A lot of young queer kids growing up wishing they could host the Eurovision Song Contest one day.
Not a lot of kids actually get to grow up and do it.
Assi Azar always knew he wanted to be, but he went through a lot to get there.
As a child he would play with his sister’s Barbies and imagine they represented singers from different countries at Eurovision.
And now, at 39, he is hosting the biggest, campest, queerest show in the world.
‘I never thought in my wildest dreams to host one of the biggest shows in Europe,’ he tells Gay Star News.
GSN met with Assi in a meeting room at Terrence Higgins Trust, a HIV charity, in London.
While he is not HIV positive himself, he says he wants to do as ‘much as he can’ for the LGBTI community.
Eurovision host: ‘I thought I was going to die in the closet.’
He said: ‘I was in the closet until the a age of 24. I thought I was going to die in the closet.
Israel used to be a very conservative country. I’m still my mum’s favorite kid. My father is from Yemen and loved football – I hated football.
It was really difficult. I dated girls until I was 24. Sometimes I feel like I could have almost pulled it off. I could have married nnd lived a lie, but luckily I fell in love with a guy.’
Prior to coming out, he was in conscripted military service for four years. He was an officer, teaching other soldiers.
‘I was in the closet in the army and I was in love with one of my best friends.
When one of my soldiers came out to me, he didn’t know I was also gay.
‘I told him it was ok and in my head I didn’t know if my own parents would support me.’
When it came to coming out, he said he was ‘sure’ his parents would throw him out of the house.
It didn’t go well.
Assi said: ‘My mom told me I was going to die alone, said I wasn’t going to have any kids, and I’ll get HIV.
‘She said, “all I can think is you dancing naked in clubs.” That’s what she saw on TV.
‘But the more time passed, the more she saw me in my relationships and my friends and my career, the better it got. My mom loves my husband – he designed her house.’
‘I have a gay son and I’m proud of it.’
Assi and his husband got married in Barcelona, afraid of homophobic extended family members.
He said his dad was still suspicious of their relationship up until the wedding.
‘Something in him changed that day,’ he said. ‘He saw what he couldn’t see before. He felt the love that he had never felt before.’
And in his father’s speech, he said: ‘I never thought I’d be able to say it. I have a gay son and I’m proud of it.’
For Assi, Eurovision has always sent a message of being who you are.
‘I accepted I was going to be unhappy forever,’ Assi admits. He says that he would change and adapt to ‘fit in’. If bullies laughed at him for skipping, he would no longer skip.
‘To get to the point of marrying a man,’ Assi says, ‘I just felt like the luckiest guy in the world.’
‘[The money] is not the reason why I’m doing Eurovision.’
Now after 15 years of hosting live shows, he’s getting ready to co-host Eurovision.
He’ll also be donating his fee, around NIS 105,000 [around $30,000, €26,700 ] to IGY – an Israeli gay youth charity.
‘The money is not much, it’s public money,’ he said. ‘It’s not the reason why I’m doing Eurovision.
‘I’d rather give it back to the public, to people who need it.’