On Sunday night, in Auckland, New Zealand, Adele Adkins played the 119th show of a tour that started 13 months ago - and closed with the words, "I don't know if I will ever tour again".
Adele Live was the singer's first tour in four years, and first in arenas. For most of the people who bought her Grammy-winning albums in their millions, it was the first opportunity to see Adele live.
Many now realise what those on the inside have long known: this tour may also have been Adele's last.
The 28-year-old from Tottenham hates the public eye, suffers from stagefright, and tours only because, as a music fan herself, she knows the joy that comes from seeing performers she loves live.
News of Adele Live was one of the major revelations in a well-orchestrated, breathless comeback that began at the end of 2015.
Tickets sold out in seconds, news of a Glastonbury headline slot - long anticipated and falsely denied - followed. For an artist who had barely toured before, Adele broke records and won rave reviews for a show that was rich in song and low in spangly accoutrements. Countless couples were invited on stage for marriage proposals, headlines proliferated daily with the filthy jokes and revelations the famously private singer made on stage.
When, a year after the comeback began, Adele announced a handful of shows at Wembley Stadium called "The Finale", it felt increasingly likely that this would be the last we'll see of her. This is how her tour happened:
'It's going to sell out every show on planet Earth'
Adele's previous tour was in 2011, and it didn't go entirely to plan. She suffered from anxiety attacks and dealt with them with cigarettes and alcohol. "I get s*** scared," she told Rolling Stone, who joined her on tour. "One show in Amsterdam, I was so nervous I escaped out the fire exit. I've thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels, I projectile-vomited on someone. I just gotta bear it. But I don't like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot." The end of the tour was blighted by illness, a hemorrhage in her vocal chords that resulted in surgery and 16 cancelled shows.
Many things have changed between the Adele of 2011 and the woman who embarked upon a year-long, worldwide tour in 2016, but stage fright is not one of them. She has a young son, and is said to have secretly married his father, with whom she's been with for five years. The alcohol and heartbreak that drenched her sophomore album, 21, and helped it to sell 30 million copies, have dried up; Adele barely drinks now, and is solidly happy in a stable relationship with charity CEO Simon Konecki.
While the global adoration and record-breaking sales figures never went away - Adele is yet to suffer the troughs that accompany the highs of dizzying success, possibly because she keeps her personal life meticulously private - the release of her third album, 25, has brought even a success that even Adele isn't comfortable with. When the record won the coveted Album of the Year Grammy over Beyoncé's Lemonade, she dedicated the award, in tears, to the other singer, saying she should have won instead.
These days, the stage fright has transformed into a more modest nervousness that sets in, as if on cue, 45 minutes before her stage call. In late November 2015 she told US broadcaster NPR that her stage fright was "actually getting worse. Or, it's just not getting better, so I feel like it's getting worse, because it should've gotten better by now."
In 2011 Adele met Beyoncé, of whom she'd been a fan since childhood, and was moved to develop a stage character like Beyoncé's own Sasha Fierce. "I was about to meet Beyoncé," she told Rolling Stone, "and I had a full-blown anxiety attack. Then she popped in looking gorgeous, and said, 'You're amazing! When I listen to you I feel like I'm listening to God.' Can you believe she said that?" Later, "I went out on the balcony crying hysterically, and I said, 'What would Sasha Fierce do?' That's when Sasha Carter was born."
Carter was lined up for some hard work from October 2015: to collide with her comeback, Adele was going on tour. Rumours of a live return had been heard for weeks before the announcement in November. Billboard correctly reported a tour scheme days before Adele made it official.
But their article also recalls a time when Adele wasn't considered a major touring artist - let alone one who would become one of Glastonbury's most memorable performers. "While Adele's touring track record is not particularly strong," the industry outlet wrote, "that 'doesn't matter' in this case, says Debra Rathwell, senior vp at AEG Live in New York. "It's totally about pent-up demand," said Rathwell, who also believed Adele's four-year absence from the circuit won't come into play. "People just love her, they've never seen her, and they're going to see her. Sometimes being elusive and unavailable so increases your demand - a thousand-fold in this case."
Rathwell was right, as was the anonymous insider who said: "It's going to sell out every show on planet Earth". It all seems like an awful lot of pressure to put on an artist who is naturally averse to the public eye. Adele's manager, Jonathan Dickins, who has been working with her since she was 18, was conscious of the difficulties involved: "There was obviously talk at times about 'Why are we not going bigger and playing stadiums?'", he told Billboard in February 2016. "If we'd gone to theatres again, there is no way that she could have done it. Organically [arenas are] the right move and she'll absolutely kill it."
