A glittering parade of artists from the 1950s to the present day – from Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Tom Jones to Jessie J and Ed Sheeran – performed outside Buckingham Palace on Monday night (June 4) at the Diamond Jubilee Concert in honor of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
British talent from the Queen’s 60-year reign also included Annie Lennox, Madness, Robbie Williams, his Take That bandmate Gary Barlow and an array of decorated superstars that additionally featured Dame Shirley Bassey and two more Knights of the Realm, Elton John and Paul McCartney. Non-British artists on the bill included Stevie Wonder, Kylie Minogue, Grace Jones, will.i.am, soprano Reneé Fleming and pianist Lang Lang.
The concert took place on a spectacular, special-built stage for a live audience of some 20,000, with a reported 250,000 people stretching all the way down the Mall towards Trafalgar Square. Many millions more watched live through the primetime television coverage on BBC1.
Highlights of the three-hour-plus show included a winning rendition of “O Sole Mio” by English tenor Alfie Boe, who temporarily assumed a rock ‘n’ roll persona to conclude in Elvis style; and pianist and bandleader Jools Holland, joined by his frequent collaborator and distinguished vocalist Ruby Turner, who was her usual ultra-soulful self on a classy version of the Billy Preston co-write “You Are So Beautiful.”
Williams had opened the show in reliably swaggering form on his trademark barnstormer “Let Me Entertain You,” returning later with “Mack The Knife,” while Barlow and the Commonwealth Band delivered the first live performance of “Sing,” the title song from his Jubilee-inspired album collaboration with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Prior to that, Barlow had duetted with Cheryl Cole on a cover of Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” that exposed “X Factor” celebrity judge Cole’s vocal limitations to the full. The contrast was particularly stark when Grace Jones delivered an accurate rendition of “Slave To The Rhythm” while swaying a perfectly-balanced hula hoop on her hips.
Two British stalwarts in the seventh decade of their careers, Richard and Bassey, celebrated their own longevity, Sir Cliff with a hits medley and Dame Shirley with perhaps the only song she could have chosen, “Diamonds Are Forever.” Meanwhile, Minogue was in disco mood, in a mix that included “Spinning Around” and other hits.
It was also a night to admire the staying power of Tom Jones, 47 years a star and, as his outstanding new Universal Island album “Spirit In The Room” shows, every bit the vocalist he ever was. His two-song set included an inspired reworking of “Delilah,” reinvigorated in acoustic flamenco style. Even if the Queen only took her seat just after his performance, Prince Harry was seen singing along.
Perhaps it was the absence of her husband Prince Philip, taken to the hospital earlier in the day with a bladder infection, that accounted for the Queen’s sometimes stern expression as she watched the later stages of the event. Elton John was himself fighting back from his recent hospitalization and played with dependable dash, even if he was not at his sparkling best on a three-song selection.
As night fell, Stevie Wonder raised the crowd with “Sir Duke,” “Isn’t She Lovely” and, joined by will.i.am, “Happy Birthday” and the indestructibly funky “Superstition.” The ageless “Nutty Boys” Madness then performed “Our House” on the Buckingham Palace roof, with some highly effective projections that, at one point, made it appear that a London bus was driving across the front of the Queen’s house.
As so often, it was left to Paul McCartney to conclude the proceedings and, indeed, to bring the Royal Box to its feet. “Magical Mystery Tour” was followed by a trip even further back into his, and Her Majesty’s, reign for “All My Loving.” A de rigeur “Let It Be” led to an explosive “Live And Let Die.”
As the celebrations around the Palace mirrored those of countless street parties across Britain tonight, Macca was joined by the entire cast on stage as he sang a closing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Not to be upstaged at her own bash, the Queen took the stage, accompanied by members of her family including Prince Charles, who addressed her as both “Your Majesty” and “Mummy,” before she lit the National Beacon, and a different type of fireworks show commenced.