The award follows a turbulent year that has seen the 23-year-old Londoner battle back from throat surgery while experiencing phenomenal success with her second album 21 selling 12.5 million copies worldwide and reaching No1 in 24 countries. Adele beat Jessie J, Florence & The Machine, Kate Bush and last year’s winner Laura Marling.
But the singer saw her big moment almost ruined when her acceptance speech was cut short after a rambling speech by previous winner Damon Albarn overran, when he thanked a long list of people for helping rock act Blur on its road to success.
Blur had been invited to collect their outstanding contribution to music prize, but Adele was forced off to allow the quartet to perform a set of big hits.
Adele gestured with her middle finger in frustration on-stage, but later said it had been aimed at “the suits” and not her fans.
When she first went on stage to accept the trophy, at the UK’s music industry’s most prestigious awards at London’s O2 Arena, Adele shrieked: “Oh my Gawd” before joking with Kylie Minogue, who was presenting the trophy: “I feel like a drag queen next to you.”
Adele then said: “It’s been an amazing year. Thank you. I’d like to thank my record company for letting me be the kind of artist I want to be.”
But host James Cordon then signalled to the singer to finish quickly to keep to the televised timetable.
Backstage Adele explained: “I flipped the finger, but it wasn’t to my fans. I’m sorry if I offended anyone, but it was the suits that offended me. Thank you all very much and thanks to my fans. I don’t want them to think I was swearing at them.”
The incident upset Corden, who said afterward: “I just feel bad about having to cut Adele off. I don’t understand what happened, but I’m upset about it. Blur get to play for 11 minutes and she gets to say thank you once.”
Her album 21 also won the British Album of the Year award. The singer, who recently won six Grammy awards in Los Angeles, also sang Rolling at the Deep at the ceremony – only her second performance since throat surgery in November.
But former X Factor boy band One Direction beat her to the award for best British single, with What Makes You Beautiful.
In other awards, Ed Sheeran was named best British male beating off rapper Professor Green, James Blake, James Morrison and Noel Gallagher. Flame-haired Sheeran, 21, who spent many teenage years sleeping on friends’ sofas while he honed his musical talent, also won the British Breakthrough Act. He now receives management advice from Sir Elton John, who is a fan of his music.
Singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé, who grew up in Alford, near Aberdeen, and gave up her medical training at the University of Glasgow to pursue her music career, had also been one of the nominations for British Breakthrough Act. However, Sandé won the Critics Choice award, which was announced prior to the ceremony.
Coldplay won best British group, adding to their previous wins in 2003 and 2001.
Foo Fighters won the International Group award while US singer Lana Del Rey scooped the International Breakthrough Act.
US pop star Bruno Mars was named best international male and Rihanna won best international female category for the second year running.
The best British producer award went to Ethan Jones.
The ceremony began with a tribute to US singer Whitney Houston who died earlier this month.
It also featured performances from Adele, Rihanna, Coldplay, Noel Gallagher, Florence + the Machine, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Adele, Blur and Olly Murs.