Millions of Londoners wake up to early morning radio shows. And which channel coaxes you awake says a great deal about who you are and where you live. Do you go local or national? Can you bear perky adverts at half 6 in the morning? Who are your nauseatingly perky broadcasters of choice? Now, I must confess I am a Radio 1 girl of an early morn; no adverts for carpet or car insurance on the BBC, a marginally better playlist than local stations, and less idiotically oversimplified news. Yet, when an Accidental chum rang and said her boyfriend had got us tickets to an event hosted by rival London station Capital FM I quite happily jumped ship (for the evening at least). Capital's radio station is based in Leicester Square, its presenters are overly chipper and their inane interviews laden with obvious and unimaginative questions; I almost never listen to them. Each year, however, they lay on a vast gig called "The Jingle Bell Ball" with endless performers, held this year at The O2 Arena (now heavily sponsored, in case no one can guess, by mobile phone company O2), probably now London's greatest large music venue. Pit passes for this, with Lady Gaga as the headline act, I could not turn down.
So the Accidental chum and I met up yesterday afternoon and headed out to south east London, to the bright and shiny North Greenwich tube station, within dashing distance of the O2 (and we were dashing as London's rainy season appears to be determined to see in 2010). Like a moth-eaten old phoenix the O2 has emerged from the cinders of the Millennium Dome, a surprisingly successful reinvention of a multi-million pound write-off.
Having a couple of hours to kill until collecting our passes we wandered around the arena for a while. And my, but there's a lot there! We found a Michael Jackson memorabilia exhibition, a cinema, and a full indoor fun-fair, twirling and flashing, and hurling screaming people through the air above our heads. There was a gastronomic market complete with garlic seller, waffle-maker and gluhwein, and various packed restaurants and bars with eager gig-goers queuing out of the doors. We treated ourselves to a hearty late lunch at one of these to fuel us through the next five hours. It wasn't the greatest meal - inattentive and untrained wait-staff, rather suspect levels of hygiene in the toilets - but it gave us a good look at our fellow music fans. Families with over-excited small children, the parents looking rather less thrilled to be spending their Saturday evening with 20,000 other people. Groups of school-girls in matching sparkly stetsons and single letter t-shirts spelling out words when stood in the correct order; amusingly rearranged to spell something quite different when they weren't careful! Couples on dates looking a little scared, and wondering if dinner at Pizza Express might've been a better idea.
Once tickets were collected they were swiftly whipped out of hands and fluorescent wristbands were fixed onto wrists; a different shade of neon for each area of the arena - floor seating, first level seating, corporate boxes, the pit right in front of the stage, even the nose-bleed seats barely visible from the floor with the naked eye. We wandered in to our designated area, approximately 2 or 3 metres from the front of the stage, looking nonchalant and like we never see a gig from anywhere else, but discretely turning to each other saying "Ohmygodcanyoubelievehowgreattheseticketsare?!". After a while we headed for the bar, as security checked our wrists and moved aside scaffolding to let us pass, feeling like seasoned music professionals.
5.30pm and the fun began. To give them their due, Capital FM put on a good show - 5 hours of live music, one act after another, with minimal infilling by irritating radio hosts. (There was a slightly weird interlude where I believe we broke some Guiness World Record for the largest human joystick or some such nonsense; I could've lived without that.) The acts were certainly enough. Mostly they were great, getting the whole audience on their feet, filling the stadium with screaming and singing. Some admittedly were so dire the Accidental chum and I promptly headed for the bar seconds into their set. We thus still have no idea why the girl in Ndubz is there, or why Miley Cyrus wasn't tucked up in bed rather than prancing her 17 year old-self around the stage in her bra and shorts. Tinchy Stryder was surprisingly good but, well, tinchy - a miniature rap-star with rhinestone chains larger than his head. Jedward appeared briefly enough for one of them to fall off the stage. Twice. The girls of the Sugababes and The Saturdays were sparkly and jolly. Middle-aged mothers in the audience went wild for Westlife, while their children looked on in boredom, clamouring for boy-band JLS, who unlike Westlife failed entirely to keep their clothes on during their set. Our headliner (pictured above with her "disco-stick") drew the show to a magnificent body-stocking-clad-dancer-and-confetti-shower close. She herself managed two costume changes, some fantastic piano-bashing and stunning vocals, as well as a wee rant about the people on X factor "with no vision" who vetoed her request for live lambs to support her set. The woman may be loopy but she puts on a great show!
Having stood up for 5 hours, and drunk enough cider to get us through the more painful acts, we promptly took ourselves out for another meal, to let the tube station calm down somewhat and avoid the scrum leaving. When we finally did head home around half 11pm, streams more O2 goers were entering the former Dome, for a night out at the venue's club and bars. And on Sunday they open up and start all over again. The site must pretty much never sleep! Not bad for a failed exhibition centre.