An Audience With …, the long-running ITV format that matches a star with a celebrity-heavy crowd, has lain dormant for a decade, ever since Barry Manilow serenaded guests including Gino D’Acampo, Stacey Solomon and Bruno Tonioli back in 2011. Only a great cultural event could be worthy of the show’s resurrection – and obviously, a new Adele album qualifies. Apparently, the musician is one of the programme’s most ardent fans, and her presence has certainly elevated the guest-list since the last iteration: the congregation here includes Emma Watson, Gareth Southgate, Samuel L Jackson, Bryan Cranston, Dua Lipa, Dawn French and many more.
What becomes very clear very quickly is that this is the ideal vehicle for Adele. The musician is known as the mega-voice behind a raft of glacial, tear-jerking torch songs. She’s also known as a chronically no-nonsense, compulsively self-deprecating Londoner with a great sense of humour. This programme requires both. It needs a blockbuster musician, but also a consummate entertainer: a raconteur, an MC, a comedian, a natural host. Tonight Adele proves she can fulfil all those roles with her eyes closed – she is ridiculously quick-witted and radiates relatability (see: her revelation that beneath her glitzy black dress her tights are becoming “baggy in the crotch”). What could have been contrived and navel-gazing feels, in Adele’s hands, authentic, down-to-earth and heartwarming. She is a master at deflecting praise and allergic to self-seriousness. In other words, she’s very good at being British.
Nowadays, however, the Londoner is an LA resident, and this broadcast lags a week behind a similar US TV special. Adele One Night Only was half outdoor Hollywood gig, half deep and meaningful with Oprah, during which the musician opened up about her divorce, the main inspiration behind her new album, 30. It won’t come as a shock to hear that there is no public therapy session at the London Palladium, and the questions asked by the rather bashful famous faces are light-hearted (when has she had an awkward encounter with one of her idols, wonders Stormzy). We get insight into who she is from the way she navigates proceedings, not the granular details of her private life.
In the US version, the showstopper moment came from a man surprising his girlfriend with a proposal. This time, it is Adele herself who is surprised (maybe), when Emma Thompson – whose frantic dancing deserves a TV special all of its own – asks her to name an influential figure in her early life. The musician’s answer is her old English teacher, Ms McDonald, who happens to be in the crowd. The pair have an extremely moving reunion on stage, which also tees up the comic highlight of the night: Adele’s teariness necessitates a makeup touch-up, setting off a chain of events that ends with her pal Alan Carr being forced to perform Make You Feel My Love for everybody, very badly. “Now that’s a true friend,” says Adele when she returns, not missing a beat.
Adele’s own singing is incredible, especially on her current single, the record-breaking Easy on Me (even if she restarts it in order to perform it perfectly: “I’m shitting myself,” she explains). The one-note nature of Adele’s music – something she references here, encouraging the crowd to dance to Send My Love (To Your New Lover) because most of the other songs are “sad and miserable” – might have made such a programme drag were it not for the transportative power of her voice. Her ability to perform with her face (the production involves a full-band and backing singers but is otherwise distinctly no-frills) also helps: many of these songs are much more engaging in person than on record.
Still, after such uproarious inter-song banter, to end the show abruptly after performing an as-yet practically unknown track – Love Is A Game, from 30 – is anticlimactic. Yet there’s little doubt Adele surpassed whatever expectations anyone might have had of her hosting skills: it’s hard to imagine anybody doing this better. Hopefully, this multi-million-selling pop superstar will be back to present in another ITV teatime slot very soon.