He wears it well

On the evidence of his Wembley concert, they should have given the knighthood to Rod, not Cliff, says Jim White
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The Independent Online
On the day it was announced that Cliff Richard was to be knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours list, there were 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium who knew for sure that the old trout had picked the wrong one. Singing "Congratulations" at the VE-Day celebrations seems scant reason for Cliff's elevation, particularly since there is a 50-year-old crooner of similarly youthful visage who can lay far more legitimate claim to a gong. If there was any justice, then, for a lifetime's selfless service to the cause of a good time, arise Sir Roderick.

On Saturday, Rod Stewart gave a performance that reminded you he is simply peerless. It was, according to the ticket, Rod in the round. Not the lad himself, you understand - he is anything but rotund in the midriff area. The reference was to his stage. He became the first performer to play in the middle of the pitch at the stadium, instead of occupying one end. As a concept it worked so well, you had to wonder why no one had thought of it before.

For a start it meant that chairs could be placed on the pitch, ringing the stage like this was a prize fight (a theme picked up by the announcer who introduced Rod with a "Please welcome the heavyweight champion of rock and roll"). Rod fans are now of an age where they do not wish to engage in the unedifying scrum at the front that generally characterises stadium gigs, and this meant they could get close to him without getting too intimate with each other. Not that anyone was actually using the chairs. The rain saw to that, soaking the expensive seats for hours beforehand and leaving those at pitch level with a difficult sartorial decision: get wet or wear one of those condom Pacamacs as modelled by Prince Charles at Pavarotti in the Park. Most got wet.

Probably the best thing to take the mind off a ghastly June night, though, is Rod. Like an Indiana Jones movie, there are no superfluous preliminaries at one of his shows, you are plunged straight into the action: the first number was "Maggie May". From there, he careered along through more than two hours of shameless hedonism. It was a greatest hits juke-box - "Do You Think I'm Sexy", "You Wear It Well", "Baby Jane" - delivering precisely what an audience which had grown old and comfortable needed to remind them they were once youthfully carefree. As carefree, indeed, as Rod, against all available medical orthodoxy, appears to remain.

"Blimey," he said at one point, catching sight of his audience middle- aged spreading out before him. "Good night to do a burglary in Essex. Everyone's here." As he circumnavigated the stage at speed, ensuring everyone round the stadium got a glimpse of those hot legs, snapshots of old Rod would appear on the video screens above his head. There seemed to be little to distinguish him from 20 years ago - it was still all hair and tartan, gravel voice, Sam Cooke phrasing and mike-stand rotation. There was, too, a physical reminder of that time on stage. Ian McClagen was playing the piano, or as Rod succinctly put it: "McClagen there on the Joanna of a Sat'dee nigh'."

As there always have been, too, there were the footballs to dispatch crowdwards at the finale: the big punts, the little chips, a header into the video monitor. When the balls splatted into the sodden crowd, it sent women scrabbling for souvenirs like their daughters at an East 17 show.

Plus, as always, there was the conclusion: "Sailing", a song grown so tarnished through over-familiarity, only Rod has the nerve to try it. And get away with it. "I am sailing, I am sailing," he sang to the swaying stands, "through the dark clouds far away." At which point, by coincidence, it stopped raining, the dark clouds above Wembley at last dissipating. Having experienced Rod's powers of radiation, it probably wasn't a coincidence.