SIR CLIFF’S WELCOME TO HIS PUMPKIN SEEDS AND SOYA. I’M OFF FOR A JUICY STEAK AND A GLASS OF CLARET
FOR many years, I’ve risked social death among my sophisticated
sticking up for Sir Cliff Richard in print.
I’ve sprung to his defence when radio station bosses banned DJs
from playing his records (not cool enough, they thought).
I championed him again when the chattering classes welcomed the
new retractable roof over Centre Court at
Wimbledon, jeering in unison that,
at least, it would spare tennis fans the agony of another Cliff
singalong during rain-breaks (in fact, most saw his impromptu
performance in 1996 as a massive bonus).
I’ve also defended him against those who sneer at his
clean-living professionalism, his Christian faith and his
politeness to his fans (how strange that a man should be attacked
for his virtues, rather than his vices).
I’ve even been prepared to concede that many people ? although,
here, I can’t include myself ? are capable of listening to
Mistletoe And Wine or The Millennium Prayer without an involuntary
curl of the toes.
Anyway, what do a couple of flesh-creepers matter, from the man
who brought us such toe-tapping favourites as Living Doll, Bachelor
Boy and that perennial favourite of the in-car family singsong,
Surely even his sneeriest critics must concede that in a career
spanning six decades, with No 1 hits in all but one of them, the
best-selling singles artist in UK history must have given an awful
lot of pleasure to an awful lot of people?
Well, he’s certainly pleased me ? and until this week, with just
days to go before his 70th birthday next Thursday, I wouldn’t hear
a word said against him.
But oh, Cliff, after my decades of loyalty, suffering the
mockery of Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd fans when I spoke in your
defence, I can keep it up no longer.
From now on, you must find other champions. For you’ve tried
this one beyond endurance.
I’m not thinking of this week’s revelation that the East End
gangster Ronnie Kray was a fellow fan, who corresponded with Sir
Cliff from Brixton jail.
Indeed, I found myself agreeing with the verdict Kray expressed
in a newly-discovered (and shockingly misspelt) letter he wrote
from his cell: ‘I had a verry nice letter from Cliff Ritchards. It
was marvoulas of him to write to me at a time like this. He must be
a wonderfull person.’
No, what has made me change my mind about the Peter Pan of Pop
is the news of his miserable-sounding diet, which he observes in
his obsessive effort to preserve his youthful appearance.
I’m not denying that it seems to work. Indeed, the photographs
illustrating this week’s reports show him in his bathing trunks
with a washboard stomach, a full head (and chest) of dark hair and
the physique a super-fit 30-year-old.
But then I look at all the foods he has to avoid under his
blood-type diet, and it reads to me like an extract from the
definitive catalogue of life’s greatest pleasures: red meat,
potatoes, lobster, crab, prawns, tangerines, oranges, mushrooms,
olives, melons, tomatoes . . . Mmm. My mouth is watering as I
But now turn to the list of foods recommended under his diet for
people of his blood type (A): chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts,
lentils, pumpkin seeds, figs, herbal tea, soya milk,
Now, I like the occasional bit of chicken or fish as much as the
next man. But all the time? Boring! As for soya milk, pumpkin
seeds, lentils and herbal tea . . . Why does Sir Cliff put himself
through this torture?
Here he is, just a week short of the venerable age of 70 ? with
a reputed ?20 million in the bank and houses in Barbados, Portugal,
New York and Berkshire ? and he doesn’t even allow himself the
occasional steak with chips. I mean, what’s the point? Who is he
doing this for?
I find it very hard to believe that it’s for his fans, never
noted for our attachment to the cult of youth.
Indeed, I suspect many of us who have been humming his hits for
the past few decades would like him rather more if he had the
decency to age at the same rate as the rest of us.
Do men or women, of any age, look at the pictures of the
soon-to-be-septuagenarian Sir Cliff in his bathing trunks and
think: ‘Cor, what a hunk!’?
Or do they, like me, think increasingly as the years go by:
‘Blimey, what a freak!’?
With his characteristic honesty, I’m afraid Sir Cliff gives away
the truthful answer to my question about whom he is trying to
please. ‘Friends go on about people’s obsession with my looks,’ he
says. ‘But I can assure you that no one’s more obsessed than
In short, he’s doing it for himself. And good luck to him, many
will say, if it’s the man in the mirror who happens to turn him
But I reckon ? and call it envy, if you will ? that he’s
betraying those of us, of a certain age, who find our trousers a
little tighter and the stairs a bit more of an effort with every
Wouldn’t we all feel a little better about growing old if people
like Cliff didn’t behave as if ageing were the worst thing that
could happen to anyone?
He’s far from the only one, of course. There’s barely an actress
over the age of 35 who doesn’t put herself through excruciating
indignities in her desperation to appear younger than she is: a nip
here, a tuck or a shot of Botox there ? and a diet more fit for a
hamster than a human.
In TV talent shows, the message is the same: the cult of youth
rules supreme ?and growing old is something to be resisted and
Even on those very rare occasions when a Susan Boyle does better
than a talentless 20-year-old, with a nice pair of pins, we know
she’s really there to be mocked more than admired.
If we can’t rely on square old Cliff to fly the flag for growing
old gracefully, then who can we?
I’m not suggesting he should gorge himself on beef burgers to
the point of obesity, like the Elvis Presley on whom he modelled
himself more than half a century ago. All I ask is that he should
show a little solidarity with the rest of the human race
letting himself go just a little.
Last week, I attended the memorial service of a friend who was
one of those life-enhancers who cheer everyone up the moment they
walk into a room.
In tribute after affectionate tribute, his friends recalled his
rich chuckle, his love of a drop or two of the hard stuff and his
astonishing gift for sniffing out the finest undiscovered
restaurants wherever he happened to be in the world.
In one of the eulogies, someone who had known him since his
university days remarked that Charlie seemed to enjoy life more
with every passing year, as his belly grew rounder and his hair
All right, he died at the tragically young age of 55, leaving a
widow and three children. But I reckon he knew a thing or two about
life ? and, most of all, that it’s for living.
Do I envy Sir Cliff his 30 in waist or the perpetual youth for
which he has had to work so hard?
Not I. He’s welcome to his miserable piece of fish, his pumpkin
seeds and soya milk.
I’m off home to a juicy steak, with mushrooms and chips ? and a
large glass of claret to drink a toast to the memory of dear old
Cliff at 70 ? Turn to page 50