Legendary TV hostess and singer Cilla Black spoke to What’s On TV about an ITV special, The One & Only Cilla Black (Wednesday, October 16) hosted by Paul O’Grady. In the studio, she’ll celebrating her five decades in the business, and there’ll be tributes and surprises from friends, performances by special guests and Cilla herself, plus she’s back hosting Blind Date and making her first Coronation Street appearance…

Can you believe you’re celebrating 50 years in showbiz?

“The only way I can believe it’s 50 years is by my creaky bones. I now do that old woman thing of getting out of the chair, and saying ‘eugh!’ I feel wonderfully honoured to have a show dedicated to me like this. The evening is hosted by Paul O’Grady, who is brilliant and the one person I feel safe with on TV – I know he’ll get me out of any trouble on screen.”

You and Paul are such great pals aren’t you?

“Oh yes and we’ve holidayed together. He bought me a trip on the Orient Express to Venice for my 60th birthday, and we had a fun time in the Maldives, too. On the Orient Express you have your own valet and our next-door apartments were linked. So the valet came round and said, ‘Shall I make two bunks and make this other room into your sitting room?’ Paul couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of us sharing a bunk bed! But I didn’t mind taking the top one. It was a lovely trip.”

You’re singing again in the studio on the night. How did that go?

“Yes I was quite nervous as I don’t even sing in the shower these days. I did Liverpool Lullaby, which is a beautiful song, but Katie Melua and Alison Moyet are on the show, too, singing my hits Alfie and Anyone Who Had A Heart. I insisted on singing before them, as there’s no way I could have followed such big voices like that. You know I was listening back to a couple of my songs on  Elaine Paige’s radio show the other day and she was playing me singing I Don’t How To Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar and I realised then just what an incredible range I had when I used to sing.”

What was it like hosting a mini Blind Date again?

“I was a bit rusty, but once I got going it was fine. We’d invited memorable past contestants from Blind Date going years back. They were all still single, and when you see them, you’ll know exactly why they’re all still single!”

Have you seen the new Surprise Surprise with Holly Willoughby?

“I have, and Holly is a sweetheart. They chose the best presenter of all. I feel very flattered, because it was a hit show and I’m still waiting for someone to do another Blind Date. Well, maybe Holly again. I can only think of Holly. She’s so good with people. And talking of dating shows, I love Take Me Out and I love Paddy McGuinness. I think that’s fabulous.”

You also filmed a special Coronation Street scene for this show. That must have been special?

“Oh this was a dream come true as I’m the soap’s biggest fan and remember seeing the very first episode with Albert Tatlock repairing a bike. I’m playing myself waiting at the bar in The Rovers, and Rita and Norris are there, too. There’s a bit of a joke over someone shouting Cilla, but meaning Cellar! Norris doesn’t recognise me at all and I’m ear-wigging their conversation. It’s a hoot.”

Were there other memorable surprises in the show?

“Oh lots. I was once in the comedy show Benidorm, so the cast sent a fabulous surprise to me – a good luck thing. Sheila Reid who plays Madge, the lady in the wheelchair, then did a knockout last line and the whole audience and myself collapsed with laughter. I loved it. Not a lot of people know that I got a comedy award in 1976 for Cilla’s World of Comedy when I worked with Keith Barron. It’s one of my most treasured possessions. I’d like to do a little bit more sitcom.”

Have you been able to keep much secret in the last 50 years?

“No, no, no! I learned from that. I remember having my nose job in the 1960s and my mother crying on the phone saying, you’ve been famous for five years with your old nose, why change everything now? And I had to tell her, it was because my husband Bobby had said I should see myself on TV when they do a side shot. When I made the film, Work Is A Four Letter Word, he said the side shots were, well, you’ve just got to do something about it!”

You also go back to Liverpoo in the show. What was that like?

“When I go back to Liverpool. Everywhere is flattened where I used to go. The only thing really that’s still there is St Anthony’s Church. But through the magic of TV special effects I was very impressed they’d recreated everything as it was so you see the flat where I lived, which is fantastic. I loved seeing the new Cavern Club, too, where I performed with The Beatles. Can you believe they’ve got a Vivienne Westwood shop in the street the Cavern is now! It was all just pubs and vegetable warehouses in my day.”

Do you still feel Liverpool to the core?

“I do, when anybody talks to me about home I think of Liverpool, isn’t that funny? I’ve lived and worked longer down south and near London. I don’t suppose you ever forget your roots though. It’s like the Irish and the Scottish. I’m very Celtic anyway. My father was Irish, my grandfather was Welsh.”

Do you have a health regime?

“I had my first Tai Chi lesson at the weekend, but I’m much more a rowing machine, walking machine person.”

Good friends such as Christopher Biggins, Amanda Holden and Ringo Starr pop into the studio. Did you get emotional at all during this show?

“Not too much. When I saw the tributes at the end with various stars saying how fabulous I was, I thought, this is what it’s like when you’re dead isn’t it? It was like a living obituary. It was all a bit surreal to think like that, but it’s what happened.”

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