The Royal Variety Performance 2009

Like The Last Night of the Proms, I simple can’t fathom the appeal of The Royal Variety Performance. I just don’t get it. I don’t get who it is aimed at.

People turn up to a show in their Sunday best and rattle their arthiritic wrists at each act who comes on, who in turn, switch between now and sometime in the 1970s. This cultural time travel is enough to give you vertigo.

Last night, it was ITV’s turn to host the show (the Beeb and ITV do alternate years so no-one feels left out… except channels Four and Five) and what a bewildering spectacle it was.

On one hand, you had über-current performers like Alexandra Burke and Lady GaGa (who made my brain seize up by appearing on a piano which had Salvador Dali elephant stilt legs) singing the night away, up against comedians making jokes about gay people.

Seriously. I fully expected someone to rush the stage blacked up going “bungo bungo bungo” before breaking out some song about chucking spears.

This mixture of old and new showed how backward Britain can be. The assembled throng, which looked like a meeting of Masons at a sportsman’s dinner, all laughed when some idiot ventriloquist made a man say “I’m gay!”. They laughed some more when some No Frills Michael McIntyre came out and did a whole ‘I’m a bit camp, me!’ routine.

This was all interspersed with acts that danced around and did shadow puppetry, to add a certain Blue Peter feeling to proceedings. It was utterly baffling.

Peter Kay hosted the event, doing his… well… the only thing he can do. What was even stranger though was the inclusion of two people who have effectively based their entire schtick on Kay’s character, notably, Paddy McGuinness and Jason Manford. It was like three blokes competing to see who could piss the highest against the gable end of a terraced house in a mining village.

Between the laughs and the pop was a bunch of performers who were the living embodiment of a Daily Mail wet-dream. Bette Midler appeared to sing a song which was neither pop nor jazz… and Katherine Jenkins appeared to be neither pop, nor classical.

Both of these acts defy any semblance of logic to me. Just like the whole show.

Of course, this was variety with a capital V, and as such, has to take one long relentless hopeful punt to try to appeal to as many people as possible. However, what you actually end up with is a show that appeals to the kind of person who has absolutely no idea what they like. The kind of person who mews “I like a bit of everything, me“… the kind of person who probably says “I’m not bothered where we go… you decide” every single bloody time they’re invited out.

These kind of people spoil a perfectly good night out. These people ensure that you end up in the most broadly brushstroked club after drinking so that no-one is really happy. They end up going home early as well, leaving everyone still out in a place they didn’t want to go in the first place… and no amount of booze seems to get you drunk, leaving you with indigestion and lethargy.

That’s what the Royal Variety Performance is an all-singing, all-dancing embodiment of.

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1