Oh, Ricky, you're so fine

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The Independent Culture

The general hum of disapproval surrounding the issue of asylum-seekers coming to this country - be it, "How dare they?" or, conversely, "Why would they?" - ignores the serious contributions economic or social refugees can bring to a culture. Take the case of Ricky Martin.

Born in Puerto Rico, Enrique Martin Morales escaped from the notorious regime of the boy-band Menudo, where young Latino lads were employed to entertain young girls for the profit of their masters until being discarded at the age of 16 and replaced by fresh meat. Unlike many former members (and Menudo - the name refers to a spicy tripe dish - have had more than 30 over the years) he eventually managed to reach the United States, quite possibly on a surfboard - who knows?

His good looks, if not his acting ability, were spotted by the makers of the long running soap General Hospital, then in need of a singing bartender. Ricky got the job, often pausing to serenade the sick at their bedsides, and became a huge pop star first in Spanish-speaking regions, then world-wide with last year's English-language Ricky Martin album. Though it was largely penned by old lags such as Desmond Child and Diane Warren, both masters of the "power ballad", they proved adept at "salsa-fying" their trademark sound when commerce called.

Though some accuse Ricky of possessing less charisma than Alan Shearer, his supreme technique with leisurewear and inoffensive charm have made him the housewives' choice, a ready-neutered Elvis.

Tonight, Ricky emerges from the depths of the stage, balances on a vintage Ford Mustang like a six-foot hood ornament, surrounded by dancers (one of whom steps out of the car's trunk) and launches into "Living La Vida Loca".

Starting with your best (and best-known) tune is never a wise move, but a true star shows no fear, not Ricky. He doesn't so much dance as check each limb is still working. A closeted school teacher spotted in a gay disco by his headmaster would move with greater abandon. David Beckham's tattoo has more life than Ricky's arms-aloft pose at each song's conclusion. As for the music, "Veulve" can only have been softening the audience up for this year's Spanish entry in Eurovision, "Shake Your Bon Bon" is extremely so-so, and Latin American governments have lasted longer than the concluding "Un, Dos, Tres".

The set is grey, the band's suits are grey, the music is grey, even the sofa, possibly nicked from an airport, that Ricky sits on to sing a final ballad is grey. Honestly, how this small-town aerobics teacher has done so well is a mystery to match the eternal appeal of Alan Titchmarsh or Barry Manilow. And "Copacabana" was better than most of this. The team of tumblers were quite good, though.