Harriet Walker: Stamina? Divas of a certain age show how it's done



Star billing might have gone to Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Robbie Williams at Monday's Jubilee concert, but it was the women who really stole the show. The Queen, naturally, in that natty little cape. Kate Middleton, of course, because everything she does fascinates us anew. She sat down! She sang along! She did a little smile!

But what really lit up the stage was the sight of Grace Jones, 64, gyrating across it, irreverent and shameless, sassy and other-worldly, as she performed "Slave to the Rhythm". And Shirley Bassey, 75, belting out "Diamonds are Forever" with much more gusto now that she buys them with a pension than she ever did before.

It might be a rather underacknowledged age bracket to be in, but the somewhat tear-jerking (and not in a good way) Jubilee concert was a real celebration of women-over-a-certain-age. And that includes the Queen. We're so used to glamorous and poptastic Girl Power being manifested by Beyoncé running round in heels and wearing her own real thighs that we've forgotten the generation that really invented it.

Jones, hoola-hooping around the stage for four minutes in outlandish headgear and a razzed-up swimming costume, put the pretender Gaga to shame. (I should know: I've tried hoola-hooping and you only get that sort of protracted motion if you're really engaging your core.) She's the very hieroglyph of fabulousness. And Bassey, resplendent in dazzling white, showcased a set of pipes that few up-and-coming flimsy popstrels could hope to rival.

These performances were all the more interesting, perhaps, coming on the heels of the finale to the BBC talent quest, The Voice, which highlighted a selection of self-important and ultimately forgettable faces and was won on Saturday by... nope, I've forgotten her name. But for a concept that was supposed to focus on talent rather than looks, there was a dearth of older female vocalists, despite their inherent kitschy and camp populist appeal.

But, of course, no one's about to knock either Jones or Bassey off their perches just yet. It's my dream that, during one or other of these blinding sets, Simon Cowell looks up from chewing his evil genius's Pen of Ambition, and a lightbulb switches itself on over his head. "A new senior songstress!" he muses. "A rich seam I've yet to mine! But who could do it? Who could win the hearts of the nation with both likeable charm and fearsome courage, while avoiding the muck-slingers and sex scandals?" And, as he thinks, the camera pans round from Jones and Bassey to the audience, to the royal box, past Kate and Camilla and Thingy and Horseface, settling at last on the noble visage of our tireless monarch...

"I've got it," purrs Cowell. "I'm going to make her a star."

Duty keeps calling

Duty is not a particularly modern concept. It has to be foisted onto us – especially this Jubilee weekend, by TV presenters with preternaturally bright eyes and jingling voices reading autocues that sound like they were written by Enid Blyton.

Duty, along with things like valour, chivalry and hunting with wooden tools, is something of an outmoded idea. We none of us like doing things that don't pique our interest, and latterday living provides numerous methods of opting out of them. Housework? Get a cleaner. Tax return? Pay an accountant. Granted these are not duties in the grand epic tradition, but they are the everyday domestic tyrannies that get in our way.

But the Queen and everything her Jubilee weekend stood for, is an emphatic manifestation of Duty, in all its nostalgic and arcane representations. Her Majesty stood for hours, saluting dinghies and rowing boats in the rain, while those around her contracted hypothermia and bladder infections. She can't have enjoyed it very much, and I sincerely hope she was wearing surgical stockings to keep the blood moving.

I don't bring this up in order to praise the Queen, you understand – I think we've had quite enough of people telling us that she's "just like one of us", or "such a nice lady". No, what I mean is that, while the Jubilee was intended to remind everyone just how great Britain is, it also brought some of our more ridiculous national traits to mind. Like catching your death of cold as a consequence of doing your duty. Not only is Duty an anachronism in this age of the individual, it's bad for your health. But we do do it so well!


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