The thing is, TV and truth lie a long way apart. The camera picked up a crowd of maniacs waving their hands and cheering themselves pink in the face. That was about an eighth of the crowd. The rest was music business people, their friends and their friends' friends. The girl in front of me said some people there had paid pounds 150 for a seat. Wonders will never cease.
Music business people make bad crowds. Enthusiasm among this anthropological group is about as welcome as a fireworks display in Sarajevo. The poor lambs were, of course, under considerable strain, as the organisers at Alexandra Palace insisted on serving their free beer in plastic glasses rather than bottles, but still. I've seen more enjoyment at the Royal Courts of Justice. They were jiggered if they were going to be the first one seen clapping, or laughing, or enjoying themselves.
Except Robbie. And even Robbie's famous grin rapidly slipped into a grim line of horror. It was somewhere around the first advert break. Some joker had booked the silver-tongued Mark Lamarr to play warm-up man while the big stars mopped their brows. Mark tried to raise a laugh by saying "cunt". Then he said it again. Then he launched into the sort of we're-all-mates- here "irreverent" vitriol that made The Word such an unqualified success. "Hasn't Robbie lost weight, ladies and gentlemen?" he said. "You used to be a real fat fucker, didn't you, Robbie?" Robbie wasn't having any of it. "Better a fat fooker than an ugly fooker, Mark," he replied.
Even the music biz tittered. Robbie started to show signs of confidence. His accent, which had been showing alarming southernisation, relaxed a bit. By the time he shouted in the Smushing Poompkins I was feeling the same affection I get from a bottle of Scotch and the Take That Greatest Hits video. There's a tank on t' runway, Robbie. Oops, sorry: that was Jason, wasn't it?
"Here's a loovly lad," said Robbie, and George Michael emerged, with a dozen dancing extras, from a limo. George wore a frock coat and looked like the Master in Doctor Who. The audience loosed off a cannon of funereal applause. Virtually the last one of the evening. By the time Metallica played "So Fucking What", it felt more like a comment on crowd reaction than the post-modern philosophical statement it obviously is.
Boyzone and Peter Andre ritually slaughtered some Sixties and Seventies covers, band playing one pitch, lads singing another, mustard suits waggling, proving that neither singing nor dancing ability is obligatory for stardom. This was too much for Robbie. He took the stage and did a slidey thing with his legs. "Boy bands," he said. "That takes me back. 'Cause you know who I used to be?"
Oh, bless. And he's handy with a paintbrush, as well.