The Prince of Wales has praised the “incredibly talented” performers of the Royal Variety Performance, and said the event going ahead proves “the show really can go on”.

The vaunted variety show took place this year at the Blackpool Opera House in the Winter Gardens Complex, but, due to Covid-19 restrictions, featured an empty auditorium and “virtual audience”.

In a video message commencing the evening, Charles thanked everyone who had worked to ensure the show went ahead, describing it as “a unique British tradition stretching back more than one hundred years”.

Teenage Cancer Trust concerts 2014 – London
Jason Manford (Yui Mok/PA)

Charles recalled the first Royal Variety Performance in 1912, attended by King George V and Queen Mary in aid of the Royal Variety Charity, which raises money for struggling entertainers and theatre workers in need.

He said: “Today, that mission could hardly be more relevant, as this year’s show will provide vital support for workers who have been affected by these extraordinarily challenging times.

“On behalf of the Patron of the Royal Variety Performance, Her Majesty the Queen, I can only send the most special and heartfelt thanks to all of tonight’s incredibly talented performers who have come together in the splendid surroundings of the Blackpool Opera House to entertain, to inspire and, above all, to help those in need.

“And while, very sadly, we may not be able to gather as we usually would, I am delighted that, despite all adversity, the determination and dedication of everyone involved means that the show really can go on.”

Teenage Cancer Trust Concert 2019 – London
Gary Barlow opened the night (Isabel Infantes/PA)

The Royal Variety Performance was last held in Blackpool in 2009, and last took place outside of London in 2011 at Salford’s Lowry Theatre.

Comedian and actor Jason Manford, 39, hosted the evening of comedy and music, after having performed at the event three times since 2009.

Opening the night, he described Blackpool as “the Las Vegas of England” and joked the show was “coming to you live from Tier 3”.

He welcomed the NHS staff and healthcare workers in the virtual audience, as well as “the non-essentials”.

Gary Barlow was the first act on stage, performing to a wall of screens showing audience members at home, some wearing black tie and others in festive clothing.

After a rendition of his song Incredible, he exchanged Christmas presents with Manford, each giving the other a copy of their latest album.

Singer-songwriter Celeste performed her original composition A Little Love, which was featured in this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert.

D-Day 75th anniversary
Sheridan Smith was among the performers (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Manford introduced Sheridan Smith reprising the role of Cilla Black for a performance from Cilla The Musical.

Following her performance, he quipped: “And they said there was going to be no royalty here…”

Manford told the audience the Black Blues Brothers, who performed a dance medley to soul hits, had travelled to Blackpool from Kenya via Italy.

He said: “They have spent the last two weeks isolating in a cottage in Lancashire. That’s the world we live in now. Isn’t that mad? Just rehearsing in the garden.”

Spice Girl Melanie C performed her single Blame It On Me before playing a game of Guess Who with the virtual audience.

And Britain’s Got Talent 2020 winner Jon Courtenay took to the stage to perform a song as a Christmas present to his wife, Emma, called Cosmos at Christmas.

Captain Sir Tom Moore comments
Captain Sir Tom Moore (Danny Lawson/PA)

Following a performance by pop group Steps, Captain Sir Tom Moore and musical theatre star Michael Ball closed the show with a rendition of their chart-topping cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone with the NHS Voices of Care Choir.

Captain Sir Tom took part remotely from his home and said after: “Thank you everyone for the reception you have given me tonight. It is such a pleasure to be with you and with Michael Ball.”

Ball told him: “I came across Captain Tom at a time when I needed him. I needed inspiration and I needed a light at the end of the tunnel. I saw Tom and I have been privileged to get to know him, as we all have, and he has provided that.”

Some acts were distanced while others had formed “bubbles” ahead of the recording.

The annual event, the world’s longest running entertainment show, is staged in aid of the Royal Variety Charity, whose patron is the Queen, and money raised will help support people from the world of entertainment.

The show was recorded for broadcast on ITV in December.