carey-lookalike contest.
Ukraine's second-placed Ani Lorak was a crowd favourite for her energetic disco-fuelled dance track and shiny Las Vegas showgirl outfit, as was Greece's Kalomira with a song that blended oriental, hip-shaking rhythms with Britney Spears-like vocals.