My night with the stars

TENS of millions watched it on TV while more than a million poured into London to sample the atmosphere of the Queen's Party at the Palace this week. But in an exclusive look at what went on behind the scenes, James Fraser hears how an Ipswich girl swapped Bach for the Beatles to play in the all-star line up…and how Ozzy Osbourne's pre-performance ritual involved running round a tree – five times.

By James Fraser

TENS of millions watched it on TV while more than a million poured into London to sample the atmosphere of the Queen's Party at the Palace this week. But in an exclusive look at what went on behind the scenes, James Fraser hears how an Ipswich girl swapped Bach for the Beatles to play in the all-star line up…and how Ozzy Osbourne's pre-performance ritual involved running round a tree – five times.

IT was a dazzling affair that showed Britain, for once, unashamedly at its best.

But long after the firework spectacular and the showcase of a half-century of rock has died in the nation's eyes and ears, the star-studded Party in the Palace will be something one lucky girl from Ipswich will be telling her grandchildren about.

The Star begged a sneak preview, however, and young violinist Kerenza Peacock was delighted to oblige. Still buzzing from her experience, she wasn't so much star-struck – more like the victim of intergalactic GBH – and who wouldn't be.

The talented 23-year-old music student, whose parents live in St John's Road, led the prestigious Royal Academy of Music (RAM) Symphony orchestra as it accompanied a plethora of stars including Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and Will Young at Buckingham Palace on Monday.

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The concert was seen as the climax to the jubilee celebrations – and it surpassed the expectation of many, including Kerenza.

"It was such good fun," said the former pupil of Ipswich High School for Girls who is in her final year at the RAM, the leading music college in London. "I can't believe I was there with all those stars. It was fantastic. It was such a great buzz. And the rehearsals were fascinating, fascinating to see how it all works."

It was months ago that the students interrupted their classical studies to prepare for the chance to rub shoulders with a bevy of greats such as Joe Cocker and Ozzy Osbourne.

And the gruelling 18-hour days in the run-up to the concert seemed worth it when the rock stars began rehearsing with them.

Though she had been warned that Eric Clapton didn't like being pestered for autographs, Kerenza found him approachable enough to sign her programme. But even more surprising was the benign, though slightly odd, behaviour of bat-munching Ozzy Osbourne, one-time lead singer from heavy metal rockers, Black Sabbath.

"When Ozzy turned up he was really sweet. He looked so fragile when he turned up for rehearsal. He arrived on the stage looking really frazzled! One of the runners looking after him to make sure they were in the right places at the right time had a complete nightmare. Ozzy would just do the most random things. He'd be walking along and stop and say: 'Hold on, I want to run round that tree. And he would – about five times. They had real difficulty keeping track of him.'"

Some of the celebrities were predictably fussy – Lenny Henry had five different suits because he hadn't decided what to wear – while others showed themselves to be old-fashioned charmers.

"My conductor knew I had a bit of thing for Bryan Adams so he introduced me to him. He offered to shake my hand but forgot he had broken his. The wardrobe department tried to knock up a Union Jack sling for him but they didn't have enough material.

"He was really lovely. He waved at me when he came on to do his song. Bryan Adams remembered me! I nearly fell off my chair in shock!"

"Will Young was really lovely too – a real star. He had to sing on his own, but then he had to sing with Queen. He'd only been told that two days beforehand. He told me he had no sleep after he's been asked to do this at the last minute. He changed the vocal line so he could sing all the top notes. He was just


Backstage, among the warren of tents, egos and power leads, the orchestra, whose members include some of the finest classically trained young musicians in the country, eat with Cliff Richard, Annie Lennox and boy band Blue – but some preferred to remain aloof.

"The girls from Atomic Kitten sat apart in the canteen while everyone else mucked in. But later, during one rest, they were practising their moves out on the grass. All the boys of the orchestra were standing there with their tongues practically dragging on the floor.

"I was sitting in the canteen and George Martin, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Brian Wilson were sitting at the table next to me. They were chatting about their various holiday homes. It was just fascinating to watch them converse. I almost forgot to eat my lunch as I was trying to hear what they were talking about!

"The food was amazing – real five-star stuff. But at the end of every meal we had to clear our plates into a bin. I did this with Cliff Richard and he was joking to the staff that they needed some more Fairy Liquid."

Kerenza was also able to disclose details of the seamier side of celebrity life at a huge event like the Party in the Palace – after a chat with the wardrobe department.

"Some of the things people in wardrobe have to do! The celebrities get very sweaty on stage and then they hand over these sweaty rags and ask – can you iron this for me? I mean, some of these things you wouldn't leave the house in, let alone appear on stage."

Without the support staff the event would not have been possible, she acknowledged.

"The technicians were amazing. While Lenny Henry and Ben Elton were doing their intro bits, they were running around, trying to plug everything in.

"When we playing with Rod Stewart (she was one of a smaller group of four to accompany the Scottish crooner) we had to sneak down to the front during the previous song. They had plugged us all with mikes but they hadn't done me. Luckily I had a few bars rest at the beginning so someone was frantically trying to plug me in as the other were playing."

Other finishing touches came from a loftier station.

"Paul McCartney came over because we had to cut some of the music. I said 'we could amend that bar and cut out that' but it was just amazing to be discussing a Beatles song with a real live Beatle. He even sang some of the song as I discussed it with him."

After the fire at the palace on Sunday delayed rehearsals by about two hours, the final countdown ticked ever louder.

"We didn't finish until 1am and because no one could get any taxis at that time we ended up waiting until nearly 2am. It was a complete nightmare – and I had to be in early the next morning."

When they were evacuated from the palace, though, Kerenza found herself at the dispersal point next to Brian May, who was to begin the concert with a rooftop rendition of the National Anthem on electric guitar.

"I asked him if he was afraid of heights. But he said he wasn't. He said he was more terrified of playing it in front of us in rehearsal than he was playing in front of the Queen. In the end he was note perfect. The whole show was held together by him and Phil Collins, who was also so friendly."

After leaving the RAM, Kerenza hopes to carve out a career as a violinist in Pavao Quartet – "pavao" is Portuguese for "peacock".

Her brush with the stars, however, has suggested another path.

"I love playing with my quartet but there's never going to be a night like that ever. I'd love to do more but I guess I'll never play Leila with Eric Clapton on stage at Buckingham Palace again," she joked.

"The sound was so immense on the stage but I'll never forget while we were testing our mikes I had to play on my own. Suddenly everyone on stage was listening to me and there was just the sound of my own violin floating out over the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Amazing."

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