The last time the exterior of Buckingham Palace and the Mall was turned into a concert venue – for the Gary Barlow-curated diamond jubilee celebration in 2012 – the Queen arrived midway through: a canny bit of timing that meant she got there 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 gamely took part in a sketch with Paddington Bear, tapping out the rhythm of Queen’s We Will Rock You on a teacup before Queen themselves appeared – Brian May, clad in a jacket covered in drawings of badgers, performing on a hydraulic platform – but didn’t show up in person at all, which was a surprise: what apparently poorly 96-year-old wouldn’t want to spend an evening watching Jax Jones and Sigala?
Not even a rare public appearance from disco’s most elusive superstar, Nile Rodgers – this time guesting with Duran Duran – could tempt Her Majesty from the comfort of Windsor Castle.
She missed a show that grew more visually spectacular as night fell, and attempted to be all things to all people – selections from musicals and appearances by dancers from the Royal Ballet next to Craig David and TikTok-boosted teen pop star Mimi Webb.
There was fun to be had watching the audience looking utterly baffled by Stefflon Don – this visibly wasn’t the Brexit they voted for – although even the most ardent republican might be forced to admit that the breakout stars of the TV coverage were Prince George and Princess Charlotte, eight and seven years old and visibly bored senseless by the whole thing: you were struck by the feeling that their parents might just give in and hand them their iPads at any moment.
The concert was on safer ground with Sam Ryder, who restored national pride at Eurovision, and indeed George Ezra, although the line in Green Green Grass’s chorus about throwing a party on the day you die was decorously edited out.
Presumably mindful of hymning the nonpareil greatness of a former colony in front of Buckingham Palace, Alicia Keys changed the lyrics of Empire State of Mind so they reference London instead of New York.
Celeste and Hans Zimmer offered an intriguingly dark take on What a Wonderful World, but the tried and tested stuff goes down the best: Elbow doing One Day Like This; Rod Stewart eschewing his own hits in favour of barking his way through the guaranteed singalong Sweet Caroline; a video of Elton John performing Your Song in Windsor Castle projected on the front of Buckingham Palace; and Diana Ross’s headlining performance, which started shakily with a race through Chain Reaction and the title track of her most recent album, but picked up considerably with its finale of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
Before Ross appeared, Prince Charles made a joke about the audience cheering loud enough for the Queen to hear them in Windsor. In the unlikely event that she could, you did wonder if the noise might have disturbed her while she was busy watching something else.