Whatever Mary

Monday 15 Mar 10

This morning I was filming a scene on top of building under construction in West Harlem. The views were pretty amazing, including, not far away, St John the Divine Cathedral.

I was reminded of the one and only time I have been inside St John's. I was hosting an event on World AIDS day for the United Nations a few years ago.  It was pretty swanky.  Kofi Annan spoke as did several other politicians and luminaries, and artistes from around the world performed.  At one point a choir of young people from Botswana, many of them living with HIV/AIDS, performed some of their national songs, and then the star turn was Mary Wilson, newly returned from a UN trip to Africa where she told us she went around telling people she met there to 'Stop! In the name of AIDS'.  HIV infection rates dropped dramatically. Not.

Anyway, during one of Mary's songs, the Botswana choir returned to the stage (or altar) and sang a chorus of one of Mary's hits. She stood to the side watching, then turned to us and pointed at them and said admiringly 'In their own language!'

I was fascinated by Mary.  Then at the very end when she had done her last number and was telling people to go out into the world and tell everyone to stop in the name of AIDS, and it suddenly felt like we were not in a cathedral in New York at all but a casino in Vegas, she spied me, trying to get back on to the mike to say the finishing remarks I had been given.

'Hey look everyone, it's Cabaret, it's Cabaret!', shouted Mary, pointing at me.  Luckily I was in a pulpit quite a bit higher than her reach or I have no doubt she would have dragged me down and made me join in a Cabaret medley. The audience was streaming out by now, a first time for me to see people running from a Place of God to the sound of a former Supreme shouting at them about a disease.

'Thank you, Mary Wilson', I said in tone that was equal parts gravitas and condescension. 'And goodnight'.