TIM WALKER looks at the life of Sir Cliff Richard…
One of the frustrations of being Sir Cliff Richard is that newspapers only normally dispatch showbusiness journalists to talk to him. That’s limiting for him, and limiting, too, for the public in terms of their understanding of him. So it delighted the veteran entertainer when, in 2006, the Spectator asked me to interview him. We had a wide-ranging conversation in which we spoke mostly about politics. Probably to his immense relief, I didn’t mention his best-known film Summer Holiday once or even his big hit Bachelor Boy.
The very fact Sir Cliff has managed to last as long as he has attests to his business acumen as much as his abilities as a performer. He’s managed to change with the times, and has, of course, met the great and the good from each succeeding generation. It would be astonishing if he hadn’t learnt a lot along the way. I have friends on Barbados – where he is now a resident – who tell me about a very different Sir Cliff to the public persona, but he is loved and respected both in his private and public lives.
It was probably wise to keep a part of his life still to himself, and, when we met, I was struck by his wisdom, political maturity, insight into the human condition, but, above all, by his sense of optimism. I have no doubt he gets that from his Christian faith. That is what he says kept him going through the trauma of the allegations six years ago of child sexual abuse.
Sir Cliff has described what happened as a “living hell,” but, when I spoke to him, he was more concerned about the trauma of another individual: Tony Blair, then still prime minister. Sir Cliff had given the Blairs the run of his villa on Barbados one summer as he felt they needed some respite after the Iraq war.
“I had watched Tony Blair wither when that war got started. I saw him on television and it seemed to me he was suffering the results of his decision. I just felt sorry for him and I said to Cherie: ‘Look, I don’t do this sort of thing normally, but I just know my place on Barbados isn’t going to be full of people this August and if you want to use it, then go ahead.’ It was just something I wanted to do for him as a human being.”
Sir Cliff was 65 when we had spoken, the age when most men have completed the metamorphosis into a fully-formed Victor Meldrew. It was striking, however, that he seldom, if ever, harped on about the past. He is a man who lives determinedly in the present. Still, listening again to my tape of the conversation, there were moments when he started to sound like a prototype Brexiteer. “It worries me a little bit that we don’t stand up for our country and what we believe in, in the way that we used to,” he told me. “Whether we believe in it or not, our whole country is based very much on a Christian set of values and it seems to me that’s something to be proud of, in that it has got us this far. I would naturally feel disappointed if we were to dump all of that, but that is not really happening, is it? It is not being dumped, it is just being pushed aside a little bit.”
That last qualification was typical of Sir Cliff. He seemed incapable of becoming really angry about anything. He had an ability always to see things in perspective. He has since said that, had he not become a resident of Barbados and been able to vote in the EU referendum, he would have voted to remain. “The economy was doing rather well at the time of the vote. Things weren’t that bad. Why throw all that away?” he asked. He added that of course he respected the democratic decision to leave the EU, but wondered simply if the country had been sufficiently well informed before it made the decision.
Sir Cliff has lately turned 80 and he’s still performing. That is life itself to him. I liked him a lot: a man at ease in his own skin, living on his own terms, trying to do a bit of good along the way, and, as recent years have shown, a lot tougher than he looks.