Entertainment & Arts

Nick Robinson: The night Prince played my birthday party

Prince on stage in 2016 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prince treated guests at the the Marquee Club in Islington to an early-hours show back in 2002 (not pictured)

In all the tributes to Prince, one night, one gig, one extraordinary memory is curiously absent. It is the night the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince played at my birthday party.

Lest you think the BBC overpays its journalists, I had not got out my chequebook and booked the biggest name I could find to entertain a celebrity crowd. Far from it.

On the night in question, in 2002, I thought it would be a laugh to go to a 70s night with a bunch of friends at the newly re-opened Marquee Club in Islington, North London.

Entering into the spirit of the occasion, I wore my shirt open to the waist and put on a gold medallion. When we arrived at the club, we discovered that we were the only two in our party of 20-odd who had raided the dressing-up box.

But there was another, bigger surprise waiting for us at the Marquee. The bouncers insisted on us paying double the normal entry fee and I remember complaining bitterly that we'd each have to pay a tenner. As it turned out, that tenner was not the cost of dancing to old Marc Bolan tracks but the cost of attending Prince's after-show party.

At around midnight, the naff 70s DJ was kicked off stage and Prince's road crew took over. For well over an hour they fiddled and faffed. Girls started to complain about their heels hurting. Boys talked of going for a few beers. I said that this was all a bit awkward as I had an early morning start at a party conference in Brighton. Prince - he'd just changed his name back to Prince - was in no rush.

When he finally walked on stage in the early hours of the morning I remember thinking not just how small he was but how bizarre he looked in his Cuban heels and shades.

Then he picked up his guitar and played, and all such thoughts disappeared. It was sublime. I was, as is no doubt obvious by now, no Prince fan, but boy this guy could play. And play he did - Automatic, Sign of the Times, Sexy Dancers and many more. He played not just his guitar but the sax and the keyboards and, it seemed, every instrument on stage.

Those of us who were there that night - 20 or so of my friends and perhaps 300 people in total - looked at each other, grinned and nodded as if to say "Can you believe this?

We may never, ever experience another night like it. Prince was a phenomenon and, as you learn to say as a child, the best unexpected birthday present I ever had.

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