Watch David Bowie tease David Gilmour before joining him onstage for a spine-tingling duet on Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb

David Gilmour and David Bowie, 2006
(Image credit: David Gilmour Music Ltd.)

Perhaps surprisingly, given the iconic status enjoyed by both the artist and the storied venue, David Bowie appeared only once at London's grand Royal Albert Hall in his career, and then only as a special guest, for a special two-song encore.

The date was May 29, 2006, the opening night of a three-night stand at the South Kensington venue booked to close out the UK leg of David Gilmour's On An Island tour. The mood of the tour was celebratory, as On An Island, Gilmour's first solo album in 22 years, had given him his first UK number one album outside Pink Floyd, and across the three evenings in the capital, Gilmour had lined up a number of special guests to join him onstage, among them David Crosby and Graham Nash, Robert Wyatt, his Pink Floyd colleague Nick Mason and long-time Floyd fan David Bowie.

Bowie, by his own admission, was a huge fan of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and acknowledged Barrett as a "major influence" on his own career. "His impact on my thinking was enormous," said Bowie. "A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed."

Ahead of his cameo onstage with Gilmour, Bowie rehearsed two Floyd songs with Gilmour's band, their 1967 debut single Arnold Layne and Comfortably Numb from 1979's The Wall. If the singer had any anxieties about returning to the stage two years on from the enforced cancellation of his 2004 Reality tour, he hid them well, talking happily backstage with a camera crew documenting the shows for a future DVD release.

During this conversation, Gilmour appeared through a backstage door, accidentally  interrupting Bowie's fond reminiscing about his teenage love of Pink Floyd, though it was immediately obvious to all watching that 1. the pair had a deep respect for one another, and 2. that the puckish Bowie was in the mood for a little mischief.

"I’d say I’m a big Pink Floyd fan," Bowie begins, encouraging Gilmour to join him. "The first time I saw them, my parents dragged me along when I was six or seven. I saw them at the Marquee I think."

"Six or seven," laughs Gilmour, knowing full well that his friend would have been in his mid-teens when Floyd formed. "I think not.."

"So, really, I have to blame my parents for this great love I’ve got of the Floyd," a smirking Bowie continues, before the two men embrace.

Onstage later that night, the pair's mutual respect was evident to all in attendance, with Bowie absolutely nailing his cameo. "He really let it all out, didn't he?" Gilmour noted approvingly.

Watch the clips below:

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.