Cliff Richard tells TV Times magazine why Songs of Praise is so close to his heart, and reveals his feelings on retirement…

Why does Songs of Praise mean so much to you?
“I’ve been on it so many times and it’s been part of our lives for so long. When I first saw it I was staying with friends and their elderly mother loved it because she couldn’t get to church any more, but she could follow the hymns and hear people speak about their spirituality.”

The Songs of Praise documentary, 50 Years Ago, looks at the show’s beginnings. You also celebrated 50 years in showbiz back in 2008…
“It’s nice to know that something can sail on the troubled waters that we all face and still come out the other end intact. I feel that about my career and I definitely feel it about Songs Of Praise. Who’d have thought it would still be running the way it is after 50 years, especially since the world has changed so much. We seem to be living in a secular society now and yet there’s still light in the darkness.”

Do you feel as though the show provides an important platform for Christians to share their beliefs with others?
“Songs of Praise has been an inspiration to many people to search for their own spirituality. That’s what happened to me – I heard Christians who were willing to talk about what they believed and I found myself getting more and more curious. It’s vital for me to share my faith with my fans and Songs of Praise allowed me to say, ‘I’m Cliff Richard, the rock and roll singer, something special happened to me and I’d like to express it’ – and it gave me the chance to sing some wonderful Christian songs.”

Do you feel comfortable talking about your faith on the show?
“Yes. If you’re a Christian with any kind of celebrity you’re always either being knocked for what you believe or you’re arguing with people. I don’t mind arguing – I quite like it! – but if you’re on Songs of Praise all that pressure disappears. You know that no one is out to trip you up or try to prove you wrong.”

You say one of your most memorable Songs of Praise moments was headlining a special Millennium edition of the show live from the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff…
“I remember it for all sorts of reasons, one because I had flu! I felt so bad, but it was wonderful. There was a huge crowd and I was very happy to be a Christian standing alongside others who believe as I do.”

What is it that you think is so significant about the power of music?
“There’s something special about songs and that’s why hymns and carols will always have a part to play when it comes to Church music. They have inspiring lyrics and fantastic melodies – they’d have all been hits had they been written now. I’ve often wondered why we can’t sing carols all through the year!”

You have so many festive hits, like Mistletoe and Wine and Saviour’s Day, that are a key part of many families’ Christmas celebrations…
“I very much enjoy singing those songs. Of course you still have to save them for Christmas, but that’s what’s so nice about it. There’s a time of the year when suddenly all these carols come to light again and all the feelings and sentimentality that go with that. It’s wonderful.”

What about your feelings on retirement?
“Retirement sounds like the end of something, but I’m trying to give myself more private time. I spend my winters in Barbados and my summers in Portugal and I choose what I want to do and when. I always say I’d like to slow down, but in fact you either have to decide to stop or keep going but give yourself bigger gaps between jobs, so that’s what I’m doing. There’s nothing like actually singing live though, it’s wonderful.”