This one is for you, Ma'am! From raiding Prince Charles's CD collection to teaching Harry how to play the tambourine, the inside story of the Queen's official jubilee song
22:26 GMT, 31 May 2012
When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Gary Barlow take to the stage at Monday’s Diamond Jubilee Concert, they’ll be urging us all to join in and SING — their official song to celebrate the Queen’s 60-year reign.
But not, I guess, what they’re singing now. Nor, for that matter, the ‘daft’ song they sang to Her Majesty at a private knees-up on Lord Lloyd-Webber’s estate, Sydmonton Court in Berkshire, on her birthday.
‘It’s probably one of those evenings that’s not entirely in my head — what happened or what we played,’ Andrew chortles. ‘Did we do this one’ He turns to Gary, who nods. ‘I thought I knew all the daft songs, but you know more,’ Gary banters.
Tribute: Lloyd Webber and Barlow will toast the Queen's jubilee with the official song in her Majesty's honour
Andrew’s back at him quick as a flash: ‘Yes, that’s possible. I’ve been around longer.’
And so, the Andy ’n’ Gazza show is off with Andrew on the piano and Gary belting out the lyrics to the song they played to the Queen at that ‘informal’ gathering of 20 or so family and friends.
‘ . . . Two, three, four, tell the people what she wore. It was an itsy, bitsy, teenie-weenie, yellow polka-dot bikini . . . ’
Andrew says: ‘It was fun because we did a little cabaret of songs I knew she liked.’
Hang on, Andrew. Are you saying Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie . . . is one of her all-time favourites Did she sing along He isn’t saying, but pulls a mischievous look — in fact, this pair could give the Chuckle Brothers a run for their money.
The Queen's official song has already proved popular in the music sheet downloads
Take, for example, when I ask about
Prince Harry, who plays a tambourine in the poignant video shot
throughout the Commonwealth for SING. Is he any good ‘Great,’ says
Gary, but Andrew pulls a sucking-on-a-lemon face. ‘You may laugh, but
it’s a difficult instrument, isn’t it, Andrew’ No support there.
Instead, Andrew twinkles: ‘If you get it completely in time it is.’
Gary picks up the baton. ‘That was my job.’
‘I’m not saying anything,’ says Andrew. ‘But there’s one pat on the tambourine . . . well you can move it about these days.’ So have the recordings been edited to make Harry sound more in time
‘I didn’t have anything to do with it,’ says Andrew, looking at Gary.
‘Don’t blame me,’ Gary folds his arms. They’re chuckling fit to burst.
At that birthday night at Sydmonton Court, as well as Andrew’s nearest and dearest, were the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie. ‘We have some friends in common who manage the Queen’s horses,’ says Andrew. ‘There were my kids, some neighbours and friends from racing.’
They were joined by American singer Sierra Boggess, who starred in the London production of Love Never Dies.
‘What I always hear about the Queen is she worries that people have gone to too much trouble,’ says Andrew. ‘When she heard there was an American girl singing with us, she said: “I do hope Andrew didn’t fly her over especially.” ’
But according to all sources the
Queen is absolutely ‘delighted’ they have gone to so much trouble to
make SING such a rousing — and moving — tribute to her.
Webber and Barlow are an unlikely double act — the brilliant,
64-year-old composer with more musical hits than polka dots on that
bikini, and the gifted 41-year-old pop star from Take That and judge on
The X Factor.
Barlow who is helping to organise the Diamond Jubilee Concert on June 4th 2012, holds some of the 10,000 free tickets that were open to the public
forces when Andrew, who’d been asked to put together a musical programme
for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, heard Gary was planning a
commemorative song for the Diamond Jubilee Concert he’s organising in
front of Buckingham Palace on Monday night.
‘I phoned and said: “Is it possible
we’ve got the same idea” says Andrew. ‘We were working on the same
thing. So we thought, why don’t we meet’
chips in: ‘We’d met before when I brought my kids [he has three
children with his wife Dawn and another on the way] to one of your TV
shows for the BBC. Then we went to your house in Majorca.’
‘Yes,’ says Andrew. ‘We had lunch and then you sweetly asked me to the concert.’
But Gary’s not paying attention. ‘ . . . and Barbados. In fact, I’ve been to all your houses, Andrew.’
‘Not Ireland,’ Andrew shoots back.
They met at the end of January. ‘We wrote SING in a morning,’ says Andrew. ‘Gary had an idea in his head. I had an idea, and we pretty much stitched them together.
‘We knew we had to celebrate the Commonwealth because the Queen’s really proudest of holding the Commonwealth together. It also had to be a song people could sing in celebration and be pretty instant to pick up on.’
It’s already a hit. Within 72 hours of free sheet music for schools and colleges going on the web, there were 7,000 downloads.
And despite his lack of musical prowess, Prince Harry gave them some advice. In the BBC1 documentary about the making of SING, On Her Majesty’s Service, broadcast this Sunday, Gary meets the Prince in Jamaica, where he is on his Diamond Jubilee tour.
Harry tells him: ‘I’ve slightly taken my grandmother for granted over the years. And this tour has opened my eyes to her achievements.’
He suggests the type of record the Queen will appreciate: ‘If it spans across cultures she’s going to love it. If it’s really loud and modern, then probably not. She’s an amazing woman. She’s seen it all. And so you couldn’t surprise her — or maybe you could. Try!’
