Released: 5th April 1999
Writers: Jim Marr / Wendy Page
Peak position: #1
Chart run: 1-1-3-5-13-15-22-29-36-38-43-57-53-71-71-X-X-68-64-67-59-66
When it comes to chart success, Martine McCutcheon certainly took the scenic route. Her first foray into pop music was as part of the short-lived girl group Milan, whose biggest hit peaked at #82 in 1994. The following year, she featured on Uno Clio’s Are You Man Enough, which scaled the dizzy heights of #62. A swift change of direction saw Martine McCutcheon land a role in EastEnders, and her pop career was put on hold. But that voice was always bound to come out at some point…
Perfect Moment was a tremendous single, make no mistake. But context is everything here. After four years in EastEnders, Martine McCutcheon had brought to life an iconic, tragic heroine in Tiffany Mitchell (née Raymond) and quickly became a firm audience favourite. It would be fair to say that luck wasn’t often on her side: her boyfriend had an affair with her brother, her husband slept with her mother (exposed via a baby monitor in true soap fashion), she fell down the stairs putting herself in a coma and – on New Years’ Eve 1998 – she was run over and killed by Frank Butcher as she attempted to flee Walford. Certainly, Tiffany’s tale was one of woe that did nothing to dispel the stereotype of EastEnders as depressing!
Martine McCutcheon’s departure from the show was not unplanned. She’d expressed interest in leaving to resume her pop career, though hadn’t envisaged her exit being quite so final. That being said, Tiffany Mitchell’s brutal departure was precisely the impetus needed to give Perfect Moment such momentum. Whether it was a guaranteed chart-topper in its own right is highly questionable, as lovely as it is. But the fact that it arrived mere months after Martine McCutcheon’s exit from EastEnders removed any doubts that it was going to be a huge hit. Indeed, although it was supposed to mark a fresh start, in many ways this orchestral, sweeping ballad was the emancipation of Tiffany Mitchell. The British public loves an underdog and Perfect Moment was the sound of a downtrodden soap icon finally coming out on top as so many viewers had willed her to do over the years.
Taking that into account, this was such a smart choice to relaunch Martine McCutcheon’s pop career. The track was originally performed by Polish singer Edyta Górniak; she’d achieved minor success in Europe, but for all intents and purposes, the song was unknown in the UK and wouldn’t have registered to the vast majority as a cover version at all. The original is situated very much in the soft adult contemporary genre, but Martine McCutcheon’s version was given a bit of a lift to put it somewhere in the realm of X Factor winner’s single balladry. A safe option, perhaps, but one that ensured she was able to appeal to a broad demographic in her quest for chart success.
Perfect Moment moves in three distinct phases, each of them demanding something different of Martine McCutcheon and all of which she’s able to comfortably deliver; the track is a real showcase for her flexibility as a pop vocalist. The first verse and chorus are strikingly ethereal; there’s a calm serenity as the song shimmers and throbs alongside the gentle, warm vocals. If there was any part of Tiffany Mitchell in the song, then this is where she wakes up at the pearly gates of heaven. Indeed, it almost seems as if Martine McCutcheon is about to go gospel-pop on us with some quasi-religious lyrics: “This is what God meant, this is my perfect moment with you”. She doesn’t, and very soon Perfect Moment moves firmly into adult contemporary territory, with stirring drumbeats and accentuated finger snaps. The vocals become a little deeper, and there’s a theatrical quality to Martine McCutcheon’s voice, which is rather fitting considering there was a leading role in My Fair Lady just around the corner (although the less said about that, the better).
Finally, Perfect Moment delves into Mariah Carey-esque balladry, and it’s here that there are some genuine surprises. At first, everything goes exactly as expected; the melody swells, and you can feel the fist-clenching accompanying: “And if tomorrow brings a lonely day, here and now I know I haven’t lived in vain…”, as Martine McCutcheon is joined by a rousing choir of backing singers. But then the verse gets bigger and bigger until it crashes right through the glass ceiling: “I can always say I’ve been to paradise skies, in your eyes…I-I-I-EYES…I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I”. The song soars far higher than anything leading up to that point would have indicated and just like that, Perfect Moment grabs your attention – and your heart – having plodded so gently for the first two minutes.
The shift up a key for the final chorus ever so subtle and tremendously effective. It avoids sending the track down the route of showboating and histrionics; instead, Perfect Moment reaches a satisfyingly climactic: “The way that I feel for you ins-i-i-i-ide…” as drumbeats cascade down on the track. If it were a TV talent show, there’d be confetti falling from the ceiling; if it were a stage performance, the audience would be on their feet. All in all, it’s a goosebump-inducing triumph.
The accompanying music video for Perfect Moment isn’t quite so refined as the song itself. Amid the performance shots and black-and-white behind the scenes footage, there are some lovely shots (plus one where the camera – bizarrely – puts Martine McCutcheon out of focus so that we can see the end of a radiator). However, there is a sense that having sourced a terrific single to launch her pop career, the music video was a bit of an afterthought. Getting her to lie on a sofa and then tilting the camera at an angle doesn’t really disguise that very much. However, the overall aesthetic is at least sensible in that it doesn’t shift Martine McCutcheon’s image hugely from her on-screen persona; she’s dressed more tastefully, but otherwise, this is still very much the same person. There’s evidently a conscious decision to try and provide some transition for the audience, and in places, it almost seems as if we’re watching a memoriam to Tiffany Mitchell. Subsequent music videos were much more deliberate in drawing a clear distinction between who Martine McCutcheon was as a pop singer and who she used to be as an actress.
To the surprise of absolutely no-one, Perfect Moment sold 200,000 copies to debut at #1. Whether you perceived this as the (proper) start of Martine McCutcheon’s pop career or the end of Tiffany Mitchell’s story, either way, it was a resounding success. That said, it still wasn’t entirely clear at this point which demographic Martine McCutcheon would be aimed at. However well Perfect Moment managed to be something to everyone, that would be a difficult position to maintain moving forward. And there’s no doubt that she didn’t just want to ride the coattails of residual fondness for her deceased on-screen character. That degree of uncertainty seemed to be reflected in what happened next: absolutely nothing. It took almost five months for the follow-up single I’ve Got You to appear, which was a dangerously long time back in the ‘90s.
Nevertheless, right here, right now, Perfect Moment transpired to be just that. It broke the soap star-turned-popstar stigma and finally saw Martine McCutcheon achieve chart success with one of the biggest selling singles of the year.