Stricken with a summer cold, half way through a gruelling week at work and exhausted after a two hour appraisal, there was just one appointment in my diary that I was absolutely determined not to cancel.
Neil Diamond was coming to the BBC and I had somehow managed to guestlist my way to the hottest ticket in town. He may be old enough to be my grandfather (‘my vanity is greater than my accuracy,’ he said modestly when it came to discussing his age) but I grew up listening to the legendary crooner (with worldwide album sales of 125m I can’t possibly be alone in that) and I was not about to miss the opportunity of hearing him perform live.
He received a standing ovation when he walked out on stage. ‘You can remain standing,’ he rasped in that husky Brooklyn twang, at which the female half of the audience forgot about their hot flushes and swooned. Admittedly his dance moves these days are limited to a bit of well timed finger pointing and the occasional knee bend but somehow it all still works – and it’s electric to watch. Even us, the usually cynical hack pack, were up and dancing by the time Neil got to Forever in Blue Jeans – which he enjoyed so much, he did twice. ‘I used to like that song a lot… I’d like to keep it that way,’ he wheezed at the prospect of singing it one more time for the delighted crowd.
I have interviewed many a precocious one-hit-wonder who has recoiled in horror at the thought of being in actual contact with a ‘fan’. They should all take a leaf out of Neil Diamond’s book – a legendary songwriter with 40 top ten hits under his belt who managed walked around the radio theatre, dancing with the audience, shaking their hands and serenading them. Yes, by the end of the second rendition of the energetic Blue Jeans we were as exhausted as he was and it was a relief all round when he launched into a long introduction to the title tune of his new album, Home before Dark, as everybody caught their breath back. We didn’t even mind the mild evangelising that went along with it (he attributes his talents and success to God).
The thing with Neil Diamond is that you probably know more of his tunes than you realise. Even if you can only think of Sweet Caroline right now. He finished his BBC set with I’m a Believer, a hit he penned for The Monkees in 1966 which has been much covered since. And then he was gone. No encore – to be honest I don’t think any of those present, including him, could have coped with the excitement.
The middle-aged audience glided out onto Regent Street feeling like teenagers and vowing never to wash the hands that Neil Diamond had touched again. I did something that any self respecting thirty-something should do after seeing such an icon live in concert. I phoned my Mum.