My son was one of the 600-odd technicians involved in running it all smoothly – he was at the side of the stage running assistant monitor engineer. He tells me there were different teams – one controlling what the Royal Box could hear, another for the stage, another for the main audience, and a delightfully named 'Madness Team.
– h2g2 Researcher
If you were unable to be in London itself on 4 June, 2012, the next best thing was to claim a comfy seat and total control of the TV remote by 7.30pm. Musical superstars, TV personalities and raves from the grave had been invited to put on a live show outside Buckingham Palace with strict instructions that it must end by 10.30pm because HM the Queen didn't want to upset any of her neighbours.
A special wrap-around stage, designed by architect Mark Fisher, was constructed to skirt the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the palace. A public ballot had been set up so that 10,000 members of the public could win tickets to the concert. These lucky winners also got treated to a Jubilee picnic in the Buckingham Palace gardens earlier in the day, which was attended by mingling members of the Royal Family. For the many thousands of people who turned up ticketless just 'to be there', big screens were set up in Hyde Park, St James' Park and on The Mall, so they could at least see, as well as hear what was going on.
First up was Robbie Williams, 'Let Me Entertain You', accompanied by the Guards Drummers and Trumpeters. Talk about a rousing start! Comedian Rob Brydon introduced Will.i.am who did a Tigger impersonation while singing 'Tonight's Gonna Be A Good Night'. He was joined by Jessie J1, who later performed 'Domino' alone. After JLS wowed the crowd with 'Everybody In Love', the audience were introduced to the concert organiser Gary Barlow, who said he would be joined by a surprise guest for special duet... it's not possible to rate the disappointment factor when Cheryl Cole sashayed on in an extremely tight dress and the pair screeched out 'Need You Now'.
This was followed by Lee Mack introducing Sir Cliff, resplendent in a pink suit and sparkly tie. He'd been on several TV programmes earlier, threatening to perform a medley of his hits from each decade in the 6-minute time slot. Beginning with a snatch of 'Dynamite', a tad more of 'The Young Ones', 'Devil Woman', 'We Don't Talk Anymore' and 'Wired For Sound', thankfully there wasn't much time left for the full 'Millennium Prayer'. And yes, he sang 'Congratulations' in full, even though the Queen hadn't turned up yet. Next up was Lang Lang – a quite magically-gifted Chinese concert pianist who played 'Hungarian Rhapsody #6' and 'Rhapsody In Blue' on a Steinway piano. Staying in the classical genre a while longer, Alfie Boe's first performance of the night went down a storm when he pulled off 'O Sole Mio/It's Now Or Never' with aplomb. If he hadn't been an opera singer he would have made a great Elvis impersonator. Jools Holland then took his place at the Steinway and as he was tinkling the ivories he introduced the fabulous Ruby Turner who belted out 'You Are So Beautiful To Me'.
Next guest Grace Jones, looking astonishingly very much the same as she did when she starred as Strangé in Boomerang 20 years ago. She decided to add a new dimension to her performance of 'Slave To The Rhythm' by hula-hooping her way through the whole song. A success for multi-tasking, even if she did look like she was going to the Phantom Zone2 next. For sheer novelty value, this was the act of the night. So how do you follow that? Ed Sheeran needn't have worried, his magnetic solo performance of 'The A Team', accompanied only by his guitar, held the audience spellbound.
Close your eyes and imagine Annie Lennox wearing a long, sparkly dress, long gloves and sporting a pair of white wings. Now open your eyes and find the whole orchestra are wearing wings too. It must be 'There Must Be An Angel' coming up, right? Correct! Just what she was doing mimicking The Who in the 1960s though, is anyone's guess. Perhaps she was trying to make the audience forget the magnificent Grace Jones' mesmerising performance. Hopefully the organisers sent her the bill for the wrecked microphone.
