HAMPTON Court is a palace used to reigning monarchs so it seems fitting that a downpour of King-sized scale greeted this performance by the Queen of cabaret - Liza Minnelli.
Once again the Base Court of this beautiful and historic royal residence was transformed into a perfect venue for al fresco concerts - except given the rain never let up the entire show it would have been even more perfect if it came with a roof.
Actually it was rather encouraging to see how well prepared everyone was; no sooner had the first drops of water begun to slice from the leaden skies than out came the colourful ponchos, the pac-a-macs and even plastic sheeting over the laps! Umbrellas were banned, less they obscure the lady herself.
Although most of the audience were drenched in minutes, the star’s magnetic presence ensured everyone soon forgot about the weather and focused on the music.
There were very few surprises among the song set, it was primarily a mix of cabaret, jazz standards and show tunes, but what elevated them to a different plane was how easily Minnelli engaged with us all. In fact so happy were we to see her arrive on stage accompanied by the highly polished backing of her band of veteran musicians, that we almost didn’t notice how her voice cracked on the opening lines of Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and how unsteady she was on her feet.
The latter was blamed on having busted an ankle falling over her dog, while she was immediately able to mask over her vocal weakness by quipping ‘I gotta hit this note or it’s ‘off with her head!’ - a nice reference to the fact the palace once belonged to Henry VIII.
Constantly stopping to sip a drink, take a seat, or hitch up her ill-fitting trousers, Minnelli never looked in any real trouble or appeared to be struggling to keep up with the pace of the evening.
It was never in doubt she would become Roxie Hart from Chicago at some point and her anecdotes about her previous life as a Broadway star were interesting no matter if, like me, you barely knew anything about her or if, like for a large majority of the crowd, she was your icon.
She commanded attention admirably for the entire 90 minutes she was on stage, although an astonishingly loud aeroplane did rather spoil the mood set by her moving performance of her encore Every Time We Say Goodbye. There were several celebrities to spot if you forgive the name dropping, from Embarrassing Bodies’ Dr Christian Jessen to Pineapple Dance’s Louie Spence.
It’s also not often I have Arlene Phillips of Strictly Come Dancing sitting behind me, nor get to renew acquaintanceship with expert stand-up Mr Lee Mack, writer and star of the funniest sitcom on telly at the moment, Not Going Out.
If you are reading this Lee, it was great to see you again after I used to report on your comedy performances at a little venue in Ruislip, and may I say that was a fearsomely stylish hat you were wearing too?
Anyone with tickets to the rest of the festival is surely in for just as big a treat as Minnelli provided and I am especially hopeful the fact England were playing Sweden on Friday night won't/didn’t rob Mr Jools Holland of his much deserved full house.
Finally, a word to anyone travelling there by car, someone in their wisdom has decided to dig up the road right outside the main festival car park which makes choosing the right exit after the show especially important if you want to avoid a very lengthy journey home.
For full details of the rest of the concerts and to buy tickets visit www.hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com