Brit Awards: A dozen lesser-known moments

By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter

Image source, Press release
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Last year's Brit Awards trophies were designed by Damien Hirst

With wall-to-wall Emeli Sande and Ed Sheeran, last year's Brits were derided as the "most boring ever". But the ceremony hasn't always been so dull.

From Jarvis Cocker's stage invasion to KLF firing machine guns over the heads of the audience, the music industry's annual awards bash has had its fair share of scandal and controversy over the years.

But those stories get trotted out more often than Madonna's favourite horse. So, ahead of this year's ceremony, here are some less well-known moments from the show's history.

1. The first ever ceremony

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Cliff Richard was the first ever recipient of the best male artist prize

The Brits, or the "British Record Industry Britannia Centenary Awards" as they were then known, kicked off in 1977 in a conference room in Wembley, north-west London.

Designed to mark 100 years since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the awards were hosted by Michael Aspel and broadcast by Thames TV.

Simon and Garfunkel were the star guests, winning best international album for Bridge Over Troubled Water, while The Beatles took best album for the decade-old Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The reason? It was the Queen's Silver Jubilee, so organisers decided to hand out awards for any music recorded during her reign.

Chosen by just 42 voters, the night's other awards went to Sir Cliff Richard (best British Male), Dame Shirley Bassey (best British female) and Procul Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale (best British single).

2. Frankie Howerd joins Culture Club

Image source, Rex Features
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Titter ye not: Frankie Howerd (third from left) with the fresh-faced stars of Culture Club

Carry On comedian Frankie Howerd was a permanent fixture at the early Brit Awards, having presented Sir Cliff with his best male trophy in 1977.

He was there in 1984 too, when Culture Club scooped best British group and best single, for their global smash Karma Chameleon.

No one quite knows how or why Howerd made it into the band's line-up, but there he is, in every backstage shot from the night.

Perhaps he was hoping to split the cost of a taxi with Boy George. After all, they both lived in Eltham.

3. Freddie Mercury says goodbye

Image source, Rex Features
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Mercury died the year after Queen collected their outstanding achievement award

In 1990, Queen were honoured with the outstanding achievement award, in what was to be Freddie Mercury's last ever public appearance.

Looking pale and drawn, the singer let Brian May do the majority of the talking while he stood to one side, cradling the trophy.

"Can I just say thank you to everyone within the industry and, perhaps more importantly, outside the industry who stuck by us all the years," said May.

"Because in doing so, you gave us a lot of freedom to pursue what we loosely call our art."

As the band were applauded off stage, Mercury leaned into the microphone and simply said: "Thank you. Good night."

4. It's a family affair

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Clockwise from left: Five Star, Chris and Diane de Burgh and Boy George with his niece, Molly

Forget sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll. When musicians get nominated for an award, their first instinct is to ask their family out for the night.

Pop group Five Star, once described as "Britain's answer to the Jackson Five", were chaperoned by their parents at the 1987 ceremony, where they won best British group.

Chris de Burgh brought the Lady in Red, sportingly wearing a red dress, to the same event. Diane de Burgh presumably provided a crimson shoulder to cry on after her husband failed to win the two awards he was up for.

Last year, Boy George gave his spare ticket to his niece, Molly, so she could "accidentally" bump into her idols, One Direction.

"She wants to meet One Direction, like every other teenager in the country," he told the BBC. "The difference is, she will get to meet them."

Image source, Rex Features
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Rod Stewart with his sister, Mary. He paid tribute to his late father in his acceptance speech

But the most loyal family member is Rod Stewart, who took his sister Mary to the 1993 show at Alexandra Palace.

The rock star was there to receive the outstanding contribution award, but modestly spent the night signing autographs (and his tablecloth) as "Rod Stewart: Brother of Mary".

5. Katy Perry throws up

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Katy Perry won best international female shortly after hitting number one with I Kissed A Girl

Moments after Lionel Ritchie presented Katy Perry with the best international female trophy in 2009, she ran back stage and threw up.

Not because she was overwhelmed or nervous - but because she was really, really sick.

"I'm so sick right now," she croaked in her acceptance speech. "But they said I should show up to the Brits because something special might happen.

"Thank you to everyone at my record label. Obviously, I've worked pretty hard because I want to die right now."

After fleeing the stage, the feverish star retired to her hotel room where she texted celebrity blogger Perez Hilton.

"Just got a text from Katy," he tweeted. "She had to leave the Brits after she won. She's so sick that she puked backstage! 'Punk rock,' she says."

6. Michael Jackson and Kim Wilde set tongues wagging

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L-R: Michael Jackson, Kim Wilde, Pete Townshend and Sir Paul McCartney

Before he became a haunted recluse who slept in an oxygen tent, Michael Jackson was happy to lark around backstage at the 1983 Brits.

He wasn't even up for a prize on the night, attending the ceremony, at Grosvenor House Hotel, to pick up the best female award for an absent Barbra Streisand.

The singer is pictured here with the night's main winners, Sir Paul McCartney (best male), Pete Townshend (lifetime achievement) and Kim Wilde (best female).

The encounter led to a friendship that culminated in Wilde supporting Jackson on the European leg of his 1988 Bad tour.

The British press being what it is, their acquaintance was blown out of all proportion.