As for Adele, she freely admitted that the tour wasn't for her, but for the fans: "I'd still like to make records, but I'd be fine if I never heard [the applause] again," she told Vanity Fair. "I'm on tour simply to see everyone who's been so supportive."
"I'm only touring for the fans, to see the people that changed my life," she told Vogue. "There's no need for me to tour. I'll always be nervous, worrying whether I'm going to be good enough. And the adrenaline is so exhausting." And so, with that, the show went on.
'The main brief was don't f*** it up! It's Adele'
Talks first started about Adele Live in June 2015, a year before she would lead 150,000 people in a tearful singalong of Someone Like You at Glastonbury. "Adele's management contacted me in June 2015 and were very discreet about what the project was but enquired about my availability and interest," production manager Richard Young, who has previously worked with everyone from Radiohead to Ricky Martin, told Total Production International (TPI) Magazine.
Secrecy was so tight that Graham Miller, who managed the video and projection on the tour, began working on the tour before he even knew Adele was involved. The cloak-and-dagger tricks continued until the tour's end: the stadia Adele was playing in Australia and New Zealand didn't have underground access, so the artist was wheeled across the venue, while crowds began to form, in a box by two roadies.
Adele bowed out during the shows' encores with the assistance of a shower of handwritten confetti notes. When she played Nashville in October, the date of her anniversary with then-boyfriend Konecki - it is thought the pair quietly tied the knot this winter - the usual white confetti was turned pink, her handwritten notes replaced with some from him: "LOVE YOU LONG TIME", read one, "Happy Anniversary!" read another, with a heart over the i.
What was less known is that a the confetti machine was a new product, one of two specifically designed for the tour - the other was a rain machine deployed during Set Fire to the Rain. Adele was insistent that confetti would be blown into the crowd for a solid minute - most machines manage between 20-40 seconds - and that even those sitting in the nosebleeder seats would receive a dusting of the stuff. "Nothing on the market could meet Adele's brief to cover every seat in the O2 Arena with confetti for a whole minute", said designer Shaun Barnett. The machine, called a Storm Blaster, was fashioned in just two weeks by Quantum Special Effects and pummeled out 128 kilograms of confetti per show.
By October, Adele and her band were rehearsing in Wembley Arena. It was the singer's first experience of playing in a venue of that size, and gave her "a true representation of how her show was going to look". Furthermore, Wembley held significance for Adele. It was here that she saw the acts that would form her affinity with music: East 17, Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls. "People always think I joke about this," she told Vogue in February 2016, "but the Spice Girls blew up when I was seven. And seeing them coming from a humble background - there was hope in it. It was really a massive part of my life when the whole Girl Power thing happened."
Adele may have been wowed by big-scale concerts as a child, but her reticence towards playing them in adulthood was due to the size of the crowds. It was essential that she could conjure the intimacy of a club or music hall in a building designed to house tens of thousands of people, and Es Devlin was brought in to do just that.
Devlin is a cross-disciplinary designer who has created stages across theatre (Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet at the Barbican), fashion and pop (Kanye West, Jay-Z, Beyonce). "The main brief is don't f--- it up! It's Adele", she told TPI. "Really, the task was to deliver Adele to an arena audience in the most immediate and intimate way possible".
Adele and Devlin worked together for a year before the tour, developing its design while using her various televised and promo performances as practice. The singer gave her creative team "really clear direction", and by the time rehearsals began, Devlin says, "we felt like a strong creative collaborative unit with a clear mission."
The tour's monochrome theme was Adele's idea, lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe told TPI, who worked alongside Adele and Devlin from the summer of 2015. Together with lead creatives Sam Pattison and Luke Halls of Treatment Studio, Devlin and Adele built a concept around her stage persona: her face became the backdrop, "the show's major scenic statement".
Instead of the usual arena pop show, when the star is a tiny dot in the middle of a stage filled with dancers and glitter, Adele Live made Adele - or rather, Sasha Carter - the main focus: "The profound experience of the show for the audience is to witness Adele's raw and very unaffected truthful personality speaking through classic, iconic film star make-up, magnified to an arena scale," Devlin explained. It started from the minute the crowds walked into the arena: Adele's enormous eye, closed, loomed from the screens from the minute the doors opened. After five years of waiting for her to return, the fans were treated to Devlin's greeting from Adele: "The moment we hear the first word, Hello, the eyes open."
