The Weekend's Viewing: Gary Barlow: On Her Majesty's Service, Sun, BBC1
How to Paint a Queen: a Culture Show Special, Sat, BBC2

 

You may have noticed that being a member of the Royal Family considerably lowers the bar when it comes to some kinds of excellence.

A remark with even the faintest trace of flippancy to it becomes a "joke" or a "witticism" in the mouth of a royal, while courtesies that would be common from any commoner are transformed into evidence of an almost supernatural graciousness. Even allowing for that effect, though, it was a bit of surprise to discover from Gary Barlow: On Her Majesty's Service that Prince Charles is an expert in world music. Gary and Lord Lloyd-Webber had been commissioned to produce an anthem for the Golden Jubilee and after a swift head-to-head session at two grand pianos to lick out the basic melody, it was Gary's job to record Commonwealth musicians for the final mix. But before he went, he drove off to Highgrove for an audience with Charles: "We're hoping to try and get some guidance," he said, it having apparently been decided that two of the biggest selling composers of recent history could use some tips from the heir to the throne. Charles played him a CD of Xhosa click-singing ("Marvellous!") and suggested he go off the beaten track.

When Gary looked at a map he seemed a bit daunted "The Commonwealth is massive, right? I mean massive! Massive massive." But he set off anyway, starting in Kenya at the Treetops lodge where the young Princess learned that she'd just become Queen. Trundling around in a Land Rover, humping his own recording equipment, Gary laid down samples of schoolgirl choirs, a local nyatiti maestro ("I busked for about four years in London") and a Kibera percussion ensemble who called themselves the Slum Drummers. In between recording sessions, Gary rhapsodised, just a little too often, about how memorable and moving every experience it had been: "I feel motivated now to get on a plane and finish this record," he said after meeting the Slum Drummers. Really, Gary? You were just about to chuck it in otherwise, were you?

It was a mistake of structure rather than of character, though. "I see congeniality in that person," declared a Rastafarian priest in Jamaica's Blue Mountains (where Gary had gone for a bit more drumming) and he was right. Barlow is perfectly nice and it wasn't really his fault that his post-match comments eventually started to sound a little royally bland themselves. Or that once Gareth Malone's Military Wives choir had been added into the mix, the various Commonwealth contributions he'd worked so hard to acquire became virtually inaudible. Her Majesty, you will be relieved to know, thought the song sounded very nice when Gary, Lord Lloyd-Webber and Gareth played it to her at Windsor. Personally, I'd have given them a regal dressing down for rhyming "clearer" with "hear ya", but I don't suppose she got where she is today by picking fights.

At the beginning of How to Paint a Queen: a Culture Show Special, Alastair Sooke claimed that there are more images of Queen Elizabeth II than any other person in history. I lost the next five minutes because I was trying to work out how the hell he could have established (or verified) this impressive sounding fact. But when I tuned back in again it was to a perfectly serviceable account of royal iconography, from Elizabeth I's knowing creation of the Virgin Queen to the current Queen's broad mélange of unposed photography and formal portraits. Curiously, Sooke didn't identify, or directly address, one of the most unusual portraits of the current Queen seen in his programme – Chris Levine's extraordinary portrait of her with her eyes closed. It's titled Lightness of Being, which is a bit of a liberty, but it does have a rare and vulnerable quality to it, as if she's briefly resting from the overwhelming business of being who she is. After this weekend, who could blame her?

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there