I hadn’t quite understood why Simon Cowell let go of Kate Thornton on The X Factor till I saw her last night presenting ITV1’s coverage of Elton John’s 60th birthday concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The dress sense was the usual execrable – as a prop in a Cleopatra biopic Kate would be the rolled-up rug in which the Egyptian tart presents herself to Caesar – but it soon became apparent that she cannot do irony or humour, especially for the celeb interview show inserts. And what ITV1’s presentation desperately required was a distancing light touch to counter-balance the industrial levels of A-list fawning bull that steamed through the 90 minute edit.
When Clinton said of Elton: "Every time he sings, it reminds me we have a little juice left in us," she should have turned to camera with a knowing smirk as if to say: “You need reminding, you adulterous old goat, who came all over your intern’s dress?”
There are ways of doing this sort of thing without the celebrity subject realising it till they read the TV review, or their mother phones up to complain. TV presenting these days must factor in so many 21st Century audience realities: total loathing of self-congratulatory stars, a seething knowingness of celebs playing up to camera to dodge cutting room floor humiliation, near-narcoleptic boredom with showbiz set-piece events that don’t mock their dramatis personae (Wogan narrating Eurovision is innovatory in this respect), post-abolition-of-slavery modern servitude that leaves most people alcohol-stupored by mid-evening (alternatively, retirees suffer near-narcoleptic insensibility due to prescription drugs), homicidal envy of rich people looking happy (ie the cover mag rictus) – and the total contempt for Liz Hurley even if she's the numero uno Body Idol.
So, the challenge to the TV presenter is to keep the audience going, keep ‘em engaged. Honky tonky piano plonky Elton didn’t do it for me. After 15 minutes of him belting it out at his stand-up in profile – with camera cuts to his self-aware choir brats - every new tune sounded like the last, as his tragic starry pals out in the stalls showed off like banshees and lip sang the lyrics.
Was Demi Moore really dancing or was she struggling to pull a stiletto heel out of the floor? I couldn’t tell. And dear Emma Thompson, your new glam look is good; but work on the crazy eyes. Hollywood doesn't do crazy eyes.
Elton kept a school masterly eye on them all over his snazzy jewelled specs, worn a little way down the bridge of his nose – serving as an improvised bunker “spy hole” on potential persons found wanting - so that his gaze could freely flit here and there while seeming, at a distance, glued to the keys: one true measure of his accomplishment as a versatile performing artist. Elt is always sensitive to the smallest slight, as we all know, even at worshipful moments (day-to-day life, then).
David Furnish danced with a pretty young man in the audience, Sharon Stone did her barmy notice-me on the red carpet. Billy Connolly looked like he’d emerged from a chalk mine fall. Matt Lucas and David Walliams betrayed further signs of desperately seeking a knighthood. Yes, Kate had much material to play with. Instead – to paraphrase the song - she was (just) still standing.