With an air of grace and sophistication, Ani Lorak, Ukraine's Eurovision contestant, glided into the hotel reception bang on time, an unusual trait for a diva.

"Malta is beautiful; so small. It looks like a film set, everywhere you look is absolutely wonderful," she said, looking radiant despite just a few hours beauty sleep.

In Malta on a two-day promotional tour, Ani Lorak made good use of her time. After landing on Saturday, she appeared on three television interviews before being whisked to the Sky Club, Paceville, after midnight to perform her winning song.

The Ukrainian pop singer is all set for the Eurovision Song Festival in Belgrade after finally clinching her country's competition with the song Shady Lady, following a narrow defeat in 2005.

Born Karolina, she changed her name to Ani Lorak (Karolina spelt backwards) in 1995, when she took part in a competition in Moscow and found that another singer had already registered under the name Karolina.

Speaking about for passion for music, Ani Lorak said she actually sung before she spoke. The 29-year-old has now been singing as a professional for 15 years.

"I cannot remember a day without singing, whether in school or in the street," she said, sitting back in her chair at the Vivaldi Hotel, St Julians.

Discussing last year's Eurovision contestant for the Ukraine, Verka Serduchka, Ani Lorak described it as a fun song. However, she felt the two best songs had emerged on top - Serbia placed first for Marija's wonderful voice and Verka second for the fabulous show.

Stressing that the Eurovision should be a fun contest, she said the performance should not carry some heavy message behind the song, even though she is using her platform in the largest music contest to push the issue of HIV/AIDS to the fore and raise awareness on the disease.

Serving as the UN Goodwill Ambassador in 2004 on the issues of HIV and AIDS, Ani Lorak explained this is a subject especially close to her heart.

"Having previously been unaware of the problem of HIV and AIDS in the Ukraine I took on the task with honour. After all, if a person with HIV smiles at you, there is no reason to fire them from their job... Serving as an ambassador has taught me so much," she said.

When asked about her performance on the Eurovision stage next month, all she would divulge was that top Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli will be designing her dress. Roberto Cavalli had seen her website, listened to her music and said he wanted to make her dress, a move she welcomed because she would "love to work with such a designer".

As the interview progressed, talk fell on the subject of the infamous voting system and how countries tended to vote for their neighbours. Her reply was short and sweet: "How can you not vote for family?"

A seasoned singer from the age of four, Ani Lorak has 10 albums, a single, a biographical film and 23 videos under her belt, not to mention the various roles she played on stage, including Fanchette in The Marriage of Figaro.

In her free time, as "a part-time hobby" she runs her own restaurant serving patrons a taste of European cuisine. "It is a society restaurant where singers from all over Ukraine come," she said, handing out a copy of her single Shady Lady with a smile reminding Malta to vote for her in the Eurovision.

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