FOR many years, I’ve risked social death among my sophisticated

metropolitan friends

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,

Summer Holiday?


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

passing year.

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

grew thinner.

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