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Cliff Richard "I have a deeper faith now"

Faith, friends and family have been the cornerstones of the pop legend's life and career for nearly 50 years, through good times and bad.

The past three years have been trying ones for Sir Cliff Richard. Not only was he the subject of sexual abuse allegations, but worse, was subject to the indignity of having a police search of his home relayed live on the BBC. Which rather made a mockery of that cornerstone of British justice; innocent until proven guilty.

Innocent he was, but, to add to his turmoil, Cliff also suffered the recent loss of two close family members, his sisters Donna Goulden, at the age of 73, and his niece, Linzi, who died after a long battle with cancer. "You have to take the positive aspects of it," Cliff told the Mirror.

"Grief is a natural process, but you have to turn it into a positive. You have to think "Thank God for them."

Cliff was born plain old Harry Webb in India in October 1940. He had three sisters, and his father was catering manager for a contractor serving the Indian railways.

In 1948, following Indian independence, the Webb family set sail for Tilbury docks, leaving behind relative affluence for an uncertain future.

"My dad landed in England with £5 in his pocket," Cliff would recall later. The Webb family settled into a semi-detached house in Cershalton before moving in with the relatives in Waltham Cross, when Cliff's father started working for Thorn Electrical Industries' credit control department.

The family was then found a council  house in Chushunt, where Cliff attended the local secondary modern school, staying on beyond school leaving age to take his 'O' Levels.

It was all a bit of a shock compared to the life the family had enjoyed in India. "My parents struggled financially," he recalled. "I shared a room with two of my three sisters and I remember that for a while three of our main meals a week were hot tea and toast with sugar sprinkled all over it.

"But as tough as those times were, my sisters and I had no memory of being unhappy", he told the Mail on Sunday.

Cliff left school in 1957 with a pass in 'O' Level English Literature and started working as a filing clerk. It was the era of Harold Macmillan's "never had it so good", and,despite the privations at home, that was how it felt to the young Cliff. "Rock 'n' roll was kicking off and I was free from the pressures of school, able to chase my music dream," he later recalled.

Cliff and his pals were fed a steady diet of this exciting new music from across the Atlantic via the American Forces Network on the radio. Elvis Presley, in particular, was a revelation.

"The first time I heard his voice I was with school friends in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire. We walked past a car playing Heartbreak Hotel on its radio and stood there thinking, 'This is unbelievable.' It was so different to anything we'd ever heard before. I liked Perry Como and frank Sinatra but they didn't make me want to be like them in the way Elvis did."

At school Cliff had been in a vocal group called the Quintones and then, with a school friend, formed a skiffle group, The Drifters. The group would take the bus into London and play at coffee bars, such as the 2is, in Soho.

After a few dates they were asked to audition for the producer and composer Norrie Paramor, who at the time was a talent scout for Columbia Records, a division of EMI. On the way into town one evening The Drifters' then guitarist Ian Samwell wrote what would become Cliff's first hit, Move It.

The group passed the audition, and Paramor suggested Schoolboy Crush for Cliff's first single, a cover of an American hit. Cliff was allowed to choose the B-side and picked Move It, which was flipped over to become the A-side at the suggestion of TV producer Jack Good, who wanted Cliff to perform the song on his show, Oh Boy!

It was an inspired move, as Move It reached Number Two in the charts and was once described by John Lennon as being the first British rock record.

By now, the name Harry Webb had been ditched, supposedly after Cliff baulked at a ballroom manager in Ripley, Derbyshire, billing the band as Harry Webb and The Drifters. Cliff recalled brainstorming possible names in the pub before the gig.

"Someone suggested Russ Clifford. Then came Cliff Russard. I said, 'Cliff sounds good... rock face, roch 'n' roll.' Then someone else suggested Richards and Ian Samwell said, 'Drop the "s", then you've got two Christian names, Cliff and Richard, which is unusual so people will remember it. And it can be a tribute to Little Richard.' I thought, 'Perfect.' Cliff Richard And The Drifters sounded good. My real name was too ordinary."

For a while Cliff was regarded as the British Elvis, his Anglo-Indian looks giving him a slightly exotic air, but that all changed with his first British Number One, Living Doll, in 1959. Written by Lionel Bart, who would go on to create the musical Oliver!, this cute novelty song charted Cliff's future course, as a middle-of-the-road entertainer.