Renée Fleming's 'Un Bel Di Vedremo' was warmly received, but she had a much greater spotlight to come! Sir Tom Jones appeared and belted out 'Mama Told Me Not To Come', sounding just the same as he had in the 1960s. He really got the crowd going with a Spanish-style version of 'Delilah', including just about everyone in the Royal Box! Lenny Henry then introduced the arrival of the Queen (and telling her off for being late and missing Tom Jones, which raised a laugh). The first act the Queen watched was Robbie Williams' 2nd slot of the evening; he surely was born to sing 'Mack the Knife', even though he tweaked the lyrics somewhat to include some of the Royal Family! Rolf Harris then introduced Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber's specially-written tune for the Diamond Jubilee, 'Sing', with the Commonwealth Band; over 200 musicians and singers graced the stage for the performance, during which the crowd were treated to highlights of Her Majesty's visits to Commonwealth countries on the giant screens.
Another tough act to follow, but Dame Shirley Bassey was up next, belting out the fabulous 'Diamonds Are Forever' (of course). Kylie Minogue's outfit was much anticipated and she didn't disappoint with her skimpy version of a pearly queen suit. Renée Fleming and Alfie Boe appeared on a Buckingham Palace balcony and sang 'Somewhere' from West Side Story, which itself is a modern-day re-telling of the Romeo and Juliet story, so the balcony positioning was just perfect for lovers of the Bard. Sir Elton John had been suffering from a respiratory infection, but possibly only being on his death bed would have kept him away from this concert. He wore a sparkly cerise jacket and managed to get through 'I'm Still Standing' and 'Crocodile Rock' (the latter with help from the audience). The delightfully poignant 'Your Song', which had been a favourite of Princess Diana, must have been performed especially for Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge, who appeared visibly moved by the gesture.
Lenny Henry was told to fill in some time so he invited Rolf Harris to sing a capella. When he got over the shock, Rolf began to sing 'Two Little Boys', getting through the first verse before Lenny asked him to stop because the next act was ready. Rolf asked him if he could finish the song but Lenny said no, which invoked boos from the audience! So Rolf asked if he could just finish off the song with the last line, and he sang it to the delighted hordes. The extended preparations had been for Motown legend Stevie Wonder who sang 'Isn't She Lovely' and 'Happy Birthday'. Back to the palace for the next act, they didn't blow the roof off, they were performing on it! The group Madness sang 'Our House' and 'It Must Be Love' while images of houses with people dancing inside were projected onto the palace front. A decade previously, during the Golden Jubilee concert in 2002, Queen guitarist Brian May had played God Save the Queen up on the roof. This time, he was enjoying the show with his lovely wife Anita Dobson from the Royal Box.
Bringing the concert to a close was Sir Paul McCartney, who was bizarrely introduced by comedian Peter Kay as 'Sir James Paul Winston McCartney' (Winston was Paul's fellow Beatle John Lennon's middle name). Sir Paul's band played 'Magical Mystery Tour', 'Let It Be', and 'Live and Let Die' complete with loud and visual special effects. Paul 'Wix' Wickens, who played keyboard, has performed with Sir Paul since 1989, including at the 2010 Isle of Wight Festival. Wickens has a much greater claim to fame though, he composed the music for The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy's radio series' for the 'Tertiary Phase', 'Quandary Phase' and 'Quintessential Phase'.
All the evening's performers came back on stage to help sing 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' with Sir Paul's band. Sir Elton grabbed Sir Cliff for a whirl-around, and some kissing was going on, lucky Dame Shirley! Gary Barlow escorted the Queen onto the stage. He was trying to direct her to the correct place and watch she didn't trip up, while not touching her. Poor Gary, he looked so nervous! Prince Charles' tribute to his mother was very moving, especially when he mentioned his father's absence due to illness, and asking the crowd to shout loudly so that the Duke of Edinburgh might hear them from his hospital bed. The crowd cheered then spontaneously broke into a chant of 'Philip, Philip, Philip' – something rarely, if ever, heard. The Queen bit her bottom lip; she looked close to tears. The Prince of Wales continued: 'Your Majesty, you make us proud to be British'. Indeed, she does. God Save the Queen. Roll on the Platinum Jubilee!
Just over a week later, Gary Barlow was awarded an OBE for services to the entertainment industry and to charity in the Queen's Birthday Honours list. And for safely escorting Her Majesty without breaking Royal protocol, of course!