The four-day celebrations surrounding the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this weekend have been marked by their pomp and pageantry—but even so, in terms of sheer spectacle, nothing was going to rival tonight’s Party at the Palace.
A variety show featuring pop royalty (hello Diana Ross and Elton John), military drummers, DJ acts, musical theater performances, and even a cameo from Paddington Bear, the concert was held at the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace to a crowd of 22,000 people.
Here, find all of the most unforgettable moments from tonight’s event.
It began with the Queen taking tea with Paddington Bear
While the Queen may be watching tonight’s show from the comfort of her home in Windsor Castle, it wouldn’t be a jubilee celebration without an appearance from the woman of the hour. The form that came in, though, was a little more unexpected.
As proceedings kicked off, a short film clip starring the monarch began, in which she sat across a table from none other than Paddington Bear. “Tea?” Paddington asked, before attempting to pour a cup then spilling it clumsily everywhere, adding, with a touch of embarrassment: “Never mind.”
“Perhaps you would like a marmalade sandwich?” Paddington asked. “I always keep one for emergencies.” With impeccable comic timing, the Queen then replied: “So do I.” Sneakily pulling a sandwich out of her signature Launer handbag, she noted that she “always likes to save one for later.” A clinking of their teacups later, and the concert was ready to begin.
The first musician was, quite literally, the Queen
In a stroke of genius, the first act at tonight’s concert was the British rock group Queen with Adam Lambert, their long-time stand-in for their late frontman, Freddie Mercury. And what better way to kick off proceedings than with a rendition of their crowd-favorite hit “We Will Rock You”?
Most notably, though, the band’s greatest hits medley began with a twist. While taking her afternoon tea with Paddington Bear, the Queen began clinking her glass to the beat of the iconic “We Will Rock You” drum riff created by Queen’s Roger Taylor, which was then picked up outside Buckingham Palace by the drummers from the military band of the Queen’s Regiment. The crowd inevitably began clapping along—and the three-song set by Queen (but not the Queen, remember?) was ready to begin.
Prince George continued to steal the show while singing along to “Sweet Caroline”
In one of the more oddball moments of tonight’s concert, the eternally cheeky Rod Stewart took to the stage to perform a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Surprising it might have been, but it was certainly energizing, made clear by none other than Prince George, who, during camera cutaways, was seen joyfully singing along to the 1969 smash. Clearly, the song’s regular rotation isn’t just reserved for wedding weekends or late-night pub sing-a-longs, but in the halls of the royal palaces too.
An appearance from two musical theater legends got the crowd going
No celebration of British music culture would be complete without a nod to its rich heritage of musical theater. And where that’s concerned, there’s only one man for the job, really: Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Cats and Evita creator took to the stage in a purple velvet suit to introduce a medley of his greatest hits, noting that the Queen’s “reign has outrun any West End show in history.”
But that wasn’t all, as Lloyd Webber also had an equally starry compatriot to join him onstage. “We’re going to have a phantom and a bloke in a technicolor dreamcoat,” he said. “But first, may I introduce you to an American royal in his own right, Lin-Manuel Miranda.” The pair performed a brief duet at a piano, before Miranda got things going with a song from his hit show Hamilton, currently running in London’s West End.
It was all wrapped up by a performance from the cast of Six: The Musical, a feminist retelling of the lives of Henry VIII’s wives created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, representing the next generation of British theater wunderkinds. (Wait… isn’t that show about..? On second thought, maybe let’s not unpack that right now.)
A tribute to British fashion brought the runway to the palace
It wouldn’t be a night celebrating the creative spirit of Britain if it didn’t at least make a nod to the country’s incomparable contributions to the world of fashion. And tonight, we had Duran Duran and Nile Rodgers to thank for that. As this brilliant musical meeting of the minds launched into a rendition of the former’s 1981 hit “Girls on Film,” a host of models took to the runway in designs from an eclectic mix of British designers, while the word “fashion” and silhouettes of mannequins were alternately projected onto the facade of Buckingham Palace.
The royals took the moment to emphasize the future of the planet
The show may have been primarily about the joy and escapism offered by British music across the decades—here presented by performers of all genres and generations—but the royals were clearly keen to use their moment in the spotlight to turn attention to the causes closest to their heart. During tonight’s proceedings, the subject of the climate crisis was introduced by the 96-year-old nature documentarian David Attenborough, who was projected onto the palace to deliver a heartfelt speech urging viewers to take this moment to reflect on one of the biggest challenges our world is currently facing.
Following Attenborough’s powerful words, Prince William took to a podium to announce that it would serve as a key facet of the royal family’s work moving forward. “As I watch those extraordinary images, it does make me think of all the monumental and pioneering work of so many visionary environmentalists that have gone before,” he said. “I’m in awe of people like the great Sir David Attenborough who look at the beauty and power of our Earth and then work to celebrate and preserve it.”
More than just an honoring of those who had come before him, however, the Duke of Cambridge emphasized the need for urgent change. “Tonight has been full of such optimism and joy, and there is hope,” he continued. “Together, if we harness the very best of humankind and restore our planet, we will protect it for our children, for our grandchildren, and for future generations to come. They will be able to say—with pride at what’s been achieved—what a wonderful world.”
An Elton John performance brought a sentimental touch
One of the major headliners of tonight’s lineup was Elton John, who appeared in a pre-recorded performance of his 1970 ballad “Your Song” that left nary a dry eye in the house—in no small part thanks to his close connection with the royal family. The musician first entered the fold after becoming close with Diana, Princess of Wales. After her untimely death in 1997, he broke chart records with a reworked version of his 1973 song “Candle in the Wind” that he first performed at Diana’s funeral, the lyrics updated to reflect the life of his late friend.
In the years since, John has reportedly served as an unofficial godfather to Princes William and Harry, in particular shepherding Harry through his troubled years as a teenager in the spotlight, and later offering his advice on his decision to “step away” from his royal duties. Still, John is beloved by royals of all stripes—he’s even disclosed anecdotes of the wicked sense of humor he shares with the Queen herself—and so his presence tonight felt like a fitting tribute to the Windsors and their legacy. Plus, who could be more appropriate for a royal shindig than a musician whose documentary is titled Tantrums and Tiaras?
Of course, Diana Ross’s closing set was the ultimate highlight
“Finishing off the show tonight is a particular favorite of the royals,” said the show’s presenter, comedian Lee Mack, in a statement that—we have to admit—was news to us. But then, why wouldn’t she be?
After all, few performances tonight came as highly-anticipated as an appearance from Miss Ross. Opening with a performance of her 1985 smash hit “Chain Reaction,” Ross took to the stage in an appropriately regal black-and-white gown featuring a dramatically proportioned skirt and a tulle shrug. The real standout of her outfit though, were her lavish diamond jewels, even if we’d expect nothing less from the fashion legend.
Ross then launched into a rendition of her recent track “Thank You,” before closing with her iconic version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” from her 1970 debut self-titled solo album. “I love you,” she ad-libbed to the crowd. “If you need me, call me!” It was the perfect send-off to a night packed with a very British mix of weird and wonderful humor, but most of all, a palpable sense of joy. “I am filled with admiration for you, Your Majesty,” Ross concluded. “I am so proud to be here and share this evening with you.”
Originally published in Vogue.com uk