Earlier reports had suggested we ought to expect something akin to a pop concert, maybe even a rock festival in which Pope Benedict XVI would be the main attraction. The conceit extended to a park dotted with many of the concessions that seasoned gig goers would recognise from gatherings such as Glastonbury and T In The Park. If this were supposed to engender the sort of al fresco camaraderie more commonly found at festivals though, it could have done with a handle to match. P in the Park perhaps; possibly Woodfrock; or – with a nod to one of U2 most successful tours – Popemart.
Like Bono, the Pope already known on the Twittersphere as Ben XVI certainly knows a thing or two about making an entrance. Four long hours elapsed before the merest ripple of excitement suggested that he was here. Just as stadium-filling rock monoliths usually elect to run a mixtape of enervating dub reggae to make sure they have very little to live up to, attendees at P In The Park had to ensure approximately 36 too many short films about the role of Catholicism in the wider community. A case of quite literally preaching to the converted. Pop Idol winner turned local celebrity Michele McManus sang a song written by her cousin, before a dog-collared Scottish MC told us it was time for “some more learning.”
Performing I Dreamed A Dream, Susan Boyle looked remarkably composed for someone who apparently fainted when told she would be meeting the Pope during his visit. The invited Catholics of “Scotland and Northwest England” cheered for her, but inevitably they saved their biggest cheers for the first sight of the Popemobile on the overhead screens. Much as Chris Martin is wont to do these days, much of Ben XVI’s “set” – at least the early part – was spent among the crowd, albeit within the relative safety of his vehicle. The last time I saw such an instantly recognisable global icon on a stage next to such a huge crucifix, it was Madonna.
But whilst she had chosen to hanging off her cross in a state of semi-undress, Ben XVI had more austere business to attend to, having his ornate golden headgear and skullcap removed and placed back on more times than anyone could keep count of. For a good half hour, he really didn’t do very much. Not that this was necessarily a problem. Liam Gallagher has spent much of his performing life standing stock still, save for the odd occasion when he offers the entire audience up for a fight. When Ben XVI finally did address his flock, it was, almost literally, something of a mixed blessing. His Bavarian accent bore an unfortunate resemblance to that of Dr Heinz Von Doofenschmirtz – evil professor and arch nemesis of Perry The Platypus in Disney Channel staple Phineas & Ferb. Until their mum finally hit them with her Pope flag, a cluster of pre-pubescent boys behind me struggled to keep a straight face as he urged us to “give sanks in the saving of God’s verd in zis rapidly changging society.”
After the best part of a day spent in fending off a bracing Glaswegian headwind, it wasn’t quite – at least to the impartial observer – a showstopping performance. Neither for that matter was the finale – an unsteady-looking Susan Boyle singing Make A Channel of Your Light. When Coldplay come off stage, they make millions of little butterflies come out of the sky. U2 frequently lay on fireworks. Something to think about for the next P In The Park.