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"Alpha-dog" Putin changes tune, sings "Blueberry Hill"

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, known for his off-colour jokes and macho posturing, took on a different role on Friday night by singing “Blueberry Hill” at a children’s charity event.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin plays the piano at a charity concert for children suffering from eye diseases and cancer in St. Petersburg December 10, 2010. Putin, known for his off-colour jokes and macho posturing, took on a different role on Friday night by singing "Blueberry Hill" at the event. REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool

“Like an overwhelming majority of people, I can neither sing nor play but I very much like doing it,” Putin said after being prodded by the event’s hostess, who reminded him that he had sung before a group before.

Putin sang last summer at a secret meeting with a team of Russian undercover agents who were expelled from the United States. His audience on Friday included Sharon Stone, Monica Bellucci, Kevin Kostner and Gerard Depardieu.

Wearing a black suit and a white shirt, Putin went on stage and played the opening notes to “Blueberry Hill” on the piano, then stepped behind the microphone and sang, backed by several musicians and singers.

Putin, 58, described as an “alpha-dog” in U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks website, has a black belt in judo, and frequently undertakes testosterone-fuelled feats such as flying a fighter jet or shooting a Siberian tiger.

He has thus far shown little interest in musical pursuits, but his piano performance suggested he has been able to squeeze in some music lessons.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters that Putin indeed takes lessons “but very rarely, when he has time”. He said Putin learned the lyrics to “Blueberry Hill” as part of his English-language studies.

Putin also attempted to play the Soviet-era spy movie song “From Where the Motherland Begins”, which he said he had sung with the Russian agents, but hit a wrong key and stopped, promising to rehearse it better for the next performance.

Putin, a former KGB agent, remains Russia’s most popular politician and is seen as a senior partner in tandem with President Dmitry Medvedev. Both have said they do not rule out taking part in the 2012 presidential election.

“Medvedev will now have to learn to play saxophone,” said a participant at the event who declined to be identified.

Writing by Gleb Bryanski, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall