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Mandela concert rocks Hyde Park

London, June 28: Before the show, the crooner Josh Groban gushed that “anybody who believes in peace and equality should come to this concert”, and the sentiment was noisily endorsed by the hordes assembled to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday.

Twenty years after massed superstars gathered at Wembley to demand his release from Robben Island jail, Mandela has made an extraordinary transition from anti-apartheid figurehead into a sort of quasi-Christ.

“He’ll probably be remembered as the greatest historical figure of this era,” according to a hyped-up Will Smith, one of the fleet of Hollywood icons (also including Oprah, Denzel Washington and Robert de Niro) freighted in for the occasion and one of the show’s multiple comperes.

With sogginess engulfing the Glastonbury music festival and symptoms of festival-fatigue afflicting punters elsewhere, the mood in Hyde Park remained celebratory, despite scudding grey clouds and a chilly wind.

The event was a technical feat, equipped with a sharper-than-average sound system and enough giant screens to offer a superior view from any angle.

Still, not even Mandela could create an entirely classless society in the park, and the blingtastic legion of celebs had been allocated their own “VIP Golden Circle” area in front of the stage.

But the major achievement was to squeeze such a vast roll-call of artists into the same evening.

A well-drilled house band, assisted by the vividly-coloured Soweto Gospel Choir, provided backup to everyone from a cheesy but energetic Sugababes to the perfectly-pitched Leona Lewis and the statuesque Jamelia. With each act restricted to only one or two songs the turnarounds had to be slick, but the pace rarely slackened.

Even Amy Winehouse, looking dazed and uncertain but evidently determined to keep her promise to perform, hit the stage bang on cue.

Some of the most memorable moments were the least expected. Peter Gabriel popped up to introduce Sudanese rapper and ex-boy soldier Emmanuel Jal, whose vivid and eloquent performance suggested the arrival of a star-in-waiting.

Annie Lennox delivered an impassioned speech about stepping up the war against AIDS in Africa, and led a stirring singalong with the Agape Choir, which is made up of AIDS orphans.

Formula One ace Lewis Hamilton used his brief compere slot to explain, rather touchingly, why Mandela mattered to him.

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