Back in early 2000, a friend—knowing I was a fan—had invited me to join her at the opening night of Dame Shirley Bassey DBE’s two-week residency in the Hollywood Theater at the MGM Grand.  Imbuing the occasion with all the pomp I felt it merited, I donned my periwinkle Gianni Versace Couture dinner suit (with the 4-pocket coat that went down to my thighs), slid on my matching pointy-toed Hush Puppy-style suede Versace loafers, and made my way to the Strip.

As I was pulling into the MGM Grand valet, my friend called my mobile and explained that she was unable to join me, but that she’d left my name at VIP Services.  Upon collecting the tickets, I saw that we had been given the two seats to the far left in the very first row.  Now, at the Hollywood Theater, the first row sits right up against the stage, and people in those seats place their drinks on a shelf, of sorts, that extends a few feet below the lip of the stage.  In other words, you’re right up in the action, as it were.

Now, not only was I alone, with one empty seat to my left; but a couple of the seats to the right of me were empty as well; which I found somewhat odd, as the theater was otherwise packed.  The orchestra began playing the opening to “Goldfinger,” the curtain was raised, and Shirley came out dressed in an evening gown slit all the way up her thigh, with a silver lame and white fur cape billowing behind her.

A few songs in, Shirley who’d by now had the opportunity to scope out the intimate theater and who was seated where, crossed to stage-right, where I was seated, and as the orchestra started to play the next song, extended her hand, reaching-out for mine.  So, being a good late-twentysomething gay man, I took her hand in mine, and it was like this that Dame Shirley Bassey serenaded me for the entire first verse of “Big Spender” (her cabaret-style send-up of the standard from Sweet Charity).

While she’d been holding my hand, Shirley made a big show of “noticing” the ring I was wearing—an enormous cocktail ring by Armen Ra for Todd Oldham, featuring a gargantuan 210ct emerald-cut CZ—and while I can’t swear to it, I’m pretty sure she tried to wriggle it off my finger (but thanks to my being a bit swollen, it didn’t budge).  I shook my head, laughing, and she gave me a wink, before crossing to the other side of the stage.

Over the course of the evening, Shirley delighted the audience with tales about having been “Dame-d” by the Queen and delivered rousing renditions of songs like “Diamonds Are Forever,” Johnny One-Note,” and “I (Who Have Nothing),” as well as her (then) new single, “History Repeating,” a song she recorded with the British electronic music act, Propellerheads that was at that moment being used in a Jaguar (pronounced in the British fashion, with three syllables) television campaign.

One tradition that Shirley maintains in each of her concerts is that, prior to her finale—often, as in this case, her signature song, “This Is My Life (La Vita)”—after she’s introduced her orchestra and musical director, she brings out a bunch of long-stemmed flowers and tosses each and every one of them to members of the audience.  Well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when, instead of her de rigueur armful of flowers, Shirley emerged with one long-stemmed red rose that she proceeded in very grand fashion to present to me(!), after which she went back, grabbed the rest of the flowers, and tossed them into the audience, one by one.

That gay men would comprise so much of the audience at a Shirley Bassey concert came as no surprise to me; and to be honest, I’ll admit that I took some perverse pleasure in the many side-eye glances and hissed stage-whispers of “Who’s he?!?!”  But Dame Shirl’ wasn’t done with me, yet!

After tossing the last flower to her adoring fans, Bassey walked from stage-left to stage-right, shaking hands with people who rushed the stage.  And while she said some form of “Thank you” to everyone whose hand she shook, that night, when she got to me (at the very end), she proclaimed “And I’ll see you in my dressing room!  You just wait right there.”  And with that, she exited the stage.

So, there I stood, at the end of the stage, as they cleared the theater; until a nice gentleman in one of the MGM Grand’s signature green jackets came to collect me and lead me backstage.  And that’s when things really got interesting! 

Come back for the finale of this three-part series to read what went down backstage, how I came to be photographed kissing Dame Shirley Bassey, my hilarious decades-long quest to track-down said photo, and the uproarious call she made to a friend on my cell phone.

Continued in Part 3…

Dame Shirley Bassey
Hollywood Theater | MGM Grand
February 03, 2000

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