"It's too weird that there were even rumours that we were having an affair," said Wilde in 1988. "Yes, we respect each other but that's as far as it goes. I've only talked to him twice!"

7. Beyonce wears a Union Jack

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Destiny's Child opened the 2001 Brit Awards having rehearsed earlier (r) in different outfits

Destiny's Child stole the show with their pyrotechnically-enhanced performance of Independent Women in 2001, marking Beyonce's first appearance at the ceremony.

For the live show the band wore skimpy golden two-piece costumes, designed by the singer's mother.

During rehearsals, though, Beyonce had sported a sequinned Union Jack top, perhaps in tribute to Spice Girl Geri Halliwell's infamous dress from 1997.

Speaking of which...

8. What was on the back of Geri's dress?

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The Spice Girls performed Who Do You Think You Are? at the 1997 ceremony

Made by her sister from two tea towels, Geri Halliwell's Union Jack outfit has its own Wikipedia page and was eventually named "the most iconic dress of the last 50 years".

Sold in 1998 to raise money for breast cancer charities, the dress fetched £41,320, and held a Guinness World Record as the most expensive item of pop star clothing ever sold at auction, until Michael Jackson's sequinned glove was sold in 2009.

Described by the pop star as her "favourite stage outfit ever", it is best remembered for the Union Flag emblazoned on the front. But few people recall that the back of the dress sported a giant CND logo.

Image source, PA
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The band won two awards on the night: best single and best video

9. Rick Astley replaced by an impostor

In 1988, Brits organisers pulled off a major coup by getting The Who to reform to receive the outstanding contribution award.

The band had not played live since 1982, apart from their appearance at Live Aid, and their short set at the end of the ceremony was expected to be the night's highlight.

Image source, Brit Awards
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Neither of these men is Rick Astley

But the ceremony was threatening to run over, and the BBC refused to postpone the Nine O'Clock News to make way for Roger Daltrey.

The unintended victim was Rick Astley, who won the night's final award (best single for Never Gonna Give You Up).

Rather than wait for Astley to negotiate his way to the stage, Noel Edmonds dragged bewildered BPI chief Rob Dickins in front of the podium to collect the award on his behalf.

"It's the only way I knew how to get really good applause - come on as Rick Astley," said Dickins, as producers hurried The Who in front of the cameras.

History repeated itself in 2012, when Adele's acceptance speech was cut short to make way for a show-closing set by Blur. Incensed, she made a one-fingered gesture as the cameras panned away.

She later said her middle finger was directed "to the suits at the Brit Awards, not to my fans". The suits apologised.

10. Norman Tebbit meets Wham! and Elton John

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L-R: Noel Edmonds, Norman Tebbit, Sir Elton John, George Michael, Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell and Andrew Ridgeley

Politicians have a habit of turning up at the Brits, but it doesn't always go to plan.

Chumbawamba notoriously dumped a bucket of water over John Prescott's head in 1998; Tony Blair was jeered when he presented David Bowie with the 1996 lifetime award; and the Fine Young Cannibals returned all of their trophies after Margaret Thatcher appeared by video in 1990.

But Norman Tebbit got a warmer reception when he handed the outstanding achievement prize to Sir Elton John and Wham! in 1986.

That year's award recognised artists who had taken "British pop music to previously unexploited territories". Wham! had just become the first Western pop act to tour China, while Sir Elton had been making inroads in Russia since the late 1970s.

As former trade and industry secretary, Tebbit knew about the export value of British pop, but he decided not to bluff about the music itself.

"I don't know anything about pop music," he told the audience, to general laughter. "I don't understand it."

11. They couldn't get ABBA so they booked Billie Piper

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Billie Piper with members of B*Witched and Steps performing the Abba Medley

Because 1999 was the 25th anniversary of Abba winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Brits bosses were hoping they'd show up to get some sort of special prize.

Alas, even with the world premiere of Mamma Mia! just weeks away, the Swedes couldn't be tempted to Earls Court.

So, for no apparent reason, the Brits asked Billie Piper, Steps, B*Witched, Cleopatra and Tina Cousins to perform a medley of Abba hits called, cringingly, Thank Abba for the Music.

Looking like a school production of Fame: The Musical, it was marred by lacklustre keep fit choreography and questionable lip-syncing.

Only Steps emerged unscathed, going on to win best live act the following year.

12. Prince starts his love affair with Britain

Image source, Rex Features
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Prince accepts his first Brit Award

Prince is the most successful international male artist in the history of the Brit Awards, winning the category five times - in 1985, 1992, 1993, 1995 and 1996.

He's also performed at the ceremony on several occasions and will be back this year to present an award.

But pop historians insist the rock star was taciturn and aloof on his first appearance, an impression reinforced by the fact he was accompanied everywhere by his 6 ft 6 in bodyguard, Charles "Big Chick" Huntsberry.

His shyness didn't help matters, either.

Elaine Paige, who presented Prince with the best soundtrack prize (for Purple Rain), told Smash Hits his acceptance speech "sounded like 'mumblemumblemumble' to me, and I was standing next to him!"

If you leaned in and paid close attention, though, the ornately costumed pop pixie was announcing a love affair with the UK that culminated in his 21-night stint at the O2 in 2007.

"I'm not really a big talker," he said. "But it's nice to know someone so far away loves you so much."

The 2014 Brit Awards take place at the O2 Arena in London on 19 February at 20:00 GMT.

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