JThe last time the exterior of Buckingham Palace and the Mall was transformed into a concert hall – for the Diamond Jubilee celebration hosted by Gary Barlow in 2012 – the Queen came halfway: a bit of timing which meant she arrived in time for Kylie, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney but missed Jessie J, as well as Gary Barlow and Cheryl Tweedy’s unprovoked assault on Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now.
This time she took part in a skit with Paddington Bear, banging the beat to Queen’s We Will Rock You over a cup of tea before Queen themselves appeared – Brian May, wearing a jacket covered in badger designs , performing on a hydraulic rig – but didn’t show up in person at all, which was a surprise: What seemingly poor 96-year-old wouldn’t want to spend an evening watching Jax Jones and Sigala?
Not even a rare public appearance by disco’s most elusive superstar, Nile Rodgers – this time as a guest with Duran Duran – could tempt Her Majesty from the comfort of Windsor Castle.
She missed a show that became more visually spectacular as night fell and tried to be everything for everyone – selections from musicals and appearances by Royal Ballet dancers alongside Craig David and the TikTok-boosted teenage pop star Mimi Webb.
It was fun to watch the public utterly bewildered by Stefflon Don – it was clearly not Brexit they had voted for – even though even the most ardent Republican might be forced to admit the stars of TV coverage were Prince George and Princess Charlotte, aged eight and seven and visibly annoyed by it all: you were struck by the feeling that their parents could give in at any moment and give them their iPads.
The gig was on safer ground with Sam Ryder, who restored national pride at Eurovision, and indeed George Ezra, although the line from the Green Grass chorus about throwing a party on the day of your death has been suppressed with decor.
Presumably keen to sing of the unparalleled grandeur of an ancient colony outside Buckingham Palace, Alicia Keys changed the lyrics to Empire State of Mind so that they refer to London instead of New York.
Celeste and Hans Zimmer came up with an intriguing, dark take on What a Wonderful World, but what’s proven to be best: Elbow doing One Day Like This; Rod Stewart eschewed his own hits in favor of barking through guaranteed Sweet Caroline singing; a video of Elton John performing Your Song at Windsor Castle projected onto the facade of Buckingham Palace; and Diana Ross’ headlining performance, which started off shaky with a run through Chain Reaction and the title track from her latest album, but sped up dramatically with her Ain’t No Mountain High Enough finale. .
Before Ross’ appearance, Prince Charles made a joke about the cheering audience loud enough for the Queen to hear them at Windsor. In the unlikely event that she could, you wondered if the noise might have bothered her while she was busy watching something else.