Sade, O2 Arena, London: At 52 Sade looks and sounds as beautiful as ever: she knows just when to let things flow and when to draw a crisp line.


At 52, Sade is even more beautiful than she was in her twenties, when her sultry looks and voice became an aspirational shorthand for a cosmopolitan brand of monied Eighties sophistication.

Today her face is as still as smooth as her band’s jazzy grooves. It’s hard to believe she’s aged this well naturally, but she certainly makes it “seem” natural. Her simple, sharply tailored clothes give her a perfect, subtly sexy silhouette. Although she’s still in crisp control, the mask-like hauteur of her youth is softened by the relaxed smiles of a woman who appears at enviable ease with herself. She used to stand still at the microphone for fear of looking silly, but now sways and dips gracefully – even playfully – to the music. Forget fellow fifty-something Madonna, desperately disco dancing in her tacky teenage get ups: this is how older women would really like to look.

She also sounds just as lovely as ever. That distinctive husky soul voice is still an up-market linctus, her pitch and pronunciation as impeccably tailored as her clothes — she knows just when to let things flow and when to draw a crisp line. Striding commandingly on stage to the jagged, trip-hop beat of her terrific 2010 single Soldier of Love, she performs a two-hour set mixing material from the band’s two post-millennial albums with the classic hits. Perhaps because they tour so rarely – she jokes that this is her first London gig in 18 years because they’ve been rehearsing – they all take a real, fresh pleasure in old songs: Smooth Operator, Your Love is King, Sweetest Taboo. The waves of drama and restraint on Is it a Crime make it the high point of the show.

And yet I got a bit bored. Perhaps it was that the band were so good they sounded just like their records. Perhaps it was the relentlessly classy bittersweetness of tone that ran through all the tempos. I was reminded of a luxury chocolate-tasting I once attended, where a chic gourmet continually passed round a silver platter of luxury chunks urging us to seek the taste of prune in this, the leather in that… after a while it was all just expensive chocolate.

It’s not cool to admit it, but when I put on a Sade record at home, I create an ambience. I’m a suburban girl dreaming of penthouse balconies in Manhattan, yachts in San Tropez, infinite heat-hazy Caribbean beaches. But in the O2, I was one of thousands of suburban girls sitting in rows. My imagination was tethered to the distant stage and the impossibly beautiful woman standing on it. I’m glad I saw her smile, but then I went home to suburbia, put a record on and floated off: coast to coast, LA to Key Largo.

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