Madonna stormed back on stage last night just a few months after a serious infection nearly killed her, admitting to her adoring fans that she was ‘surprised’ to be there.
The queen of pop, who was found unresponsive at her New York apartment in June, stunned the crowd at London’s O2 arena with a dizzying array of costume changes – some eye-wateringly risque – in the opening show of her rescheduled Celebration tour.
It was not a night for the faint-hearted. There were topless dancers while Madge herself – taking to the stage in a knee brace – raised eyebrows in a daring red slip dress.
But the superstar still managed to make it a family affair, as she was joined on stage by two of her daughters, Lourdes and Estere, for her hit Vogue. Estere, dressed in a gold jumpsuit, delighted her mother with her dance moves.
Another daughter, Mercy James, made a surprise appearance to accompany Madonna’s track Bad Girl on piano.
Talking to the crowd about her illness, a bacterial infection which forced her to postpone the North American leg of her tour, Madonna said: ‘Am I imagining this? Oh, my God, it is so good to be back.
‘I’m pretty damned surprised that I made it this far, and I mean that on so many levels. How did I make it this far? Because of you. I’m going to take a bit of credit, too.’
She also praised her children, including sons Rocco and David Banda for their support while she was ill.
She said she ‘forgot’ a few days of her life, but that her ‘angels were protecting’ her.
The star added: ‘My children always save me every time, if you want to know my secret of how I pull through and survive.
‘I thought, “I’ve got to survive for them.”‘ This was followed by an impassioned rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem I Will Survive.
Looking nowhere near her 65 years, Madonna kicked off the gig with her hit Nothing Really Matters before moving on to Everybody, for which she changed into a classic statement bra, black jacket and chains.
Next up was Into The Groove where she was joined by a number of enthusiastic dancers. But the night wasn’t without its drama. After performing Burning Up, Madonna had to stop the show briefly, saying there was a problem with the sound and that they had to ‘press the reset button.’
Apologising, she said: ‘This is exactly what you don’t want to happen on your opening night, so this wasn’t planned. I’m sorry.’
When the technical glitches were resolved, a succession of dramatic stage sets followed, including one that saw a black-robed Madonna sing from a boxing ring. Dressed in a red slip dress, she cranked up the heat to perform her 2005 anthem Hung Up alongside a host of topless dancers.
A pause followed as she offered a message of support for the people suffering in Israel and Palestine, saying ‘all of it is heartbreaking’. Addressing the O2 crowd, she said a lot of things in the world are ‘so painful’ and it ‘breaks my heart’ to see ‘children suffering’.
‘Even though our hearts are broken, our spirits cannot be broken,’ she added.
Madonna also paid tribute to Sinead O’Connor, who died earlier this year, with a picture of the Irish singer projected onto giant screens. Draping a Ukraine flag over her back before launching into Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, she ended by encouraging the crowd to chant ‘no fear’.