Wow. Wow. WOW. What a night.
Dua Lipa’s rousing speeches! And her red-carpet beehive homage to Amy Winehouse AND her Geri Halliwell Union Jack-inspired dress! Sir Elton John and Olly Alexander performing It’s A Sin with drag backing dancers! Little Mix becoming the first girl group in history (seriously) to win British band! Perrie and Leigh-Anne taking to the red carpet with their bumps! Harry Styles in the actual flesh! Headie One’s epic, dizzying camera work-filled set! Michelle Obama! Taylor Swift! AND there were cameos from Line of Duty’s AC-12, social media sensation Jackie Weaver and Sea Shanty star Nathan Evans.
After 14 months of no live events, the Brits 2021 really did pack it all in.
Before I lay down in a dark room for the rest of the week to recover from all the excitement, I had to share a lowdown of my first night as Showbiz reporter actually reporting on a showbiz event for what seems like an eternity.
Much like any “normal” awards ceremony, getting ready for the Brits 2021 started 36 hours before showtime.
But rather than enjoying a trip to the hairdressers, the beauty salon, or a little dash to Whistles, this year’s essential pre-Brits stop was to the Rapid Lateral Flow Test Centre in Watford.
Go in to showbusiness, they said. It will be glamorous, they said.
That all-important negative COVID test was as crucial as your e-ticket to attend the Brits this year.
As well as being a glorious return for live music and awards ceremonies after 14 months of painful Zoom events full of awkward glitches and pyjamas on the red carpet, last night was part of the government’s live events scheme, which is being rolled out to help in-person events make a comeback safely post pandemic.
Some 4,000 people excitedly headed to the 02 Arena last night, including 2,500 key workers who won tickets in a ballot. On arrival, things seemed reassuringly familiar. Along with your ticket, you showed your test result and then were swept through security and to your seat, where you could take off your mask and sit close to your neighbour, safe in the knowledge that everyone around you had tested negative within the past 36 hours.
And the show’s atmosphere of is-this-really-happening was picked up from the start, with the appearance of two pandemic heroes of the small screen - Line of Duty’s Vicky McClure and Martin Compston - with a pun-filled sketch full of more AC-12 acronyms than there were attendees. Thankfully, Jackie Weaver - known for her no-nonsense approach to THAT council meeting - shut down the silliness and it was on with the show.
Coldplay opened. In a pre-recorded performance, the band were stationed on a pontoon next to the 02 to sing their latest single Higher Power, supported by some dancing holograms.
In normal years it would have been a cool digital interlude - but, for me, it was a reminder of the soulless Zoom ceremonies of late and a powerful reminder why in-person is better.
Thankfully, actual Dua Lipa swiftly showed up to belt out all her best hits, looking like a contemporary Spice Girl performing in a London Underground Tube train.
One of the biggest rounds of applause of the night came not long after, when, receiving the Female Solo Artist Award, she called on Boris Johnson to pay NHS staff adequately while dedicating the gong to Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, the emeritus professor of nursing at the University of West London.
Next came my personal highlight - Sir Elton and Olly Alexander singing Pet Shop Boys’ 1980s hit, inspired by Olly’s starring role in Russell T Davies’ smash hit Channel 4 drama named for the song, which powerfully focused on the AIDS crisis.
Almost as captivating as the pre-recorded performance was the fact that Alexander could be seen dancing in an 02 suite with some of the series’ cast shortly after his show-stealing set, in jubilant celebration.
The fact that Michelle Obama is only making a brief appearance here is testament to the jam-packed joys of the night. The former First Lady introduced The Weeknd as international male winner in a casual cameo. Then, HAIM looked stunned to win international group. They were deserving winners, having intrepidly travelled to the UK from the States and therefore probably been forced to spend 10 days in quarantine at a Heathrow Travelodge. I hope, whichever glamorous hotel they were in last night, they went crazy on the room service.
Harry Styles looked as elegant as ever in a brown patterned suit as he accepted his best single award for Watermelon Sugar. Everyone, including Little Mix, swooned (possibly not Taylor Swift, though it was hard to tell), then Headie One and AJ Tracey rocked some epic staging (designed by Virgil Abloh) and camera work to collaborate in one of the most striking performances of the night, which addressed some of the negative stereotypes associated with Drill music, and in which they praised key workers and the anti-poverty campaigner, footballer Marcus Rashford.
Taylor Swift looked very 1989-era in a chic Miu Miu number as she accepted her Icon Award - perhaps I’m being greedy but my one small criticism of the night would be to ask, WHY DIDN’T SHE PERFORM? Surely the crowd could have done with a rendition of Shake It Off after the year we’ve had?
Fortunately then Dua was back, winning best album - arguably the biggest gong of the night - for Future Nostalgia, which lifted plenty of morale when she bravely put it out during the first lockdown. This time she emotionally dedicated her award to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, known as Jimi, who died attempting to save a woman from the Thames last month.
Dua won the (unofficial) acceptance speech race by a country mile last night, rapidly ascending to Queen of the Brits and darling-of-the-pop-world status at the tender age of 25.
Prior to Lipa’s second win of the night, Lewis Capaldi evoked some old-school Brits nostalgia with a sweary, sweaty on-stage appearance. dua The musician presented Lipa with best album, but not before greeting the crowd with: “Hello motherf***ers!”. “I’m f***ing sweating. It’s like a swamp down there – sweaty bollocks,” he added.
He then joked: “It’s been a great year for albums, most of all because I haven’t f***ing released one.” In good news for those of sensitive dispositions, though, the quick-thinking person responsible for bleeping out bad language for the telly broadcast nailed it and swiftly muted him. Give that person a beer!
Finally, in a genius move, Rag’n’Bone Man and P!nk were joined by the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS choirs to top off the evening with a fabulous rendition of the pair’s track Anywhere Away From Here.
While I am a little bit sad that I am at home writing this piece in my PJs having not attended gradually more debauched afterparties at the Ned or the Chiltern Firehouse, I am not sure I could have coped with any more fun, joy and wonder in one evening. This was the best Brits I have been to in a long time - and I have been to a fair few.
Was my unashamed delight because I have been bereft of live events for 14 long, soulless months? Perhaps, even quite likely, but who cares. It was absolutely fantastic. It’s so, so, SO good to be back.