'It's like America's Got Talent. I climb out of my Spanx'
That face took nearly three hours to paint ahead of every show. Adele's remit, she told US Vogue, who accompanied her backstage at her performance of Hello on the X Factor, two months before the tour started, is that "it needs to be perfectly between "done" and "not done"'.
For Adele Live, the star embraced a softer look than the "borderline drag" bouffants of her 21 era, inspired by Dusty Springfield and drag queen Lady Bunny, but there was still a lot of slap involved. "Can you see the amount of paint going on? It's basically Boy George with his black chin!" she regaled. Meanwhile, her Instagram account maintained the other side of the stage: candid shots, also in black-and-white, of her relaxing and goofing about backstage, without a scrap of make-up on.
Originally, Adele only wore one dress throughout Adele Live, a custom sequinned Burberry gown of which she had four identical versions. As the tour went on, different frocks appeared in different parts of the world, but she never entertained a costume change during her set. The dress and make-up, however, were integral to her and Devlin's vision. "When [the live filming of the stage] becomes the backdrop, her eye make-up becomes scenery", Devlin said, "Gaelle Paul, Adele's stylist and Burberry who made her dress were able to transform our rehearsals when Adele put it on. The backdrop became magnified by bespoke Burberry beading."
After the show, normality returns. "It's like America's Got Talent", Adele told Vanity Fair when they followed her Los Angeles leg of the tour. "I climb out of my Spanx". She takes off the dress and gets in the car with Konecki, and the pair drive home.
Another major change between Adele on the make and the global superstar is punctuality. As a teenager, Adele so frequently turned up late - sometimes up to four hours so - to her lessons that the Brit School threatened to expel her. But motherhood has introduced a new world order: interviews with her repeatedly point out her timekeeping, she only half-jokes that her four-year-old son, Angelo, is her boss. "My entire life revolves around my child, so everything is timed, because he's on a routine", she told Vanity Fair. Along with the expensive scented candles - baies and rose - her dressing room has a child's play area in, with a toy motorcycle, miniature kitchen and crayons. "If my relationship with Simon or my relationship with Angelo started to flounder a bit now," Adele said, half-way through the tour, "I would pull out of my tour".
'I don't know if I will ever tour again'
It didn't take long for Adele Live to be a constant in the daily churn of online headlines. Dozens of overwhelmed fans were invited on stage to take selfies with their idol, others were invited to share her mic and sing. There were too many proposals, and on-stage congratulations, to count. Security guards were roundly told off for reprimanding people for standing during the show, while Adele paid tribute to her hometown after news broke of the recent terrorist attack in Westminster. When there was a power cut in Adelaide, she entertained thousands of fans with an unprintable joke.
But among the antics, Adele, for all of her well-maintained privacy, started to mix a little of her own life in with the jaunty stage patter she made to quell her nerves. During her Pheonix, Arizona show she sent gossip columns into a frenzy after telling the audience, "I'm going to have another baby". And, while no further information on a pregnancy has emerged, and she continued to tour for another four months, there was a sense that home was calling.
Days later, and The Finale was announced - two bonus shows at Wembley Stadium, Adele's largest non-festival gigs yet - for the following summer. After increased murmurings that this tour could be Adele's last for a decade, as she took time out to raise her son Angelo, this had the sense of an ending.
It was, however, never a secret to those closer to Adele Live. Devlin told TPI quite openly that this "may be the only time she ever tours on this scale". Her Australian tour manager told the country's Daily Telegraph: "We may never see her again. Adele's been quoted as saying she won't tour again, she's doing this big tour as a recognition of her huge record sales and the enormous demand to see her live. It's impossible to tell what happens next."
As much as Adele admires Beyoncé and Bette Midler, both innovator and doyenne of the stage, respectively, she also counts the famously elusive Sade and Kate Bush among her favourite performers. If Adele Live is her last tour - or even last for a decade - then she will be following in Bush's footsteps: the singer-songwriter, who also suffers from stagefright, returned to the stage after 35 years, later admitting that it was the "terror" of performing that kept her away.
Bush was urged back into performing by her 16-year-old son, who appeared alongside her, after decades of motherhood. Tickets sold out in seconds for the performance nobody ever expected to witness. It's not impossible to imagine Angelo, in a decade's time, doing the same thing: after all, if anyone can get Adele back on stage, it's her son.