Cliff Richard on keeping fit
Self-described radical, British superstar Cliff Richard talks to VICKI ANDERSON about life, death and how he keeps in shape in his 70s.
Sometimes Sir Cliff Richard will be on stage, about to sing Living Doll for the millionth time, and he'd secretly prefer to be launching into We Don't Talk Anymore, when he'll look into the front row and change his mind.
"In the front row there will be a guy, nudging a girl as Living Doll starts and I catch myself," Richard, 71, says.
"The records that I have made have become part of people's lives. I'll be singing and looking at the guy nudging the girl and wonder to myself, did he propose to her with this song? Was it the song they got married to or that their baby was born to? I can't work it out, but that's what it is."
Yesterday the British superstar who turns 72 next month announced a three-date New Zealand tour - Still Reelin' and A Rockin' - next January.
On a British TV show recently, contestants were shown pictures of Richard and asked to "guess the decade" and no-one answered correctly.
Richard is aging as timelessly as he is enigmatically.
He credits a dedicated exercise regime and eating well with enabling him to continue to tour the world and record as a septuagenarian while some of his peers are holed up in dimly-lit bingo halls or dribbling soft foods.
"I play a lot of tennis, I play three or four times a week with a pro. I get a really good runaround and, on the days I don't do that I go to the gym and lift weights.
"I don't kid myself that I'm going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that's what I do. I eat well and I look after myself."
Before every tour he goes through vigorous health checks. He has a goal to play a game of tennis on his 100th birthday.
"By the end of the year there'll be much draining of blood and tests, but every year that I do it my lungs, heart and kidney are all functioning completely well so I'm lucky and I can just keep doing what I've always done."
He has never trashed a hotel room, lurched into rehab or adorned his body with tattoos, but still maintains, as he did many years ago, that he is the most radical rock'n'roll singer Britain has ever seen.
"Everyone else at the time was throwing TV sets out of windows, swearing, drinking and sleeping around. I wasn't doing wild things. The one who is different from everyone else is usually described as a radical. I was the only one not doing those things, that makes me a radical."
Born Harry Webb in Lucknow, India, to British parents on October 14, 1940, he is indisputably Britain's all-time greatest hit creator - no other United Kingdom band or solo artist is close to equalling his tally of 123 single hits.
He has had more than 130 other releases in the British charts and holds, with Elvis Presley, the distinction of having made the United Kingdom single charts in every one of its first six decades. In the United States he notched up eight Top 40 hits.
In the 1960s he dominated the airwaves with his hits Living Doll, Bachelor Boy, Lucky Lips and Congratulations, amongst many others, and maintained a strong cinematic presence in smash box office films The Young Ones, Summer Holiday and Wonderful Life. The 1970s brought hits like Devil Woman, We Don't Talk Anymore and Carrie and cemented him as a household name, while the 1980s saw him release such classics as Wired For Sound, Dreamin', Some People, Daddy's Home and Living Doll - with The Young Ones TV show cast.
Later he conceived and starred in the stage musical Heathcliff - written by Sir Tim Rice and John Farrar - which played to audiences of more than half a million.
But, like a fisherman, it's the one that got away that he thinks about.
Of all the songs and hits, one in particular that he enjoyed making never made it to the Top 10.
"Miss You Nights. . . Now it's the most requested song everywhere in the world I go but at the time it never got anywhere, it sold about 10 copies," Richard laughs. "Now I get abusive mail if I don't sing it. I want to reply 'where were you when I released this record?'
"We spent three months breaking into the top 30, the highest it got to was No 15. The record company and I were so excited about it and thought it was going to be a wonderful hit and it didn't make it at the time."
Richard can't name just one songwriter he admires, there are just too many - Mike Stoller who wrote for Elvis, his own band, The Shadows, "of course", Terry Britney who gave him his hit, Devil Woman and Cole Porter. But if he had to pick just one he knows who it would be.
"I can't really pick a favourite writer other than the writer who gave me my biggest hit - Alan Tarney."
In the mid-1960s, Richard became a Christian and since then he has recorded a number of "inspirational albums". Every year, whether we like it or not, he releases a Christmas-themed single in December, which rarely fails to scale the chart heights.
His faith has, he says, allowed him to come to terms with dying, but his biggest fear is exactly how he will die.
"I've come to peace with that because of my spiritual awakening and faith, but the method of dying - will I be hit by a bus? - I am frightened of.
"I also still get nervous before each and every show."
Should his life ever flash before his eyes he might see himself protesting against the Swedish sex education film Karlekens Sprak, or looking at his vast wealth - estimated at 50 million pounds Sterling (NZ$98m) in 2010 - or in Portugal where he received a knighthood in 2006, perhaps at Algarve where he is involved in the production of wines at the Adega do Cantor ("Winery of the Singer").
Richard released an autobiography My Life, My Way four years ago and talked about his "companion", American former missionary, Father John McElynn with whom he shares a "close friendship" and who manages his property.
In it he defended his decision to remain a bachelor and stated his boredom with constant speculation about his sexuality, stating "many of my friends are gay - let's face it, homosexuality has been legal for more than 30 years. For me, the commitment is what counts - and I'll leave the judging to God."
Richard says he has "gotten used to people's impertinence" over time.
He took to heart advice given to him by actor Robert Morley who was in Richard's third film, The Young Ones, in 1961.
"You do get used to the fact that people are impertinent. Why do strangers think they can ask me things like that? It used to upset me years ago when my family was dragged into it.
"But I'm not afraid to be who I am and I'm not afraid to say that.
"Robert was a very refined, polite man. He said to me 'your private life is yours and yours alone and no-one else's business, best you keep it that way'. I've stuck to his advice."
Cliff Richard will perform at CBS Canterbury Arena on Thursday, January 31, 2013, as part of his Still Reelin' and A Rockin' tour.
Tickets go on sale on September 21 from Ticketek.co.nz. Also at Auckland's Vector Arena on January 26 and Wellington's TSB Stadium on January 28.
- The Press