Royal Variety. December 2014.

Dear Rowley,

Blimey O’Reilly what did the Windsors do to deserve the Royal Variety Performance? Not only do the producers in their infinite wisdom put Bette Midler at the start of the bill – where the hell do you go from there? – they allow the comedian with the permanent hiccough in his voice and ants up his bum to give an introductory patter about the new royal baby. This is the first year the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have had to take the bullet for the firm and one could tell Kate was already kicking herself for not playing the morning sickness get out of jail free card.

You’d have thought Royal Variety was an opportunity to show the best of British talent. Well, having just witnessed two gymnasts dressed as City gents in bowlers and sock garters strip down to Union Jack boxer shorts and contort to Land of Hope and Glory I’d have to question how many prescription drugs the producers have been taking of late. I’ve seen a terribly similar act at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and let me tell you it didn’t have a happy finish.

Now there’s a lady in a doily caterwauling to a song I’ve never heard of about letting go with a couple of lap dancers winding themselves up and down skeins of silk hanging from the rafters. She’s a lesson to the young that too much fake tan and frothy white dresses make one resemble a human tiramisu. Oh, she’s called Debbie. Figures. Now we are to be treated to the joy of a mash-up of former boy bands called McBusted. It is for this precise situation that the phrase ‘you can’t make it up’ was coined.

The lead singer of McBusted has his head shaved and dyed like one of Pat Butcher’s fake leopardskin court shoes and there’s a lot of tattoo on show but I suppose that’s late teenage kicks for you. Christ, if I got inked every time I got riled they’d be exhibiting me in a tent on Brighton Pier next to the bearded lady and the strong man. Now Rowley how do we feel about Jack Whitehall? Significantly less since he referred to the royal couple as ‘you guys’ and built his act around being at the same school as the Duchess of Cambridge.

Mr Whitehall is rather a looker but charm is such a dangerous quality, no? People who can get away with murder tend to try to. Fortunately the clown pretending to do magic at the moment hasn’t got a shred of charm and neither does our host who is now making jokes about Prince Charles much to the discomfort of Prince William. If you’re like me you always dreaded being picked out of the audience at the pantomime. The Royal Family are sitting targets at the variety performance so it must be like being in the stocks for a couple of hours and being expected to like it.

The moment an artist with talent walks onto the Palladium stage one breathes a sigh of relief as with the soprano from South Africa who has just given an exquisite account of O Mio Bambino Caro. I suppose this being variety we have to expect the ridiculous to follow the sublime. I quite like Sarah Millican though it took a while to attune myself to that sing-song chirrup of her Geordie accent that has to be exaggerated for comic effect. But I fear she rather flopped tonight.

Now how do we feel about Ed Sheeran? He is the first artist to make me feel the onset of age because while I wasn’t looking he became a global superstar. Who’d have thought it, eh? Mind you I’d never heard of Sam Smith either or the concept of a ‘male diva’. Well, I’d heard of a male diva because it was my career plan since the age of fourteen. Speaking of being a diva, I haven’t given you an update on my vocal coaching.

Suffice to say Ed Sheeran doesn’t have an awful lot to worry about. Despite Ida May’s patience I am struggling to master the subtle nuances of Lilac Wine. I chose it as the best of a bad lot of melancholy ballads. Much as I’d like to be disciplined and rise to the challenge I can’t find any satisfaction, amusement or joy in trying to ‘make it my own’ as they say on X Factor. Nina Simone did. Katie Melua did. Hell, even Miley Cyrus gave it a go. Me? I sound like a bad Bob Dylan tribute act.

The trouble is I’d like to be belting Blow Gabriel Blow when I’m being asked to interpret slow, sophisticated lyrics that even Ella Fitzgerald had the wisdom to avoid. I am not a quitter as Richard Nixon famously said and only give up when it becomes patently clear no amount of try, try again will result in improvement. I can’t do something well I won’t do it at all.

Is Michael McIntyre’s entire career based on the Ministry of Silly Walks? If it is then bravo Sir because he’s fronting the Royal Variety Performance and I’m in bed with a bottle of Malbec writing letters to you. Shirley Bassey’s just appeared and is belting I’m Still Here and making up Sondheim’s lyrics as she goes along to much lesser effect than the original. The voice still magnificent but why rewrite Sondheim’s three act play in music?

Oh christ she’s doing it again with The Lady is a Tramp switching the lyrics to reference Tiger Bay. Still seeing Bassey belting in her seventies prime only makes one wonder how wonderful Garland would have been if circumstances and addictions had allowed her to live. Now that was the voice of the 20th century. I wonder how many artists on the Royal Variety will be remembered so affectionately by so many let alone sell albums almost fifty years after their demise?