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Diana Ross at The Cambridge Club Festival review: ‘Supremely fabulous’

At 78, Ms Ross looked and sounded as girlishly youthful as ever, as she brought throwback cosmopolitan cool to the English countryside

By Jamie Tabberer

Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: Hello Content

“Diana does Steps!” cried out one 00s teen at the close of The Cambridge Club Festival on Sunday, as Diana Ross launched into a sprightly rendition of ‘Chain Reaction’, with all the camp and verve of that iconic music video.

This journalist once asked Blondie’s Debbie Harry what she thought of Atomic Kitten’s ‘The Tide Is High’ cover; imagine putting a similar question to Ms Ross on Lisa, H and the gang’s take on her signature UK hit. (It topped the charts here in 1985, and – can you believe it?! – reached only number 67 in the US.) 

But while Steps’ covers are fabulously silly, a Diana cover is classy and humbling: it was a privilege to hear the sublimely soulful ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, turbocharged by an on-point brass sectionDiana’s version far outperformed Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s 1967 original; fittingly, it was the heavenly highpoint of the evening.

The set was hit-packed, in fact, from the buoyant I’m Coming Out, imbued with closet-shattering context by many an LGBTQ, to the languorously funky ‘Upside Down’. Diana strutted her way through them all of them with irresistible zest and boundless energy, her megawatt smile and dazzling eyes never fading. She remains a transfixing stage presence.

Image: Hello Content

Ross zipped through a handful of Supremes hits rather hurriedly, though – I’d have loved extended takes, or just more songs: ‘When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes’, for example, deserved an outing.

The set was also peppered with a few tracks nobody seemed to know, at which point audience chatter all but drowned her out. (So too, at times, did her rather vehement backing vocalists.) I was about ready to shush people for talking over her charming, between-songs chatter, and through her underrated ballad ‘If We Hold on Together’: the gentle, haunting theme tune to 1988’s The Land Before Time

Has Diana ever been a belter? Not exactly. She’s light, soft and sweet of voice, and at 78, sounds (and looks) as girlishly youthful as ever. At times, she sang with such purity, it brought tears to the eye. It was a treat to be in such close proximity to an icon – with just 8,000 in attendance, the festival has a relaxed, intimate feel – as well as her increasingly theatrical outfits. A night of glittering glamour and joy.