A performance of royal variety that has been going on for more than 100 years

·4-min read
Queen Elizabeth II greets comedian David Walliams after the Royal Variety Performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London (PA) (PA Archive)
Queen Elizabeth II greets comedian David Walliams after the Royal Variety Performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London (PA) (PA Archive)

For more than 100 years the Royal Variety Performance has offered everything from James Bond to Lady Gaga, and even flashes of nudity.

The annual entertainment show is held in aid of the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, of which the Queen was patron, and at various venues around the UK.

The show dates to 1912 when King George V and Queen Mary agreed to attend a Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre in London, in aid of the fund and its proposed plans to build an extension to its Brinsworth House home for elderly entertainers.

A second royal show was performed in July 1919 and billed as a celebration of peace, after being postponed between 1914 and 1918 during the First World War.

It became an annual event at the suggestion of George V in 1921, when the King decreed that “the monarch or a senior member of the royal family, would attend an annual performance, in aid of Brinsworth House and the Royal Variety Charity, once a year thereafter”.

Its chairman Giles Cooper said in a statement to the PA news agency: “The Royal Variety Charity is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Her Majesty The Queen.

“Her Majesty was Patron of the Royal Variety Charity for 70 years, taking on this duty after the death of His Majesty King George VI in 1952.

“The Queen was an enthusiastic supporter of our charity, and we were honoured to have Her Majesty’s presence at 39 Royal Variety Performances, the first in 1945 and the final one in the Diamond Jubilee year of 2012.

“The Royal Variety Charity sends its sincere condolences to His Majesty The King and the entire Royal Family.”

Over the years, there have been many performances for members of the royal family, with many involving the Queen in the audience.

In 2012, David Walliams hosted the 100th anniversary show in front of the monarch at the Royal Albert Hall, marking her second “brush” with James Bond for the year.

The comedian entered the hall to the Bond theme while strapped to a jet pack to congratulate the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee and to introduce the next act.

It followed her starring role alongside the real Bond Daniel Craig in the Olympic opening ceremony.

But previous performances have been known to be a little more risque, although the Queen was known to take them in her stride.

In 2001, singer Cilla Black lit up the stage with a rendition of You’ve Got To Have A Gimmick from the musical Gypsy, and baring almost all in a skimpy leotard adorned with fairy lights.

Later in the same show the Queen also caught an eyeful when six male strippers bared everything.

The troupe from the Broadway production of the hit film the Full Monty went the whole hog by whipping off their skimpy G-strings at the end of their performance in front of the monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh.

But perfect timing and a trick of the light ensured that it was only the briefest of glimpses for the audience.

The Queen did not seem shocked by the raunchy routine and applauded as the gang left the stage.

During the 2005 show held in Cardiff, the monarch was boldly asked “Are you disrespecting me?” by comedienne Catherine Tate.

While on stage, Ms Tate looked towards the Royal Box and asked the Queen: “Is one bothered? Is one’s face bothered?”, adding: “Who’s looking after the corgis?”

Again, the Queen smiled politely, while the Duke of Edinburgh chuckled at the joke, with the sketch concluding with Tate announcing: “I’ve just been made a dame.”

In 2009, pop star Lady Gaga wore a full-length red latex dress with a 20ft train to perform for the monarch.

The singer, known for her eccentricity, was also suspended 30ft into the air, as was the grand piano she played.

A more controversial moment came in 1963 during a performance by The Beatles.

While onstage, John Lennon reportedly said those in the cheap seats should clap their hands and the rest of the audience should “rattle their jewellery”.

The Royal Variety Performance has only been cancelled on a handful of occasions during its decades of royal entertaining.

Royal mourning in 1936, the Second World War and the Suez crisis caused cancellations, and the Queen’s third pregnancy in 1959 prevented her from attending.

The show was altered in 1990 to become a special gala in honour of the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday.