In a market economy, value is not intrinsic – it’s determined by the extent to which other people desire a thing you possess. “The Lady In Red” captures this at the romantic level – Chris De Burgh’s realisation of the value of a woman occurs only when he sees higher than expected demand for her in the marketplace of a dance. A “dah-nce” no less. De Burgh lengthens and stresses the vowel, breaking its rhyme with “romance” – this is not some high street discotheque he’s in, we are given to understand: it’s a place where his lady can be properly appreciated. After all, high ticket items realise part of their value through their status as display objects and the true audience for “The Lady In Red” is that crowd of suitors, not the lady herself. The song lets De Burgh proclaim his monopoly position in this market to them: “the Lady In Red is dancing WITH ME”, and they simply vanish from the lyric. De Burgh sways across the floor victorious, an unlikely alpha male – there are many things I dislike about his performance on this soporific record, but his mock-spontaneous interjections of “’swhere I wanna be” carry off the crown for their grasping smugness.
After the song became successful, a number of women claimed – or apparently claimed – to be its inspiration, and De Burgh’s own story changed over time. Was it his wife, or a woman he had fleetingly seen, or perhaps Princess Diana, who the singer suggested had once confronted him in the knowledge that only she could be the Lady, that modern day Mona Lisa, muse of the synthpad and the fretless bass! We may never know for sure. Besides, the actual identity of the Lady In Red is quite irrelevant: what matters is her value, not her self.