Back home after a week in London, I feel revitalised. I’d forgotten how invigorating the city can be – instead of working from home as I usually do, I even went into an office for a day – and it was, of course, a joy to see my friends again.
The highlight, on Saturday 8 September, was the Proms in the Park event, a pop concert in Hyde Park held in parallel with the more traditional Last Night of the Proms (that is, BBC promenade concerts) in the Royal Albert Hall.
I went because I wanted to see the headline act, the legendary Gladys Knight, and since I was staying in my friend Sonia’s spare room, I thought it only polite to take her along. She’s from Sierra Leone, though you wouldn’t know it from her English accent.
“I might have to buy us some plastic ponchos in case it rains,” I told her in advance.
“No, David,” she said firmly. “English people might enjoy standing in the rain watching concerts, but I don’t.”
We arrived around 5pm, in time for Rock Choir (whose members made up a large chunk of the 40,000-strong audience) to kick things off with a string of crowd-pleasers.
What’s Rock Choir? The clue’s in the name.
Then, for approximately five hours, we stood in the same spot, more or less, surrounded by middle-aged white people dancing. I’m not normally a fan of “aren’t white people pathetic?” comments, but the inhibited flailing about was unmistakeable – mine included.
The weather stayed fine, apart from some spits and spots. Michael Ball made an engaging host and I appreciated the Bat Out of Hell sequence, even though I’ve no interest in seeing the stage musical.
What surprised me, though, was how entertaining Matt Goss was. The Bros star, it seems, has reinvented himself with a swing-inspired show in Las Vegas – which, on this evidence, is probably a lot of fun.
So too was Lisa Stansfield, whose greatest hits album I’d listened to a couple of weeks earlier. I liked Lisa Stansfield in the eighties and nineties. How could I have forgotten so many great songs in the meantime?
Now, Josh Groban I’d never heard of. This might be surprising, given that he’s sold a zillion albums, but the truth is that I lost interest in popular music at the turn of the millennium.
“He’s really good,” said Sonia. “Come on, you must have heard You Raise Me Up.” I shrugged and gave her a blank look.
She was right, however. He was marvellous.
And so we come to Gladys Knight, Empress of Soul, who’s been amazing her entire life.
Two minutes into her act, my friend turned to me and said: “I want to be like that when I’m 74. Look at the way she moves her hips!”
The set lasted 45 minutes, ending with Midnight Train to Georgia’s “I’ve got to go” refrain. I’ve since arranged to see her in Leeds next June, when I’ll be a heck of a lot closer to the stage.
That just left the tub-thumping stuff: the flag-waving (a sea of Union Jacks and, for the Euro-enthusiasts, EU flags) and the communal sing-song. I’m very nearly 50 and until that night, I’d never sung Rule Britannia or Land of Hope and Glory. I do recall singing Jerusalem once, at a funeral; and of course God Save the Queen is my national anthem.
I must confess, I felt a twinge of discomfort singing “Britons never shall be slaves” next to a friend from Freetown, West Africa. (It troubled her that one old chap was wandering around in a Victorian army uniform, like an extra from Zulu.) Nonetheless, I did enjoy belting out four patriotic songs with a huge crowd of people. Make of that what you will.
There’s a coda to the story, however. At 2am, I tweeted a few of my impressions and retired groggily to bed. The last of my tweets, written almost as an afterthought, paid Matt Goss a compliment – with the result that all through Sunday, my phone buzzed continuously as his army of fans retweeted me.
As did the talented Mr Goss – who, it turns out, is five days younger than me and ever-so-slightly cooler.