Women have their day with lurv songs from Russia's Tom Jones: Helen Womack in Moscow joins her over-burdened sisters for a romantic evening with a toy-boy

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The Independent Online
'DEAR LADIES,' said the host of the show, 'for International Women's Day, what better present could you have than Philipp Kirkorov?' What better indeed.

Down the illuminated staircase to sing for an audience mostly plump, middle-aged, over-burdened in their daily lives and not entirely fulfilled by marriage, came the most gorgeous toy-boy with long, black wavy hair, enormous, dark, almond-shaped eyes and a hairy chest showing under his diaphanous shirt.

'I'm not an artist,' he crooned. 'But I'll paint you a picture of lurv. I'm not an artist, I'm not Raphael . . . ' Well, you could have fooled us, chuck.

Philipp Kirkorov is one of the rising stars of estrada, a peculiarly Russian genre of popular entertainment. Western singers such as Lulu and Tom Jones practised something similar in the sixties, before their romantic music was swept away by the more aggressive beat of hard rock.

But the Russians have never lost their ability to wallow in sentiment. Indeed, Philipp dedicated the first part of his show to the greatest hits of Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, which he sang in passable English, before launching into Russian songs with lyrics such as: 'If you stop loving me, the same day I die' and 'I don't smoke, I don't drink, dear lady, I just lurv'.

The excitement in the Central Concert Hall was palpable. Some of the women were accompanied by their awkward, grey-suited husbands, who had bought bunches of red tulips and ice creams to complete the special occasion of 8 March, which is supposed to compensate Russian women for the drudgery of their lives through the rest of the year.

But many of the women, dressed in their best frilly blouses and sequined hair bands, had come with their mothers, daughters, sisters and girlfriends for a real hen night. After all, who needs a balding spouse when you've got Philipp ?

Oksana, a bakery worker, was in rapture. 'I can't afford to go out often. This is a treat for me. I love Philipp, the way he holds himself on stage and belts out the songs. He's got a great voice. And he's very romantic. That's what women want.'

Part of the attraction of Philipp is that he seems so wholesome, unlike the Western-style punk and heavy metal artists who thrive in Russia now. He dedicated the show to his parents and even brought his ageing dad, also a singer of shlyaga (romantic songs), up on stage to perform one of his old hits. Mothers like a show of respect like that.

But, more to the point, Philipp is a young man who evidently prefers older women. The proof is that he has just become engaged to Alla Pugacheva, the red-haired veteran of Russian popular song who must be nearly twice his age. When Russian women read in the papers that Philipp had showered Alla with roses for weeks before she accepted him, they were on the one hand beside themselves with jealousy. On the other hand, the mere fact that he had courted one middle-aged woman seemed to raise the chances for all the rest. After all, the show-biz marriage may not last forever.

Alla, however, was at the concert last night, sitting in a box overlooking the stage, not taking her eyes off Philipp. When he sang the song I raise my glass to you, he turned in her direction and the spotlight fell on her. She seemed at first a trifle embarrassed but then, like the true professional she is, she beamed at him and tossed him a huge bunch of white lilies.

What was left for the women in the audience? Only to queue for a poster of Philipp and trudge home to do the piles of washing-up left after their Women's Day family parties. As you will have gathered, feminism has yet to make as much as a dent in Russia.