Why the royal variety is the spice of our lives

The Duchess of Cambridge meets One Direction at the Royal Variety Performance
The Duchess of Cambridge meets One Direction at the Royal Variety Performance

Jeananne Craig looks back at the most memorable moments from a right royal knees-up

There aren’t many concerts in which Robbie Williams and Alicia Keys share the bill with a dancing dog, or Cilla Black shows off her pins (and then some) in a racy leotard, but the Royal Variety Performance is a show like no other.

Since the first event was held back in 1912, in aid of the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund (now known as the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund), we’ve seen home-grown stars, Hollywood A-listers and, more recently, Britain’s Got Talent winners, light up the stage.

This year’s line-up at the London Palladium doesn’t disappoint either – viewers can look forward to Dame Shirley Bassey, Bette Midler, One Direction and Ed Sheeran, among others.

But before settling down in front of the TV for your royal appointment, let’s look back on more than a century of song, dance and comedy – and the occasional gaffe. Royal Variety Performance, it’s time to take your bow...

Home-grown talent

From Rochdale’s Gracie Fields to West Lothian’s Susan Boyle, the Royal Variety Performance has showcased some of the nation’s brightest and best talent over the years. And while most acts are on their best behaviour for the gig, there has been no shortage of surprises over the years.

In 1963, The Beatles played a handful of their hits and John Lennon famously said to the audience: “For our last number, I’d like to ask for your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands, and the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewellery...”

Meanwhile, Cilla Black raised eyebrows in 2001 when she performed You Gotta Get A Gimmick, from the musical Gypsy, in a skimpy basque with strategically placed light-up hearts..

Hollywood comes to town

The Royal Variety has also played host to top international stars. Wizard Of Oz actress Judy Garland lit up the stage in 1957, Rat Pack star Sammy Davis Jr wowed the audience during the first televised performance in 1960, while The Jackson 5 brought the house down in 1972.

But big-name stars occasionally bring big demands; singer Jennifer Lopez reportedly insisted on an all-white dressing room when she performed in 2001.

And then there was 2009, when divas Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus were on the bill. Former squeaky clean teen star Cyrus raised a few eyebrows when she sang her track Party In The USA complete with leather hotpants and raunchy moves, but it was Gaga who stole the show.

She sang Speechless atop a swing playing a piano suspended high up in the air. Her outfit? A puff-sleeved, full-length red latex number, topped off with an Elizabethan ruff.

Meet and greet

Every year, the royal guests of honour meet and exchange pleasantries with the line-up of nervous-looking celebrities – which leads to the occasional gaffe, giggle, and clumsy curtsy.

Lady Gaga – a “massive fan” of the Queen – revealed she’d been practising her curtsy before the 2009 show, but declined to discuss their chat afterwards, replying: “That is private.”

When One Direction met the Duchess of Cambridge at this year’s performance, Harry Styles took the opportunity to congratulate the pregnant royal on her “bump”, but later revealed that she “didn’t look bumpy”.

Perhaps the funniest line came in 1969 when Prince Philip – not usually one to mince his words – asked gravelly-voiced Tom Jones: “What do you gargle with, pebbles?”

Royal Variety Performance itv, Monday