It’s elder abuse to make 92-year-old monarch sit through birthday ‘celebrations’ like Saturday night at the Royal Albert Hall, says Aidan Smith.
At the Royal Albert Hall, Theresa May sat in the ‘jewellery-rattling’ seats with her husband. Up on stage, a man from the North-East of England warbled in a cod Jamaican accent. It was a truly dire moment and the only person who could possibly have enjoyed it was the Prime Minister.
Earlier in the week, at the height of the Windrush outrage, a leaflet came to light from May’s tenure as Home Secretary containing dos and don’ts for people the government claims to be deporting to their home country. “Don’t use overseas accents – they can attract unwanted attention,” went the advice sheet, and of course “overseas” meant the Geordie, Brummie and Glaswegian tones which potential evictees would have come to call their own from living here most of their lives. To those being sent back to Jamaica, the leaflet suggested: “Try to be ‘Jamaican’ – use local dialect.”
As Sting – for it was he – sang in a patois that was as convincingly Caribbean as a warm can of Lilt, I wanted the cameras to cut to the Mays so we could see the PM’s hubby nudging her and murmuring: “You had the right idea, darling. A knighthood for the most pretentious man in rock, perhaps?” Unfortunately we got the Queen, looking even more mind-numbingly bored than she had been two minutes previously.
Honestly, was Saturday’s musical clamjamfrie a suitable gift for Her Madge’s 92nd birthday? You can imagine her ringing and underlining (five times) her 93rd in the pages at the back of the Buck House diary to remind her to be extremely unavailable for a repeat. You can imagine the Duke of Edinburgh back at HQ in a big slipper, jumbo bag of Doritos in his lap, expressing his gratitude at being excused the event by breaking wind, then wielding the Royal remote like an axe to switch over to The Crown on Netflix.
This may be the pretty pass when these events should stop for good. The Queen is 92 and surely it’s elder abuse to make her sit through any more of them. As Gyles Brandreth, an HRH biographer, remarked when criticising the line-up: “In a reign longer than any other monarch in our history, the Queen really has seen it all. And my feeling is that by now she’s probably seen enough.”
To be fair to Sting, he thought he might strike a bum note. “I’m not sure this is her musical taste, quite frankly,” he admitted, adding that the concert could get him “put in the Tower”.
To be doubly fair to him, which rarely happens, what was described as a “pop/reggae pile-up” was not Sting at his most serious. This is a man after all who swears by eight-hour Tantric sex sessions, albums wholly devoted to the lute, yoga, week-long humanitarian summits among the biodynamic vineyards of his Tuscany retreat, having a 19th century aluminium double bass close by for the purpose of playing “one little piece of Purcell every day”, an ego which according to former Police bandmate Stuart Copeland is so big that it’s visible from the moon, beginning sentences with “I think it was Flaubert who said … ”, being an eco-warrior with a chef who can supposedly be summoned to fly 100 miles to make his wife a bowl of soup, and all the rest. Saturday, then, could have been a whole lot worse.
And to be triply fair to Sting – unprecedented – he was not acting alone at the Royal Albert Hall but rather as part of a highly improbable double-act with Shaggy, a pairing of the bombastic with the Boombastic, prompting questions about whether a performer whose most famous song recounts how he got jiggy with a neighbour was really appropriate for a Royal occasion.
Then there was Craig (“We were making love by Wednesday”) David. Assuming the bill was put together by the Princes William and Harry, with some input from their other halves, what were they thinking? One was not amused, judging by the Queen’s frizzle-faced demeanour. But she’s 92, for goodness sake. She’s sat through a million clanky cacophonies performed by various subjects during her reign and is allowed to look like that. No one else in the Royal box seemed to be enjoying themselves.
More than not being amused, though, one seemed underwhelmed. It wasn’t the fact that Shaggy and Sting used the evening to plug their new album, as did Kylie Minogue, which really isn’t the done thing, and it wasn’t that the odd lyric might have been risque. As parties go, this was simply dull.
No one dared to update John Lennon’s famous instruction to the audience at the 1963 Royal Variety Performance: “Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, just rattle your jewelry.” I don’t think the Queen would have minded this – the evening desperately needed oomph – and reckon she would have laughed. The Queen possesses a sense of humour, as she showed when James Bond swung by the Palace to take her to the London Olympics and on TV a few days before the party when discussing conkers and corgis with her fellow nonagenarian Sir David Attenborough.
A key scene in The Crown has the young monarch chastising her mother for not educating her properly while the latter is glued to the idiot-lantern for some vaudevillian sand-dancing. I’m not aware of HRH having more rarefied tastes but she deserved better than Saturday night.
Apparently she liked George Formby in her youth and so hopefully enjoyed the tribute to the ukulele demon. Formby was once invited to perform at Buck House but I don’t think Sting should hold his breath for an invite, unless he’s into that at the moment in a bid to stay relevant and, of course, virile.