Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stepped in and performed an entire Andre Rieu concert in New York “incognito” after the famous Dutch violinist fell suddenly ill recently.
Fans at the Carnegie Hall concert on the evening of October 12 were none the wiser as Turnbull (pictured above at the height of the concert) cracked corny jokes and played his heart out as “his” Johann Strauss Orchestra performed its popular mixture of waltz, classic and contemporary offerings.
How this amazing situation unfolded only came to light when The Bug caught up with Turnbull and his wife Lucy yesterday as they watched their household staff hand out anti-Tony Abbott pamphlets at Manly Beach.
While most of our exclusive interview was about his sacking and the state of Australian politics, it quickly became clear the former PM was keen to talk about what happened that night in the Big Apple.
“That evening Lucy and I had walked from our luxury $3.5 million Manhattan apartment that we hardly ever use and had just settled in to the best seats for the show when this gentleman came up to our private box and said that he couldn’t help noticing me when I arrived. I said, ‘Thank you very much’, and he asked us to come with him.
“I said to Lucy, ‘Surely there can’t be any better seats than these?’, before realising he was taking us down to the dressing rooms to allow Andre to meet me!
“Well, I was shocked and just knew something was wrong when Andre didn’t stand when I entered the room.
“In fact Andre was huddled in a corner, a towel over his head, breathing the steam from a bowl of boiling water and coughing his heart out. A dreadful, dreadful cold clearly and seeing he looked in no condition to perform, I immediately assumed we’d get a refund.
“But the assistant shrugged his shoulders and asked simply: ‘Can you play a musical instrument?’
“I told him that although I was now incredibly wealthy I had come from a very poor family but, yes, I did have a cheap, second-hand mouth organ as a kid.
“He picked up Andre’s violin and asked: ‘Do you think you could play this?’
“Of course, I said. After all, how hard could it be? I didn’t bother telling him I’ve been a brilliant success at anything I’ve ever turned my hand to.
“It’s when he approached me with the violin, Andre’s onstage costumes and a wig that looked exactly like Andre’s own hairstyle that it dawned on me what they had planned.”
Mr Turnbull explained how over the next half-hour Andre Rieu, as best as he could, took him through basic violin chords.
“When I was told I’d also have to engage in a little bit of chatter in Andre’s localised Maastricht Dutch dialect, I simply said: Of course. How hard could it be?
“Although again I didn’t bother telling him that I’d been a brilliant success at anything I’d ever turned my hand to. On occasions one must assume others have some knowledge of one’s achievements,” Mr Turnbull said.
The upshot is that the concert went off without a hitch and no-one outside the little backstage group was any the wiser, until now.
Asked by The Bug if he had been paid for the performance that night, Mr Turnbull replied: “Of course not. I did it for the love of fine music. Money isn’t always everything.”
But he became a little terse when asked if a repeat performance of “Maestro Malcolm” was likely.
“I doubt that very much,” the former federal Member for Wentworth declared, “I think Andre is still a little miffed that I received more standing ovations and performed more encores than he usually does.
“As far as I’m concerned, the next time he gets a cold he can find someone else.”