But even as the audience at the Grosvenor House Hotel, west London, erupted in applause, Jarvis Cocker, the leader singer of Pulp, climbed on to the stage and announced: "In actual fact we've had our award already 'cos people bought a lot of copies of our album. We'd like to inaugurate a new music award right here tonight. The award is called The Pulp Music Award and there are two contestants in it: a record called War Child and a record called Child Of War. And the winner is ... War Child."
Calling Brian Eno and Tony Crean on to the stage, the singer handed over the award and the pounds 25,000 prize money to the two men who had raised more than pounds 2m for the Bosnian charity War Child with the compilation album recorded in 24 hours, Help.
It was the end of Oasis's hopes of winning both a Brit Award and the Mercury Music Prize this year. In an pre-recorded interview shown earlier in the evening, Noel Gallagher of the band had said that he believed Oasis deserved to win and had deserved to win the Mercury prize last year - when it went to Portishead.
The panel of 10 judges had taken more than four hours to decide on the winner, and the chair, Simon Frith, an author and music journalist, said they had finally had difficulty in deciding between only two of the 10 contenders who had been short-listed - Pulp and, in a surprising nomination, the folk singer Norma Waterson. In the end Norma Waterson lost out, in a move seen by the music industry as predictable.
The nine artists which did not finally make the grade in the fifth year of the award were: Black Grape, Courtney Pine, the jazz singer, The Manic Street Preachers, Mark Morrison, the soul singer, Norma Waterson, Oasis, the classical composer Peter Maxwell Davies, Underworld, the dance band, and - technically at least - artists for A War Child, who included Blur, Portishead, Sinead O'Connor and Paul McCartney.