What is it about Cliff Richard that makes the women sigh?
For reasons that remain a mystery, especially to me, I ended up at a Cliff show in Dublin last weekend
Cliff Richard: note-perfect but a dull phenomenon. Photograph: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
‘It’s so funny, how we don’t talk any more / But I ain’t losing sleep (no no no no), /And I ain’t got new sheets (eets eets eets eets eets).”
That’s not it, is it? Hang on.
“I ain’t losing sleep (no no no no) / But I’ve lovely new teeth (eeth eeth eeth eeth eeth).”
I have a limited capacity for retaining Cliff Richard’s lyrics. I’m pretty sure that, as a child, in my home-sewn gingham dress, I attempted a nervously tuneless rendition of Summer Holiday on the rattling train to Killarney, my newly ash-blonde mother on the opposite banquette, carefully drawing on her eyebrows as the train hurtled us far beyond Dublin’s odourless plumbed suburbs and into the arms of my voluminous Great-aunt Peggy and her pungent septic tank. And I assume that most people in the known universe, myself included, can lash out the first couple of phrases of Living Doll: “Got myself a cryin’, talkin’, sleepin’, walkin’, livin’ doll.”
Mind you, I always thought this was a peculiar order in which to list the attributes of someone you’d earmarked to satisfy your soul. What about a dab-hand-at-the-puttanesca-sauce and you-wouldn’t-kick-her-out-of-the-scratcher-for-eating-crisps, walkin’, talkin’, livin’ doll? What’s with the weeping, eh? Cliff? Since when is lachrymosity such a turn-on?
A mystery to me
For reasons that remain a mystery – even, and most especially, to myself – I ended up at Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre last weekend at a Cliff Richard concert.
The next day was my mother’s 87th birthday, and my sister had baked her a birthday cake filled with raspberries and rosewater. Lulled into a false sense of security, I told them where I’d been the night before.
“What in the name of Christ did you do that for?” my mother asked, through a mouthful of delicate pink icing.
In fairness, I have to say that Cliff, at the tender age of 73 (a mere child, according to the birthday girl), can hold a tune. He is a kind of dull phenomenon. Note-perfect, with a full head of what certainly looks like hair and two pairs of customised Converse (one encrusted with diamanté), he can sing, he can hit his lighting marks and he can manage several intricate variations of the time step.
And man alive, has he a loyal following. The theatre was packed to capacity, largely with women: swaying, sighing, applauding, undulating women; women clutching handmade signs made out of cornflake boxes and glitter pen (“Cliff, you’re simply the best”); women waving teddy bears, or clutching them to their heaving bosoms, while Cliff swung manfully into Devil Woman. One woman in the second row wept unstoppably, her shoulders convulsing, while her friend foraged for tissues in her bag.
Many of those present were of an age that could well have seen them screaming in the aisles and upsetting their back-combs around the time that Cliff first wiggled his neat little hips in public, more than half a century ago.
He’s not dead
Between sets, he had quite a nice line in self-deprecating chat, his earnest, carefully enunciated speaking voice making him sound like he was auditioning for a part in Mary Poppins.
Apparently, Cliff is occasionally accused by casual bystanders of already being dead (they got that wrong – it’s just his alarmingly sculpted cheekbones that make him appear cryogenically frozen). Others tell him that he’s past his sell-by date.
His unwavering response to these absent critics is to launch into a couple of Chuck Berry numbers and do a bit of dancing around in his now crimson Converse and his cute toddler-esque jeans with the bright-red stripe on the seam. You’ve gotta hand it to the man (I’m not quite sure what you have to hand to the man actually, as whatever truly excites the passion of this neat, elderly professional remains occluded).
Later we sat inside a huge repurposed metal buoy in nearby Cafe H. I drank a coffee, pilfered a thin cigarette (it must’ve been the excitement). What is it, I asked my (female) companion, that makes the women sigh? What is it about Cliff Richard that compels them to iron their best skirts and shoehorn themselves into patent-leather shoes for him? Is it his longevity? His perseverance? Is it because he looks pretty, like a lightly gnarled teenager, one who lives on yogilates and eucalyptus leaves and mantras and bee serum?
Later, driving home through the empty suburbs, the only answer I could think of was that, for some women, he’s a link with the past, a reminder of some distant and long-cherished summer. In some hearts at least, he’s a living doll.