Diana Ross, Wembley Arena, London

This charming woman
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The Independent Culture

It's halfway through the show when Diana Ross, clad in shimmering pink chiffon, dwarfed by a wig that's bigger than her body, and teetering on six-inch stilettos at the centre of a stage which consciously echoes the lid of a child's music box (with Miss Ross as the tiny figurine), flings her arms skywards in a gesture straight out of Maxine Powell's charm school, and belts out the words, "You turned my life into a paperback novel..." Somebody, of course, already has. In her brilliant autobiography Dreamgirl, Mary Wilson paints an unflattering and all-too-believable picture of her fellow Supreme. Diane (as Wilson insists on calling her) emerges as pushy, stubborn, egotistical, conniving and aloof, using her relationships with Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy to manoeuvre her way into becoming the band's sole singer and prima donna.

It's halfway through the show when Diana Ross, clad in shimmering pink chiffon, dwarfed by a wig that's bigger than her body, and teetering on six-inch stilettos at the centre of a stage which consciously echoes the lid of a child's music box (with Miss Ross as the tiny figurine), flings her arms skywards in a gesture straight out of Maxine Powell's charm school, and belts out the words, "You turned my life into a paperback novel..." Somebody, of course, already has. In her brilliant autobiography Dreamgirl, Mary Wilson paints an unflattering and all-too-believable picture of her fellow Supreme. Diane (as Wilson insists on calling her) emerges as pushy, stubborn, egotistical, conniving and aloof, using her relationships with Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy to manoeuvre her way into becoming the band's sole singer and prima donna.

It's this image as, frankly, a bitch, which lingers in the public imagination (sustained by her Heathrow freakout, with which she joined Björk, Peter Buck and Ian Brown in the annals of air travel-related pop star miscreancy). But maybe Diana Ross knows this. And - charm being part of her armoury, as well as her more underhand qualities - she turns it on full blast tonight.

The performance is in the round, there are no barriers, and at various points Diana goes walkabout, sits on laps, pecks cheeks ("You're all kissing me so much I can't sing!"), and gives audience members a go on the microphone (with very mixed results). It's all good PR. During "One Shining Moment", she totters along the walkway three rows in front of me, and - I swear - looks me straight in the eye and gives me a cheeky Diana Ross smile. Despite myself I melt, and grin like an idiot. Charm offensive this may be, but it's an effective one. She's remarkably approachable. On three occasions, men run up the ramp to dance with her, and she doesn't call security. Nobody thinks she's in any danger of being mauled.

There's a simple reason for this. If I had a Gaydar (TM) in my pocket, it would be buzzing like a Rampant Rabbit vibrator. You don't need to be a genius to predict that a diva of Diana's stature will attract a gay audience, but it's cranked up a level by songs like the ludicrously melodramatic "I'm Still Waiting" (with its ever-perplexing line "he could see I had no eyes"), the magnificent "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", and there are tears in many a masculine eye during the accidentally (or was it?) anthemic "I'm Coming Out".

Not neglecting the sheer freakshow fabulousness of the whole thing (which you suspect she's in on, and complicitly celebrating) - there are more costume changes than an entire series of Mr Ben. She's still remarkably trim for a woman who's just turned 60, and emphasises the fact during a sublime "Upside Down" by whipping off the lower half of her dress, Bucks Fizz-style, to convert it into a mini.

Her voice, too, hasn't withered. Not that it was ever much of an instrument: "shrill" and "nasal" (Wilson's words), and always slightly flat. It serves her perfectly through Tamla classics like "My World Is Empty Without You", sultry soul gems like "Love Hangover", and a few too many saccharine ballads. One of which, "If We Hold On Together", is unexpectedly redeemed by a little Diana magic. Just when we thought she'd finished, she does a whole verse and chorus totally a cappella, unhurried, hushing the whole hall, turning something naff into something spellbinding.

For the encore of "Endless Love", she emerges in a giant white fur cape. Dropping it elegantly to the floor, she pointedly announces, "It's fake fur, by the way. I don't want anybody getting mad at me..." Di, we wouldn't dare.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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