LONDON, England – With a military band, a string orchestra and electric guitars on full blast, London’s Buckingham Palace was transformed into a rock venue on Monday as some of the biggest names in music celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney headlined a colorful evening of flag-waving entertainment that also saw Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Tom Jones take the stage alongside younger acts.
The event was one of the highlights of four days of festivities that have united millions to honor the long-serving British monarch.
As psychedelic illuminations and the reds, whites and blues of the Union Jack lit up the facade of the palace, McCartney played some of his greatest hits to an audience that included Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne.
The queen was also there having joined her family at the concert’s midway point. Her husband, 90-year-old Prince Philip, did not attend the show as he had been hospitalized earlier in the day with a bladder infection.
At the concert’s climax the monarch, dressed in a gold gown, joined the cast of performers on stage to ignite the last in a sequence of beacons burning around the world — a fiery salute to her 60 years on the throne.
She used a symbolic crystal “diamond” to trigger a laser that ignited a “national beacon” as 4,200 celebration fires blazed in communities across the UK and Commonwealth nations as far away as New Zealand and Tonga.
“We are now celebrating the life and service of a very special person over the past 60 years,” her son, Prince Charles told 18,000 ticket-holding guests, millions more watching on television and crowds packed into the nearby Mall thoroughfare.
“As a nation this is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us, for inspiring us with your selfless devotion to duty and for making us proud to be British.”
Three rousing cheers and a deafening chorus of the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” then rang out as fireworks filled the air.
Artists representing pop, rock, classical and musical theater from every decade of her reign made appearances at Monday’s concert.
A few tailored their hits for the occasion. Elton John kicked off his set with “I’m Still Standing,” while Stevie Wonder’s rendition of “Isn’t She Lovely” featured lyrics paying tribute to the “young 86-year-old” queen.
There were plenty of surprises as artists were given rare access to the royal residence and its surroundings. At one point, pop group Madness performed their hit “Our House” from the roof of Buckingham Palace. Earlier, operatic tenor Alfie Boe sang a duet with American soprano Renee Fleming from a palace balcony.
In one of the show’s more bizarre moments, Grace Jones sang her 1980s hit “Slave to Rhythm” while swinging a hula hoop on her hips.
Another highlight included the performance of a song specially written by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and concert organizer Gary Barlow performed by 200 people from around the Commonwealth.
Other acts playing at the concert included Annie Lennox, American rapper Will.i.am, and Australian singer Kylie Minogue.
While she is no stranger to pop concerts thanks to her regular attendance at “royal variety” performances, it wasn’t clear from her set expression whether the queen was enjoying the lineup.
Some have suggested the sovereign’s music tastes lean towards songs from musicals such as “Oklahoma!.” According to British media reports, she wore earplugs at a similar event in 2002 to mark 50 years of her reign.
There were plenty of jokes on stage, but the queen reserved saved her smiles for the crowd and for quips made by Prince Charles about the weather which, after a weekend of rain, was dry for the duration of the concert.
On Monday she endured heavy downpours to join a flotilla of more than 1,000 vessels parading down London’s River Thames as hundreds of thousands of people lined its banks.
On Tuesday, the final day of jubilee festivities, the queen and other members of the royal family are to attend a service at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. After a lunch at the Palace of Westminster she will join a carriage procession traveling back to Buckingham Palace.