Bowie and Blair band together

When David Bowie was chosen to receive this year's Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music, the Labour leader, Tony Blair, was not the most obvious immediate choice to present him with it last night.

But there are similarities: both have fronted unsuccessful rock bands - Bowie's was Tin Machine, in the 1980s; Mr Blair's was a college combo called Ugly Rumours. Both are in their forties and both are great admirers of each other.

Mr Blair and his wife, Cherie, went backstage after one of Bowie's Wembley Arena shows last year. Mr Blair said: "I have always liked David Bowie and it was great to meet him." Bowie was even more gushing: "I really like him a lot - we get on very well. It seemed ironic that a major priority on both our minds was the challenge of how to present new ideas."

According to Mr Blair's office, Bowie personally requested that the Labour leader should present the award. But Bowie's spokeswoman said it had been the idea of the Brit Award organisers, adding that Bowie would be unlikely to return the compliment at a Labour rally. She continued: "Tony and Cherie came backstage to see his last tour and Cherie brought along a couple of album sleeves to be signed, which he readily did."

Bowie last night performed his new single, "Hello Spaceboy" with special guests the Pet Shop Boys at the ceremony. Michael Jackson topped the bill, making his first appearance in Britain since 1992 and his first television appearance anywhere since he collapsed before Christmas and the announcement of his divorce from Lisa Marie Presley. He did not gain a single nomination - the judging academy decided his last album, HIStory, contained too much re-released material.

Teenage heart-throbs Take That said goodbye with a performance of new single, "How Deep Is Your Love", recorded before their split, announced last week.