For most hassled commuters making their way through London’s St Pancras International train station, the presence of someone bashing out “Chopsticks” on one of its public pianos is often more of a chore than a pleasure.
On Monday December 10, however, it was not an amateur tickling the ivories, but an artist who has sold more than 65 million records over the last two decades – and also happens to be a classically trained pianist since the age of seven.
As commuters and passers-by gazed in astonishment, U.S. superstar singer Alicia Keys took to the piano to serenade the crowd with a seemingly-impromptu set of hits including “If I Ain’t Got You”, “No One” and “Empire State of Mind”. To cheers from the crowd, Keys adapted the lyrics to that song, singing “Now you’re in London!” instead of “Now you’re in New York”.
The performance – which also included latest single “Lifeline”, written for the upcoming adaptation of the 1982 novel The Color Purple – was captured on camera and posted by the official St. Pancras International YouTube feed (and who knew there was such a thing?).
Other social media channels also lit up after the performance, with many passers-by recording the performance. "Imagine getting in a lift at @StPancrasInt and seeing @aliciakeys at the piano” wrote one dumbfounded fan, while another posted: "So @aliciakeys just rocked up at @StPancrasInt Train Station and played some of her biggest hits. Maddd."
Keys is not the first artist to have surprised passengers with a secret set in the London terminus. In 2016 Sir Elton John gifted the station a black Yamaha piano after he performed there, and Keys’ performance comes just a week after Sir Rod Stewart and Jools Holland – complete with an 18-piece band – performed songs from their upcoming album Swing Fever in front of the St. Pancras Christmas tree.
Previous artists to have played unannounced gigs at the station include Tom Odell, John Legend, and Hollywood star (and jazz enthusiast) Jeff Goldblum, who sang and played for commuters in 2018.
Keys’ performance comes after the release of a 20th anniversary edition of her seminal album The Diary of Alicia Keys. The LP, which includes the hits “If I Ain’t Got You” and “You Don’t Know My Name” has sold over 8 million copies worldwide since its original release and earned the singer three Grammy awards.
Keys began playing the piano aged six, and by seven was receiving classical training of up to six hours a day. She started composing her own songs aged 12 as a student at New York’s Professional Performing Arts School, and was signed to Columbia Records by the age of 15.
It took a further five years before debut LP Songs In a Minor was released – but after that album earned her five Grammy awards in 2022, she has gone to become one of the world’s best-selling contemporary music artists, and in 2021 was named by Billboard as the R&B/Hip-Hop Artist of the Decade.