'I have a lot of life to write about' - Cliff Richard tells all in his autobiography
- Credit: Alan Olley
Congratulations! In celebration of his 80th birthday and 60 years in pop music, Sir Cliff Richard's definitive autobiography is being published in paperback this week.
The Dreamer: An Autobiography tells the story of the chart-topping singer's incredible life – and is the perfect Mother’s Day gift for fans of the Bachelor Boy.
With a hit in every decade from the 1950s to the 2010s, Cliff Richard certainly has a story to tell – from his childhood in India and moving to England during the post-World War Two recession to discovering performance and music as a teenager, through school plays and rock and roll.
Then there's joining his first band, The Drifters (later The Shadows), at the age of 17, gigging all over the world, and coming up with his stage name.
"Well, I have a lot of life to write about," says Cliff on why he penned his memoirs. "It’s a lot to look back on but, yes, I have enjoyed it. So many exciting things happened to me back in the late 50s.
"People assume that pop music began with The Beatles in 1963, but it didn’t! It wasn’t just me: Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and Adam Faith were all playing rock and roll right at the start, as were our American idols, including the greatest of them all – Elvis."
Born Harry Rodger Webb in India on October 14, 1940, Cliff spent part of his childhood growing up in Waltham Cross and then Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, after his family moved to England.
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The singer has fond memories of his early days in India though.
"I do, but now they feel like memories of a film that I saw a long time ago. I remember the heat, and potholed streets, and playing in dirty water up to my waist with my best friend, Lal, in the monsoon season.
"I remember eating curry with my fingers, and fighting kite battles with my dad. But my family had to flee India when I was seven, when it got independence.
"We did a three-week boat journey to England. I spent most of it throwing up!"
Life was tough when the family arrived in Britain, firstly living in Surrey before moving to Herts where he went to secondary school in Cheshunt.
"My family and I were refugees," recalls Cliff. "My dad arrived with £5 in the world – about £50 today – and he couldn’t get a job.
"My parents, my three sisters and I lived in one single room for nearly two years.
"I got bullied at school, because I talked differently to the other kids and my skin was darker from years in India – they hit me and called me ‘Indi-bum’.
"But I fought back. I’m a lot tougher as a person than people assume."
The original British teen idol, Cliff looks back on his humble upbringing in his autobiography, and how he went on to fulfil his wildest dreams by becoming a pop star and even a film star.
Exploding out of London's post-war skiffle scene, Cliff was a pioneer, forging the way for British rock 'n’ roll with his unique sound.
Elvis Presley was, obviously, an inspiration and he can still remember hearing 'the King' for the first time.
"I was 15 and walking down the street with two school friends when a car parked next to us. This amazing music came blasting through its open window: ‘Well, since my baby left me! I found a new place to dwell!’
"The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I had never heard anything like Heartbreak Hotel and it changed my life forever.
"Without Elvis Presley, there would have been no Cliff Richard."
Cliff enjoyed his first UK hit with Move It, aged just 17.
"It was incredible. One day I had a boring job as a credit control clerk in the company where my dad worked. I hated it.
"I was also singing part-time in a skiffle group, but skiffle didn’t really do it for me. So, I left and formed a rock and roll band. We got a record deal and wrote a song, Move It, and it went crazy.
"Suddenly I was on TV and radio and doing shows up and down the country to thousands of fans going crazy – and I was still 17!
"I couldn’t walk down the street without screaming girls chasing me. I loved it!"
He soon stopped being 'boring' Harry Webb and became Cliff Richard.
"This is a funny story! It was early 1958 and my band were still The Drifters, before they became The Shadows.
"A promoter offered us a gig but he said that he wanted to bill us with the singer’s name up front, like Bill Haley and the Comets. He said he would call us ‘Harry Webb and the Drifters!’ Noooo!
"The second that he said it, I knew it sounded all wrong! Rock ‘n’ roll was glamorous, and American, and ‘Harry’ sounded too British, too boring, too ordinary.
"I had never really liked the name very much, and I thought, rock ‘n’ roll stars are called Elvis, or Chuck, or Frankie, or Buddy – not Harry!
"The Drifters and I went and sat in a pub and chose my new name. I walked into the pub as Harry Webb – and I walked out as Cliff Richard."
He scored his first UK number one single with Living Doll in 1959 but initially didn't like the song.
"When I was 18, I was in a movie, Serious Charge. I had to sing a song, Living Doll. I thought it was a bit weak and like pseudo-rock ‘n’ roll, but it turned out that it was written in my movie contract that The Drifters and I – they hadn’t quite become The Shadows yet – had to release it as a single.
"Bruce Welch from the band had the idea of rearranging it as a country song. We decided to give it a go… and the rest is history."
In the Swinging Sixties, big screen musicals The Young Ones and Summer Holiday were among Cliff Richard's films made for Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) at Elstree Studios.
It was on set of one of them that Cliff forged one of his closest showbusiness friendships – with Una Stubbs, the great granddaughter of Welwyn Garden City founder Sir Ebenezer Howard.
"I don’t have many super-close showbiz friends but the ones that I have, I’ve had forever," admits Cliff, who performed live at Hatfield House in 2013.
"I met Una Stubbs in 1962 making the Summer Holiday film and we just clicked.
"Since then, we’ve done movies, TV shows and even pantomimes together, and nearly 60 years on, when we meet up after a long gap, we pick up from where we left off!"
While there's been plenty of highs in Cliff's long career, there's been traumatic lows as well, such as the South Yorkshire police raid on his home, which the BBC showed live.
The Dreamer gives Cliff a chance to tell his side of story.
"It turned my life into a nightmare. False sex allegations are the worst thing that could happen to anybody.
"They were a dark cloud that hung over my life for four years. I obviously always knew that I was innocent, but I had to put my life on hold while I cleared my name.
"It hurt me and damaged me. It feels good finally to get the chance to give my own, complete side of the story. I have been completely honest about the whole ordeal and how it affected me.
"If anything, putting it down on paper has been cathartic."
The Dreamer by Cliff Richard is published in paperback by Ebury Press on March 4, 2021. RRP: £7.99.