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A good time is had 'Jammin' with the Prez'

WE ALWAYS knew this presidency business was all a fake. Bill Clinton really wants to be a rock star. The 13-month slog to the White House was just a vehicle for the global fame that was eluding him. And there was a danger that his brother, Roger, might make it to the Grammy Awards before him.

At 11.15pm on Wednesday, around 12 hours after taking the oath of office, the President, accompanied by a purple-dressed, sequinned Hillary, dropped in at the New York-Washington inaugural ball and there, on stage with the E Street Band, he blew his own cover - on the saxophone.

Even his entrance, by a side- door of the cavernous National Guard Armoury, in Washington's south-east quarter, was that of a pop idol. A contingent of the Marine Corps Band attempted to give it a touch of presidential pomp with a round of 'Hail to the Chief'. Not a note was audible, though, as the guests screamed and flashbulbs popped.

The couple mounted the stage and Mr Clinton, sounding like he was campaigning again, began by talking. 'I hope y'all feel partly responsible for making this historic day happen,' he said. Loud whoops. Then he turned to Hillary, who looked like something between a fairy queen and a figure-skating champion, and he asked: 'Does Hillary look great tonight, or what?' More whoops.

At a previous stop on a night that took him to all 11 inaugural ball venues, Mr Clinton had been presented with a tenor sax by singer Ben E King. That was where he first succumbed to the pleadings that would follow him all night - 'Play for us]' And so he blew a few bars of 'Your Mama Don't Dance . . .'

His performance with the E Street Band, the group that once accompanied Bruce Springsteen, was, by all accounts, his most accomplished - a two-minute rendition of a rocking version of James Brown's 'Night Train'. He was hot, and almost all of us - average age perhaps 40 - jived and kicked our heels. Only the most aged and distinguished, Nelson Mandela among them, stayed on their seats to sway.

The total round of balls, with vans of journalists, security men and a man chained to a suitcase carrying the nuclear codes trailing behind, took six hours. Early on, Chelsea was left at the seriously hip MTV ball at the capital's Convention Centre.

The final stop was at the Washington Hilton, where he moistened the reed again, accompanying singer and guitarist, Jimmy Buffet. Mr Clinton told the crowd: 'I know Jimmy Buffet. Jimmy Buffet's a friend of mine. And I'm no Jimmy Buffet.' And Hillary revealed her musical secret; she joined in on the tambourine.

Though the night did not end until 2.15am, clearly the First Couple were having fun. Four years ago, George and Barbara sped round the balls given in their honour, giving each an average of four minutes.

Yesterday morning, the Clintons were facing more adoration. To symbolise a promise of open government, the White House was thrown open to a group of 2,500 'ordinary folk', pre-selected by a post-card lottery. The President was meant to shake each of their hands in the Diplomatic Reception Room, above the Oval Office, but things soon ran out of control as thousands more turned up, desperate to come in. Finally, Mr Clinton came out and joined battle in the crowd. A thousand hands reached out and a few made sacred contact.

But for those few minutes on Wednesday night, Bill Clinton had been ours - all 4,000 of us in the Armoury Hall. That Grammy may not be in the post but in that brief riff, he made us sway and did not drop a note. Flushed and more pop-eyed than usual, Mr Clinton finally lowered his instrument and the E Street's Clarence Clemons leant slowly over to the microphone and growled: 'Jammin' with the Prez.'