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Bachelor boy Cliff keeps on coming back

Sir Cliff Richard, the life-long bachelor boy who succumbed to his bass player's wife, has worked hard on his squeaky-clean Peter Pan image.

He avoided sex, drugs and alcohol – and some women – to put his career first.

The 71-year-old crooner returns to New Zealand in January for a three-concert series.

He released his 40th studio album last year, an extraordinary feat which is testament to his amazing ability to entertain and enthrall generations of fans.

Over a 53-year career Cliff has sold more than 250 million records, released more than 130 singles and made the UK singles charts for each of its first six decades: 1950s-2000s.

The only other artist to do that was Elvis Presley.

Such a long career has not come without the odd whiff of scandal – the game he's in is crawling with murk – but the power of Cliff as an entertainer has overshadowed all of that.

Redubbed Cliff in late 1950s

Born Harry Rodger Webb in 1940, he was redubbed Cliff in the late 1950s by entrepreneur Harry Greatorex, who thought Cliff sounded like cliff face, suggesting rock.

The surname Richard was tacked on as a nod to Cliff's musical hero Little Richard – Richard Penniman of Tutti Frutti, Long Tall Sally and Lucille fame.

Cliff was touted as Britain's answer to Elvis, making his first recordings with Cliff Richard and the Drifters in 1958, which included a version of Bobby Helms' Schoolboy Crush.

One of Cliff's own songs, Move It, was included on that record as a B side, but it launched his career, climbing to No 2 on the UK singles chart.

John Lennon called it the first English rock record.

To avoid legal complications with an American combo of the same name, Cliff's backing band, the Drifters, changed their name to the Shadows in 1960 and brought on Jet Harris as bass player.

Jet's wife, Carol Costa, famously seduced Cliff some time between then and when Jet left the band in 1962.

In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2008, Jet says he knew his wife was a bit closer to his boss than she should have been.

"I pretty much knew something was going on between him and my wife, but I went on stage every night and stood there behind the man, looking at the back of his head, backing him up.

"I never once rocked the boat, asked questions, made things difficult. I just kept schtum. Got up there. Did the job."

He and Cliff never discussed it, Jet said.

Cliff refers to the incident fleetingly in his 2008 autobiography My Life, My Way, where he also confesses he only ever considered marrying two women.

The first, dancer Jackie Irving, went on to marry singer Adam Faith, and the second was tennis player Sue Barker.

Dumped first serious girlfriend

He also apparently told his first serious girlfriend, Australian dancer Delia Wicks, he had to end their 18-month relationship because: "Being a pop singer, I have to give up one priceless thing – the right to any lasting relationship with any special girl," he told her in a letter.

"I have showbiz in my blood now and I would be lost without it."

Cliff has previously claimed he is not gay, but also confirmed he lives with a former Roman Catholic priest whom he calls his "companion".

He met former American missionary Father John McEynn in New York in the early 2000s, hiring him to look after his houses while he was away.

In his biography, Cliff calls him his "blessing", and says he's sick to death of media speculation about his sexuality.

"Our arrangement has worked out really well.

"John and I have over time struck up a close friendship. He has also become a companion, which is great because I don't like living alone, even now," he said.

This, however, is about as scandalous as Cliff's life gets.

The clean-living Christian and royal favourite can claim monumental success in a musical career which has not been overshadowed by gossip.

His early musical style, which was considered heavy at the time, softened after he became a devout Christian in the mid-1960s.

But this worked in his favour as edgier acts such as The Beatles achieved so much popular acclaim.

Cliff managed to maintain a reasonable level of popularity, albeit not as high as previously, by appearing on television and even venturing into gospel music.

Repackaged in the mid-1970s

He was repackaged as a "rock" artist in the mid-1970s and was the first western artist to tour the USSR at the height of the Cold War.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, while continuing to produce gospel records along with his heavier rock ones, he appeared in West End musicals, recorded duets with stars such as Olivia Newton-John, and was knighted in 1995.

He openly complains of a lack of support from radio stations and his record labels but continues to enjoy popularity, recently performing as part of Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee in London.

Cliff describes himself as the most "radical" rock star because of his decision to avoid the sex, drugs and alcohol lifestyle adopted by so many others.

But his success can simply be attributed to the power of himself as an artist and a performer.

After five decades, he can still get an album in the top 10, and can still sell out concerts worldwide.

As a musician, he predates The Who, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles and has outlasted countless others.

Cliff, who was last here in 2010 on a reunion tour with The Shadows, will play Auckland's Vector Arena in January 26, Wellington's TSB Arena on January 28, and Christchurch's CBS Canterbury Arena on January 31. 

Be there or be square...

callison@nbr.co.nz

More by Caleb Allison

Comments and questions
1

I saw Cliff Richard -- and The Shadows -- when he first came to NZ and performed at the Auckland Town Hall, in 1962. A youthful Ray Wolf (then, about 17) performed as the lead-up act. Went and saw Cliff perform, again, at the same venue in 1977. He always puts on a good show.