Wilson said he felt “incredibly humbled” that his song had been chosen.
2 The Cast
No David Bowie this time
The list of who does not appear in the film is more intriguing than who does. Where is Adele? Sir Paul McCartney? David Bowie, a reclusive character though he was happy to appear in the BBC’s 1997 rendition of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day? It turns out that some artists were offered a coveted spot but rejected it.
“There were a few people who just didn’t want to do it; I’ll be totally frank,” says Caldicott. “There was a schedule we were trying to hit, and particular filming days when people weren’t available. But a song choice such as this is subjective, and music is subjective. There were people who just said, ‘I love the project, I think it’s a great idea, but it’s not for me.’”
Did the BBC approach Bowie? “We put out a lot of requests. An awful lot of requests. And what we’ve got is a brilliant line-up.”
3 The use of CGI
Kylie appeared to float in a bubble
Kylie floats past in a giant bubble; Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal is in a hot air balloon; Paloma Faith does her best Fifties pin-up girl on a swing and singer-songwriter Lorde flaps her angel wings – all in a fantastical rainforest populated by tropical butterflies and a Bengal tiger.
Sadly, none of this happened in real life. The tiger was stock footage added in post-production. The performers did their thing in front of a green screen, with special effects added later. Kylie was actually sitting on a Perspex box, and Baaba Maal’s basket never left the ground.
Meanwhile, two technicians stood beside Lorde to do the wing-flapping and were later edited out of the shot.
Pharrell Williams’s descent from a glamorous ballroom staircase was actually filmed on a set of concrete steps in the corridor of a recording studio.
4 The location
One Direction recorded their segment in Atlanta
In 1984, Bob Geldof corralled every pop star in Britain into a London studio on a frosty November morning to record Do They Know It’s Christmas? for Band Aid. They even had to audition – Phil Collins beat Culture Club’s Jon Moss to the spot on drums.
Getting today’s superstars in the same place at the same time was impossible. The main video shoot took place at Alexandra Palace. The BBC Concert Orchestra were in situ along with BBC Young Musician of the Year, Martin James Bartlett, while the corporation’s own stars – Jools Holland, Lauren Laverne and Gareth Malone – turned up to film their bits.
But the rest recorded audio and video in different parts of the world. One Direction, for instance, sent in their vocals from studios in Atlanta after a video conference with the producer on Skype.
5 The vocals
Elton John was very particular about which line he sang
You might assume that every artist performed the song all the way through and the producers picked out their favourite lines, but you would be wrong. While the ever-reliable Kylie was “happy to sing the entire thing through on multiple occasions”, others were more particular.
Step forward Sir Elton John, who specified that he would sing the third line (“You never need to doubt it”) and that was it.
Caldicott reveals: “Elton was very specific about the line that he wanted to sing. We were in and out with him within half an hour. He was, as you would expect, hugely professional.
“And when Elton John says, ‘I want to sing that line’, you say, ‘Thank you, Elton, that’s brilliant’.”
6 The unknowns
The youth choir could hear Florence Welch recording her part in the next room
If viewers were surprised to see such a starry supergroup, imagine what it was like for the Tees Valley Youth Choir, a group of 14- to 19-year-olds who were approached to record their vocals in 2013 and had no idea they would be appearing in the musical coup of the year until they caught its debut on television this week just after EastEnders.
“When we went to the studios in London to record our bit for the video, Florence Welch was in the other room, so we knew she was in it. And when we listened to the track, we could pick out some voices, like Stevie Wonder. But other than that, we really didn’t know,” says the choir’s director, Andy King.
Mr King didn’t even get to see the film at the same time as the rest of the UK – he was leading a school trip to EuroDisney in Paris, and had to watch it later on the BBC website.
7 The costumes
Katie Derham’s vintage Thirties outfit was ‘sourced’ by the video’s stylist
How to dress for an English-country-garden-meets-tiger-infested-rainforest-in-Alexandra-Palace theme? Stylist Grace Snell “sourced, hired, begged and borrowed” the outfits, from Katie Derham’s 1930s vintage number to Lauren Laverne’s sequinned dress from Phase Eight.
Jamie Cullum wore a pink Alexander McQueen suit, Florence Welch was resplendent in Roberto Cavalli and soprano Danielle de Niese’s glorious gown was from the High Street chain Coast.
Brian May’s vintage tails, dating from around the time of the First World War, were hired from the National Theatre.
Snell also designed and custom-made Nicola Benedetti’s silver chainmail dress and Alison Balsom’s bespoke feathered cape.
8 The cost
Every artist, including (l-r) Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams, played for free
Every artist gave their time free – unlike for the 1997 Perfect Day promo, when they were each paid a token £250 – and the song is to be released as a charity single with all proceeds going to Children In Need, thus cutting off at the pass any criticism of this being a lavish use of licence-fee funds.
The cost remains a secret as it is “commercially sensitive information”, according to a BBC spokesman, who would say only that it was a cheaper film to make than Perfect Day.
Those old enough to remember that video will see that Sir Elton, the great musical survivor, is the only artist to appear in both.
If the BBC makes one of these in another 17 years’ time, Sir Elton will be 84. Don’t bet against him turning up to sing his favourite line.
The video –