When I was growing up, charity efforts always seemed to involve slop of some kind. People got dunked with gunge or they sat in baths full of baked beans. And then it shifted. You could no longer expect to be slipped a tenner for getting mucky and looking a bit daft. Serious feats of endurance are now required for the dedicated fundraiser: mammoth bike rides up and down the country, hoisting yourself up the sorts of mountains that tax professional climbers. Now it is the era of my favourite new charitable endeavour, the 24-hour danceathon.
Last week, Sophie Ellis-Bextor raised more than £1m (and counting) for Children in Need after dancing on air for 24 hours. Hold your Murder on the Dancefloor jokes: “I don’t like the idea of the headline writing itself,” she quipped at the outset. It proved to be a common-sense-defying act of physical fortitude, many costume changes and sleep deprivation – and it was beautiful. Dermot O’Leary had done it for Comic Relief in 2015; he popped along to offer some advice as she shuffled her way through various BBC shows. She danced to the travel news, which was basically performance art, and she danced behind Tony Blackburn and Gemma Collins as the GC murdered Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday, which actually was performance art.
There is something so specific about dancing as a mood-enhancer. Whatever you think of the rule-breaking and the recklessness, it was no surprise that lockdown raves sprang up when we were supposed to be at home. For the people who went to them, it can’t just have been about socialising – it was moving to music and feeling it.
I went to a party last weekend, legal now, but still quite bracing, even with those considerate on-the-day lateral flows. There was dancing all night and even when the party was about to be over, the music stayed loud, a few stragglers still determined to get through as many Janet Jackson classics as they possibly could before the lights came up. I love dancing, though I’ve always been shy about it, to my great regret; now, after everything, I don’t feel so shy about it any more.
Ellis-Bextor did the nation a favour with her lockdown Kitchen Discos, which made me want to invest in a karaoke machine and flashing lights, and now she has upped the benevolence once again. It was so much better than a baked bean bath, so beautifully good-natured and free, and half-mad, and just right for right now. That million quid figure deserves to keep rising.
Tina Turner’s lookalike is a tribute too far
In Germany, Tina Turner is suing representatives of a Tina Turner impersonator named Dorothea “Coco” Fletcher, who performs in a tribute show called Simply the Best.
Turner’s lawyers are arguing that Fletcher looks too much like her and that may be misleading. On Good Morning Britain last week, Fletcher appeared to discuss the case and the idea of “image appropriation”, leading to presenter Ben Shepherd noting that “you sound very like her, [you’re] performing very like her”, which is surely good news for an impersonator who makes a living from trying to make audiences agree with that. And she does very much look like Turner, especially when decked out in the full gear, performing her songs.
Maybe it’s the level of tribute act that I’ve witnessed – and there are whole festivals dedicated to reliving Britpop via impressions of its least vital bands – but I would argue that one problem they don’t have is performers looking too much like who they’re supposed to be. Most make those seaside waxwork museums look like photographic reproductions of celebrities, though if this case succeeds, perhaps they’ll be the ones who are laughing.
Oprah Winfrey: never mind the lyrics, she put her heart into it
I had a lot of sympathy for Oprah Winfrey, who went mildly viral last week after trying to sing along to Adele’s Hello while watching Tottenham’s finest belt it out live. While standing next to Lizzo, who knew every word and even added a “let’s go!”, Winfrey managed “hello from the other side”, but faltered during practically every other part of the song.
In his book Musicophilia, the late, great neurologist Oliver Sacks explored the relationship between human beings and music, which takes up more of our brains than language, and observed that, even after a severe brain injury or illness, music is often the last thing to be lost. It explains why I know all the words to 2 Unlimited’s No Limit, while I can’t remember what I had for tea last night, but at some point, surely, our brains get filled up with songs, like an old iPod that cannot fit any more on it.
So I feel for Winfrey. There should be a word for that moment of starting to sing along to something with utter commitment, passing the point of no return, followed by the realisation that you don’t know it well at all.
I’ve come in at the wrong point on Talking Heads’ This Must Be the Place almost every time I’ve listened to it; I only ever do the “oh-oh-ohhhh” bit of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s Shallow, because it’s impossible to get right anyway, and therefore open to all. Winfrey may not have known every word to Hello. Nevertheless, she persisted. She sang something anyway and that is why Oprah Winfrey is where she is today.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist