A few years ago, when I was writing a book about the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, I was invited to join them in the royal box at the Royal Variety Performance. The entertainment on offer that night included a number from The Full Monty, the hit show based on the hit film about 18 unemployed steel workers who form a male striptease group like the Chippendales.
As the barely clad lads strode onto the stage to strut their stuff and rip off their thongs, I looked anxiously across at the Queen and then glanced towards the Duke of Edinburgh. “Don’t worry,” he chuckled. “She’s been to Papua New Guinea. She’s seen it all before.”
That’s the point. 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. This remarkable woman, who has served her country across nearly seven decades, will be 92 on 21 April.
To mark the occasion, a special birthday concert is being broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall, with an all-star musical line-up that includes Tom Jones, Kylie Minogue, Craig David, Anne-Marie, Shawn Mendes, Sting, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and, er, Shaggy. Is this really the birthday treat to offer the nation’s greatest national treasure as she embarks on her 93rd extraordinary year?
We know the Queen loves the Commonwealth and Shaggy’s Jamaican, Kylie’s Australian, Shawn’s Canadian, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo hails from South Africa, so that’s something. But British rapper Craig David’s repertoire includes R&B, garage and hip hop, which are not known for being the Queen’s favourite musical genres. (Perhaps he will give them some hip hop to celebrate Prince Philip’s hip op?)
Word reaches me that the Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, has been involved in choosing the line-up and I can well believe that British singer/ songwriter Anne-Marie, 27, is one of his favourites, but this celebration is supposed to be about the Queen, not her grandchildren. What kind of music does the sovereign actually enjoy?
Mostly, of course, stuff she first heard when she was a girl in the 1940s. The ukulele-playing George Formby has always been a particular favourite. Apparently, she knows all his songs – and can sing them. Will Tom Jones give us When I’m Cleaning Windows? Will Sting and Shaggy duet on Chinese Laundry Blues? I doubt it.
The concert is well-intentioned, of course, and the Queen will tap her toe and smile. “Go with the flow” is her motto, according to one of her ladies-in-waiting. Prince Charles doesn’t hide the fact that he takes earplugs to rock concerts, but the Queen is far too courteous to do that. Besides, she’s used to attending events that aren’t necessarily her cup of tea. And she’s been through worse.
Over the years, she’s had to make small talk with Idi Amin, hobnob with Robert Mugabe and entertain President Assad of Syria – but that’s all been part of her duty, what she has been doing tirelessly on our behalf for 66 years. This is supposed to be the Queen’s birthday treat. It’s always possible that, encouraged by Harry, and with great-grandchildren popping out all over the place, she has chosen to get down with the kids. If not, give her a George Formby singalong by all means, but spare her Shaggy.
The Queen’s Birthday Party will be broadcast live on BBC1 on Saturday 21st April from 8pm to 9.40pm. You can also listen to the show during those times on Radio 2.
Highlights of the concert will also be broadcast on BBC World Service English.