Rock and pop royalty teamed up with the real British monarchy last night for a spectacular concert at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Staged on the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the central London palace, the show featured music from each of the Queen’s six decades on the throne, but it was the veteran rock and pop stars on the bill that really got the crowd’s Union Jack flags waving.
Although her husband, Prince Philip, was forced to miss the show due to illness, the Queen watched the second half from the Royal Box, while other members of the Royal Family, including Prince William and Kate Middleton, were there from the start. On a night when the British establishment was out in force, it was a quartet of musical knights of the realm – Sirs Paul McCartney, Elton John and Tom Jones, plus veteran U.K. pop star Cliff Richard – who brought the biggest reaction from the 10,000 ticketed fans. Tens of thousands also watched from the Mall and on big screens in nearby parks.
McCartney topped the bill, blasting out the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour,” “All My Loving” and “Let It Be,” followed by a stunning version of Wings’ “Live and Let Die” featuring pyrotechnics and projections onto the façade of the palace itself. After a quip that concertgoers should leave “in an orderly fashion” or Her Majesty would “unleash the Corgis,” the rest of the night’s performers joined him on stage for a final rendition of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
But if McCartney’s choice of finale raised eyebrows amongst musos perhaps expecting one of the Beatles’ more iconic anthems, there was no shortage of landmark hits elsewhere on the bill. Stevie Wonder played a selection of his best-known songs, including “Sir Duke,” “Isn’t She Lovely?” and “Superstition,” regularly changing his lyrics to suit the occasion. He was joined on stage by Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am for a version of “Happy Birthday,” although the party was in celebration of the Queen’s time on the throne, rather than the planet.
There were no such etiquette problems for Elton John, who has proved the man for many royal occasions over the years. In fine voice despite being hospitalized by a respiratory infection last week, wearing a sparkling, shocking pink jacket, he paid tribute to the Queen’s “incredible achievement” while conducting sing-along versions of “I’m Still Standing,” “Your Song” and “Crocodile Rock.” He also made full use of the historic backdrop, transforming the palace with neon pink and yellow projections.
Indeed, organizers – led by Take That singer Gary Barlow, who also performed a surprise duet of Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” with Cheryl Cole – incorporated the setting at every turn. Opera stars Alfie Boe and Renée Fleming sang a version of “Somewhere” from the palace balcony, while Madness played on the palace roof.
More projections briefly turned Buckingham Palace into a council estate tower block during “Our House,” with lead singer Suggs changing the lyrics to “Our house, in the middle of one’s street” in playful reference to the Queen’s way of speaking.
Meanwhile, Kylie Minogue – celebrating a (silver) jubilee herself this year after 25 years as the U.K.’s Queen of Pop – dressed as a traditional Cockney Pearly Queen, albeit one wearing not-very-traditional hotpants. She was joined by street dance group Flawless for her hits “Spinning Around,” “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” “Step Back in Time” and “All the Lovers.”
Annie Lennox donned angel wings for a version of Eurythmics’ “There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart),” but the most eye-catching performance came from Grace Jones who, clad in a striking orange headdress, hula-hooped her way throughout “Slave to the Rhythm.”
Other highlights included Robbie Williams, who opened the proceedings with due pomp and circumstance, singing “Let Me Entertain You” with the busby-clad Bands of the Guards Division, and Tom Jones, who led one of the evening’s biggest sing-alongs on “Delilah.” Cliff Richard, who had his first U.K. hit in 1958, six years after the Queen’s coronation, also played several of his biggest hits.
Will.i.am proved the king of the night’s collaborations. Now a household name in the U.K. thanks to his role as a judge on the BBC’s version of ‘The Voice,’ he brought fellow judge Jessie J on stage to duet on “I Gotta Feeling” and “This Is Love” before J took over with a solo version of her own “Domino.”
Other performers included JLS, Lang Lang, Ed Sheeran, Jools Holland and Dame Shirley Bassey, who appropriately sang “Diamonds Are Forever.” At the end of the concert, Prince Charles and the Queen joined the stars on stage, with Charles paying tribute to his mother for “making us proud to be British,” before another massive fireworks display erupted over the palace.