A personal memory of the late Cilla Black, by What’s on TV writer Nick Cannon…
While working for What’s On TV, I’m forever meeting actors, singers and people off the telly so I don’t often get star-struck. But that was always going to happen when I was lucky enough to sit down with Cilla Black in 2011.
Growing up on a diet of her Saturday night shows and having played most of her hit songs repeatedly over the years – yes, I love the 1960s – I knew this would be something special. And I got everything I dreamt of – and more!
First off, she offered some champagne that was chilling in ice on the table beside her…
“Have a drop of this! It’s rather nice!” Cilla said as she passed over a glass before we’d even started chatting. Then looking at my Selfridges bag, she asked me if I’d been Christmas shopping in London (it was December!) She’d been on the lookout for Thomas the Tank Engine knick-knacks for one of her grandchildren apparently.
As she took a seat on the hotel sofa right beside me, I spent the next half hour being regaled with her tales of the 1960s, dropping in the names of dear friends such as ‘John Lennon’ and ‘Frankie Howerd’ as she went along. She said I could ask her anything, but I was in awe as the stories kept coming thick and fast.
It was nice she asked me a few questions, too – did I know about this person (Ringo Starr….yes I think so) or that event (the 1966 World Cup! Er yes!)? And she gave out more than a few of her throaty chuckles when particular memories tickled her. She even went into details about getting her nose job… “Bobby made me do it,” she laughed, before telling me where she’d had it done and how much it cost – ‘less than a thousand pounds!’
My abiding memory is of a legendary lady who knew she’d had a wonderful life and was happy to reminisce and share as much of it as she could in our half hour. She must have done chats like it thousands of times, but she was so engaging and full of warm humour you’d never have known.
Cilla was so completely down to earth it was almost like having a chat with your mum, but with added stardust! She made you feel like you’d had this same friendly chat before – and that was probably the secret of her TV success. Viewers felt they knew her so very well, and lapped up her wit and charm. She gave comfort and joy television, and they’re ingredients missing from a good too many presenters these days. It’s why she’s going to be so greatly missed by so many.
After my audience with Cilla had finished – alas, all too quickly – we had a picture and a few air kisses, and she sent me away with a copy of her latest book, signed just the way I’d asked: ‘Dear Nick, Step Inside Luv, Cilla.’
She’ll be a tough act to follow.