Prince Philip couldn’t make it. He was in hospital with an infection after spending four hours in a chill wind watching the jubilee flotilla the day before.
But up to 500,000 others crammed into The Mall outside Buckingham Palace last night to watch the jubilee concert celebrating the Queen’s 60th year on the throne.
The concert started lamely, the baldness of daylight not conducive to glamour.
Annie Lennox pranced awkwardly around the stage in a pair of angel’s wings.
Cliff Richard was a vision in pink, recycling a medley of his hits including Congratulations and Devil Woman (“The same set Cliff did for Queen Victoria!” tweeted one listener).
He ended his set with Long live the Queen! and a saucy flick of his bottom.
Grace Jones was statuesque in a red and black latex bodice that left her long gleaming legs bare. In an amazing feat of respiratory control, she whirled a hula hoop around her waist as she sang her set.
The Victoria Memorial had been converted to a rock arena for the night. Its Perspex roof had long gold spikes that could have been a stylised crown or the cap of a jester, the traditional court entertainer.
Night descended to add a little glamour just in time for our Kylie to appear dressed as a cockney Pearly Queen in hot pants, accompanied by a praetorian guard of dancing girls in tiny silver togas.
As darkness intensified the lighting came into its own, making the stage as bright as a circus carousel.
Coloured lights swept the facade of Buckingham Palace and enormous screens showed grainy footage of episodes from the Queen’s life: riding an elephant, crowning Charles as Prince of Wales, and smiling when she reached Prince William in the line while she was doing a military parade inspection.
Opera singers Alfie Boe and Renee Fleming sang Somewhere from the palace balcony.
The band Madness sang Our House from the roof as light-pictures played across the façade of the palace, turning it into different kinds of stately homes.
For It Must Be Love, Love Love, the lights flashed large pink hearts.
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Prince Charles and Camilla and princesses Beatrice and Eugenie watched the show, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
They and others in the royal box bopped along to the music. Princess Anne and Prime Minister David Cameron joined in with Rolf Harris as he sang Two Little Boys.
Age had wearied some of the voices. Paul McCartney’s was thin and occasionally uncertain, and Elton John’s was not as polished as in earlier days. (And was “I’m still standin’ better than I ever did, lookin’ like a true survivor” quite the right sentiment? Though not as misplaced as Stevie Wonder singing the Queen Happy Birthday when, clearly, this was not the point of the evening).
But Shirley Bassey (Diamonds are Forever, of course) and Tom Jones belted out their classics with undimmed vigour, and Jones’s flamenco version of Delilah had even Prince Harry singing along, generational differences notwithstanding.
The Queen arrived part-way through the concert, warmly wrapped in a heavy dark cloak that looked like one she had worn for a Cecil Beaton photographic portrait in the 1960s.
At the end of the music the Queen appeared on stage with Prince Charles. The cloak was gone, and she shone in a gold dress flecked with Swarovski crystals. Her eyes were suspiciously bright as Prince Charles began a speech.
“Your majesty,” he began. He paused, “Mummy.” She almost smiled, and the crowd let out a burst of laughter.
He thanked the performers and the 600 technicians and thanked God that the weather had turned out fine. At this the Queen, who had shared with Prince Philip the stoic hours watching her rain-sodden flotilla, did laugh.
Prince Charles told the crowd the only sad thing about the evening was that his father was unwell and couldn’t come.
“But if we shout loud enough, he might hear us from hospital,” he said. The audience did its best.
He said his mother’s life had been changed irrevocably at the age of only 26 when his grandfather, King George VI, died suddenly and she became monarch.
“So, as a nation, this is our opportunity to thank her and my father for always being there for us, for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service, and for making us proud to be British,” he said. The crowd clapped and cheered. The Queen swallowed hard.
Prince Charles led three cheers for her and then kissed her gloved hand.
The night ended with the Queen placing a large diamond-shaped crystal into a device that lit the last of 4200 beacons across the nation and the world to celebrate her jubilee.
The beacon flamed six metres into the air, joining a line of 60 along Hadrian’s Wall and one on each of the highest peaks in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Then, it was time for more philharmonic grandeur as the sky above Buckingham Palace exploded with streaks, fans and drizzles of light with 5000 individual fireworks going off in four minutes.
Tonight, the Queen is due to attend a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral. Prince Philip, who will be 91 on Sunday, is due to stay in a London hospital for a few days.
First published on smh.com.au