Prince Harry alongside Gary Barlow, who has been recruited by the latter to play on his Jubilee single
Prince Charles also appears in the programme. In a meeting at Highgrove, his country estate, he gives Gary the idea to include musicians from Kenya, the Solomon Islands and Australia. ‘I couldn’t find anything on the internet that told me musically what this family were enjoying as they were growing up,’ Gary tells me. ‘So I asked the Prince to give some hints.
‘He came up with a stack of CDs, most of it music from his travels — South African artists, Jamaican artists. There was nothing really other than Cole Porter that you and I would know. So I said: “I’m slightly confused because obviously I’m a British artist and I’ve written this song with Andrew. I don’t know what to do.”
‘He started pulling out all these pictures of weird instruments and I thought, “That’s the answer — it would be good if I was to use musicians from around the world”. I said: “Now I need to go back to the BBC. This is not just a documentary about making SING in this country. It should be the journey of me travelling round the world.”
‘I’ve got a pregnant wife and I wasn’t sure if she’d be too thrilled, but she was very supportive.’ Prince Charles told Gary: ‘The difficulty is digging out where these characters are. They’re not always in the mainstream. It would be enjoyable to have something with different sounds. I know the Queen will be thrilled you’ve taken such trouble.’
Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has masterminded the official song
Gary’s trip started in Kenya. He explains in the documentary: ‘I’m at the safari lodge Treetops at the very spot where a young Princess Elizabeth spent the night on February 5, 1952. While here she learned her father had died and she had become Queen. I couldn’t think of anything more perfect than starting to write the lyric of the song right here.’
He recorded a local children’s choir, including 14-year-old Lydia, who starts the record — a symmetry with the Queen, who started her reign there.
Gary recalls the moment he and Andrew played the song for the Queen and told her: ‘Your Majesty, we’re very excited to tell you what we’ve been up to. We’ve had tremendous fun. It seemed like a big mission to start with, but we’ve had a great time.
‘On the three-minute piece of music, we have had about 200 people. It’s getting rather full so we thought we should play it to you. We hope you’ve enjoyed it.’
The Queen is shown absolutely beaming and tells them: ‘Yes, very much so. I hope it’s a great success.’
Gary met the Queen again recently to update her on his plans. ‘When I showed her pictures of the concert stage by the Palace, she hit me with all these questions.
‘The first was: “What time does the concert finish” I said: “About 10.45pm.” She said: “OK, how long does it take for all of that to be dismantled” “All night basically,” was the answer.
‘She said: “Well, OK. I’ve got a lot of family who live at the front, so they’re going to have no sleep.” ’
In the documentary we see home movie footage of a Barlow Silver Jubilee party in 1977 and his family’s holiday visit to Buckingham Palace.
Gary recalls: ‘Our Jubilee party was in our back garden for the whole street. When I was little I remember going to London and holding those railings and looking through at the house where the Queen lived. There was never any time when I thought I’d be on the other side of those gates.’
And Andrew The birthday celebration isn’t the only knees-up he’s organised for the Queen. His astonishing career does, after all, span 40 years and when it was less than halfway through, he was approached by Prince Edward to stage a private musical at Windsor Castle for the Royal Family for the Queen’s 60th and Prince Philip’s 65th birthdays.
Gary Barlow, right, with Gareth Malone, left, and the Military Wives choir who feature on the Diamond Jubilee single
He met the Queen in the Seventies, by which time Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita were massive international hits. Cats, Starlight Express, Phantom Of The Opera and Aspects Of Love soon followed.
Extraordinary, then, he’s been cold-shouldered by the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics. ‘I’ve done three before,’ he says. ‘I did Barcelona, the opening and closing ceremonies. I’ve done two winters — Japan and I’ve forgotten where the last one was. But no, not this country. They haven’t asked me to do anything.’
Which must make the Diamond Jubilee concert all the more important to him. And Gary, too, who was overwhelmed by the genuine love the people of the Commonwealth feel for the Queen. He has found it a very special experience and says he’s discovered ‘another side to himself’.
This elder statesman of pop, who has five Ivor Novello awards and 45 million record sales to his name, understands what it is to be ‘in the wilderness’. Indeed, in early 2000, four years after Take That first split up, he was an outcast in the music industry and his phone didn’t ring. ‘I think everyone has a few wilderness years and it’s c**p,’ he says.
‘No one wants not to have their phone calls taken, not to have work. That’s what was hard for me. I’m a Northern lad so I’ve always been taught hard work equals success.
‘I had two years where I sat and did nothing. But you fight your way out and get back on the road — and then, eventually, the band thing [Take That] started again.’
Gary’s phone is ringing off the hook these days. But the wilderness years left their mark. He is, he concedes, something of a workaholic. ‘I say to all my friends we’re all too busy. We don’t make enough time to just sit in a restaurant, talk and laugh.’
It’s time for them to change for our photoshoot and before you can sing Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie these two musical legends are stripped to the waist. Yes, that’s right, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Gary Barlow. Which makes a girl just want to SING.
SING is out on Decca. Visit: jubileesing.com. The sheet music and words are available for free download at stageamusical.com/news/sing. On Her Majesty’s Service, BBC1, 7.30pm, Sunday.