By now Cliff was being backed by Hank Marvin, Jet Harris, Tony Meehan and Bruce Welch, who had changed their name from The Drifters to The Shadows following legal action by the American soul group who had shared the same name.

It was the start of a partnership and friendship with Marvin that has endured for nearly half a century, with Hank being among the first to lend his support to Cliff when the sexual assault allegations first surfaced.

Together and apart, Cliff and The Shadows dominated the charts in the early, pre-Beatles Sixties, with a run of hits and films, including Summer Holiday and The Young Ones. Crucially, however, they were never able to crack the vital United States market, so when the Beatles finally broke big in 1963 there was suddenly no place for the kind of polite ballads and instrumentals that had been Cliff and the Shadows' bread and butter.

In any case, Cliff's attention was being diverted elsewhere. In 1964 he became an active Christian, and even considered giving up the music business completely to become a teacher.

He was persuaded, however, that he could win more converts through his music, and for a few years mixed obviously Christian-themed songs, with out and out pop hits, including Congratulations, which missed winning the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest by one point (it later transpired that year's contest had been rigged so that Spain's entry would triumph). In 1973, by which time Cliff had hosted a popular Saturday evening TV show, in the company of Hank and The Shadows he entered Eurovision again, this time coming third with Power to All Our Friends.

Although Cliff's clean-cut image was not in keeping with the shaggy-haired hard rockers of the Seventies., he enjoyed a string of hits towards the end of the decade masterminded by his old Shadows pal Bruce Welch, who helped to reinvent Cliff as a rock artist.

And, although there had long been rumours about Cliff's sexuality and seemingly 'confirmed bachelor' status (a euphemism in those days for homosexuality) he came close to getting married on a couple of occasions, too, most notably to British tennis star Sue Barker, who he met in 1982, when she was 25 and he was 42.

Sharing a love of tennis, their romance lasted several years, but, ultimately, Cliff said he did not feel able to commit to marriage. "I seriously contemplated asking her to marry me, but in the end I realised that I didn't love her quite enough to commit the rest of my life to her," he said at the time.

Fast forward to December 1999, and Cliff is performing at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham as part of a national, end of the century, tour. The concert is unashamedly nostalgic, a chronological romp through a career that, by this time, spanned more than 40 years, interspersed with the concessional era-defining cover version, such as Rock Around The Clock and She Loves You.

Starting with Move It, the concert concludes with Cliff's then-current hit, The Millennium Prayer, which had been the subject of some controversy when Radio One, at the time re-positioning itself as a 'yoof' station, refused to add it to their playlist.

Two years earlier Cliff had been in the city playing the smouldering romantic lead in the musical Heathcliff, a particularly unlikely piece of casting you might think, and the critics responded by describing the production as "living dull".

But now Cliff was a bona fide living national treasure and could do no wrong; who else could have led Wimbledon's Centre Court in a rendition of Singin' In The Rain during one of the tournament's seemingly inevitable downpours (it later transpired this was a stunt dreamed up by his PR man). And who else, indeed, could have got away with voicing a puppet version of himself in a movie based on the Thunderbirds TV series.

That NIA concert neatly summed up Cliff's career, and perhaps his appeal. Rarely, if ever, fashionable, he nevertheless seems to have always been in and around the hit parade, a reassuring constant in turbulent times. And the statistics say it all.

In a career spanning nearly 60 years Cliff has sold more than 250 million records worldwide and was the only singer to have a Number One single in each decade from the Fifties to the Nineties. For his efforts he was awarded an OBE in 1980 and a knighthood in 1995.

But then, three years ago, came the allegation that turned his life upside down.

Part of the process of rebuilding his life in the wake of that traumatic episode includes a planned reunion with The Shadows, Cliff joking that "we are going to celebrate our 100 years together" (the average age of The Shadows is 75).

And faith, as well as friendship, remains a cornerstone of his life.

"I think I have a deeper faith now. You're on your own, and that's when I became really dependent on God. I prayed night after night.

"On the third night of my turmoil I woke up and felt the need to forgive this person, who I am sure I have never met, because I found myself being filled with hate. I thought 'I don't think I'm going to survive this if that's the way I'm going to feel'.

"Forgiving is not a simple thing to do but, my God, that was the best simple thing I have ever done."

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