Cliff Richard and Olivia
by Richard Barber
They hadn’t sung together for six years, so when Sir Cliff Richard and Olivia Newton-John stood up to deliver a duet of Silent Night, the atmosphere at Hampton Court Palace was electric-and the applause, as they finished, thunderous.
Some 250 of the great and good gathered for the annual dinner charity auction for the Cliff Richard Tennis Foundation. It was possible this year by a generous donation from Lord Ashcroft, KcMG, a enthusiastic supporter of the Foundation’s declared aim of encouraging more children to take up sport in general and tennis in particular.
But before the diners gathered in the Great Hall, Sir Cliff,’ 64, and Olivia 56, sat down to talk exclusively to Hello! about their friendship, which began in the 1960s.
Sitting next to each other in ante-room before stepping into the their evening finery, they interrupt one another like a long-married couple, repeatedly and unselfconsciously giving each other reassuring pats on the arm and affectionate squeezes of the hand.
So how did Olivia come to be performing at Hampton Court? “Simple,” she says. “Cliff asked me - about a year ago, in fact. And then he’d ring and check every couple of months, just to make sure I wasn’t going to change my mind.
“This man has been such a big part of my life and career that I felt I wanted to put something back, to say thank you. I was thrilled to he asked to be his guest of honour.” with me.
Olivia has just finished a six-week tour of America; punctuated by a three-week visit to her native Australia she spends most of the year at her home in Malibu, California). She has been promoting her new album The Definitive Collection (Universal), for which Cliff presented her with a Gold Disc during the evening. This was meant to be when she took a holiday,” he chips in, “so it’s great that she did this for me.”
Olivia smiles. ‘It’s not too arduous,” she says. “I’ve been staying with Cliff at his home in Weybridge and he’s really been spoiling me. Actually, it’s lovely because one of my oldest friends, Pat, who used to be my singing partner and who married one of The Shadows, John Farrar, came over.
So it’s like a big reunion. “And yet, ask Cliff and Olivia to recall the first time they met and the conversation skitters all over the place. He says he noticed her singing on The Des O Connor Show “We were both being managed by the late Peter Gormley. I had a TV series at the time so I suggested Olivia come on one week. Well, one week stretched to eight, she was so popular.”
Olivia remembers Cliff trying to persuade her to appear in a pantomime production of Cinderella” But was too nervous,” she says. They did a tour of Japan together, however. And then Olivia made it big in America, “And you know something?” says Cliff. “It didn’t change her one bit”
But whereas he has tirelessly pursued his career for four decades, Olivia has twice put her career on the back burner. The first time was when her daughter by former husband Man Lattanzi, Chloe, now 18, was born; the second in 1992 when she discovered a lump in her breast that led to a mastectomy and an aggressive course of chemotherapy.
Olivia has now happily given her name to the Liv Kit, an inexpensive self-examination pad (available from www.goodforhealth.com). “It’s like a magnifying glass for your fingers. Each plastic sheet contains a silicone lubricant which makes it easier to detect any irregularities,’ she explains. “New figures show that one in seven women of all ages are susceptible to breast cancer. Early detection is vital.”
She used to be driven, unwilling to turn anything down. But then reality intervened, and Olivia might never have stepped on a public stage again had it not been for Cliff. “He was the one who was instrumental in persuading me to start over,” she says.
Cliff remembers it well. “The first time I called suggesting we do some- thing together, after her film Xanadu had been released, she said she was too nervous to appear before an audience again. She’d done TV and recorded albums, but Olivia hadn’t sung live on stage for about 17 years. Then, when we finally did do a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1998,1 remember standing on stage and mouthing out of the corner of my mouth, ‘Get off.’ I was keen to get on with my next solo and Olivia was rooted there, lapping up the adulation of the audience.” The two of them dissolve into helpless giggles.
“We’re like a pair of old slippers. We just fit together. Our voices blend really well,” she says.
“I like singing with Olivia because she sounds like the girl and I sound like the bloke,” says Cliff “Well, have you heard some of the records today? You can’t tell who’s who.”
Would they consider appearing together on tour or on television again? “Well,” says Cliff, “I’m not known much in the States, although Olivia could help me there. But we have a strength together in Europe, in the Far East and in Australia and New Zealand. There’s still an audience for us from people who grew up with our songs and who aren’t interested in rap or whatever.’
Olivia agrees. “Everyone has moments in their life that are important to them. They might have fallen in love to this song or got married to that one. A song like I Honestly Love You or Miss You Nights is going to mean a great deal to a great many people.”
Sir Cliff once said he’d never retire. “Actually, I do know he’s slowed down,” says Olivia. “Haven’t you? I say to my manager that I want four months off every year. I know how lucky that makes me sound but there’s nothing I like better than going to Australia to be with Chloe. She’s a gifted musician who writes her own material.”
Olivia’s delighted Cliff persuaded her to get back in front of live audiences. “Surviving a potentially terminal illness means you redefine fear. After surviving cancer, nothing can be as bad. The only challenge was getting back on the horse. “A shy smile. “But then, I do know how in to ride.”