Interview: Sir Cliff Richard sex abuse allegations made him confused and 'crazy'

By David Wigg

Cleared after two years of hell, Cliff Richard reveals how it wrecked his health - and why he is now threatening to sue police and the BBC.

Just last month, shortly before Sir Cliff Richard was finally released from his 22-month living hell, he was approached in Marks & Spencer by a fan and her young children.

He was trying to hold on to normality, he recalls, buying shirts to wear at Wimbledon.

The woman, making no reference to the scandal engulfing Richard, said her son had never met a 'Sir' before and could they have a picture?

For as long as most of us can remember, Richard, 75, has obliged. He has placed his arms around fans, of whatever age, and smiled wide. This time - for the first time ever - he felt uneasy as the children posed for the camera, fearful that the encounter may come back to haunt him. Even telling the story pains him.

"This has never happened to me before, but I made sure that little boy stood in front," he reveals, shaking his head in disbelief. "I had my hands on the shoulders of the two girls, but I didn't want to be attached to the boy because I don't know what he is going to grow up and say.

"I've never thought like that before. It never crossed my mind. I've hugged more girls and guys in my life than most people because that's what people want, a photograph. I've done thousands. But now it's made me think ..."

The Cliff I have known for 40 years has always been a resolutely upbeat man. Indeed, just four weeks before the raid on his home in Berkshire, I was with him at his vineyard in Portugal.

He couldn't have been happier as he showed me round, leaping like a teenager from the top of one barrel of wine to another. It was as if he hadn't a care in the world.

Sir Cliff Richard. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Sir Cliff Richard. Photo / Sarah Ivey

If anyone needs to know about the legacy of a celebrity being falsely accused of sex offences, Richard today is it. The accusations affected his physical and mental health - leaving him questioning his sanity at times.

Now that the CPS has announced no prosecutions will take place, the burden had been lifted. But he doesn't know what the lasting damage to his health and reputation may be - and it leaves him deeply angry.

"There is a lot I have to deal with. But my accuser has nothing. He knows I didn't molest him. So he has nothing to get over. I have this two-year nightmare to get over".

Financially, the cost is easier to quantify. He says the whole saga has set him back in the region of £1 million.

He had to put an album on hold because of the pressures - leading to a loss of earnings both for him and the charities he supports.

When the investigation began the BBC didn't play his records as much. He didn't sing at all for months after the raid and believes the stress brought on a nervous cough.

"I had a cough for 11 months," he says. "Even today I've been coughing a bit and it can't be anything other than the stress. It just went on and on - and one of the worst periods was during the tour last year.

"You can't sing and cough at the same time. But it was terrifying, so I felt quite proud of myself that nobody actually noticed. I've probably got quite good at it now."

It has also cost him his home. The flat in Sunningdale, Berkshire, that was raided (or "broken into", as he puts it) on August 14, 2014, sparking a two-year police investigation into historical sex allegations, has been sold. He could not bear to return, other than to collect his belongings.

The BBC Director General and Yorkshire police are being questioned about the police raid on singer Sir Cliff Richard's house in August 2014. Photo / Getty Images
The BBC Director General and Yorkshire police are being questioned about the police raid on singer Sir Cliff Richard's house in August 2014. Photo / Getty Images

Though detectives did not leave a mess, their actions defiled the apartment in his mind and affections.

"I couldn't go back to live there," he says. "I probably over-reacted but that's the way I felt. I only went back there once, to take my stuff out, and I didn't feel comfortable.

"It suddenly became a place that they, the police, had gone into, you know, thinking those things."

Indeed, he is planning to sell almost all his properties around the world - the winery in Portugal, possibly the farmhouse there, and even the beach home in Barbados - in a bid to downsize his life. "I still want to have the same sort of fabulous life, but not the headaches," he says.

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He has no base in the UK at the moment because - in a final insult - a new flat he has bought is uninhabitable because a fire delayed the development of the site.

One of the questions that has never been answered - and it baffles Richard, too - is what the police were looking for in that raid. He bought the apartment only six years ago.

"What is going to be there from 30 years ago that is going to mean anything?"

So what did the police take away? "They took my phone, a CD of warm-up exercises for my voice, a book that Billy Graham signed for me, postcards my mother sent me," he says. "Even a note Princess Diana wrote to me."

Why on earth would a note from Princess Diana feature in an investigation about historic child abuse?

He has no idea. And they still have it? "They've got everything, apart from the warm-up tape. It's to warm my throat up. They obviously played it, got bored with it and sent it back to me!" he jokes.

Police even seized a letter written to Richards by Princess Diana. Photo / Mike Willison
Police even seized a letter written to Richards by Princess Diana. Photo / Mike Willison

He talks of his sheer bewilderment at some of the questions he was asked about phones and iPads and iCloud - Apple's online memory back-up service. "The funny thing is, I made a fool of myself because they asked if I used an iCloud. I said: 'Oh no, I've got an iPad and I've got an iPhone, but I don't use an iCloud.'"

"The girl looked at me, obviously thinking: 'Is he crazy?'"

He has no doubt his fame made him a tempting high-profile target for police. Does he feel he's been the victim of a celebrity witch-hunt?

"Yes. As soon as it happened I thought: 'This is ridiculous.' It's why I accused the police of hanging me out like live-bait. I was fodder. I knew other celebrities had been having trouble. They talked about this witch-hunt. Then I thought: 'Oh my goodness, it looks as though I'm part of this witch-hunt now.'

"There are quite a few of us who have gone through the mill with this. To be innocent and have collateral damage - that's not a nice feeling."

The sad thing is, he knows that even the announcement that no charges will be brought will not quell the talk. He complains about not knowing how to deal with internet gossip and social media.

"I have talked to people close to me about what I can do about it and some have said: 'I'm afraid you are fodder, whether you like it or not.'

"The implication is that I have to get used to it. But I'm not sure I want to get used to it, because I did not start my career to have people slander me without me being able to react. I'd rather not be in this business, to be honest. But I don't want to retire. I want to keep singing.

"Maybe I will pick and choose, pull my profile down a bit, because I don't want to be their fodder."

Sir Cliff Richard. Photo / Supplied
Sir Cliff Richard. Photo / Supplied

Meanwhile, of course, his accusers still have their anonymity protected by the law. Does he believe they should be named?

"Yes, if they are of a certain age," he says. "If they are under-age then of course they should have anonymity, there's no problem with that. But as far as I know, my accuser is not 16. He's probably closer to 50.

"So now I'm thinking why would you want to protect a 50-year-old who is maliciously maligning my name?"

It was the loyalty of his friends, fans and his supporters in the media, that helped sustain him.

"I've never had such support from so many people," he says. "It made me feel so good. Because in the end, when I looked at the newspapers, the people coming out worst of all were South Yorkshire Police.

"It showed me that anyone who knew me didn't believe it. It underlined the love in my life - and the mistrust of South Yorkshire Police".

At first, though, his friends wondered if they should give him some distance. He says that immediately after the raid, some had been due to travel to Portugal to stay.

"But they emailed and said: 'You probably want to be on your own.' I said: 'No, please come.' So I've had company from friends the whole time and we've managed to laugh a lot. We laughed, we played tennis."

It was when he was alone with his thoughts and fears that dark clouds would descend.
"When everyone goes home and I go to bed, the laughter stops and I'm back thinking: 'What did I do to deserve this?'"

Sadly, some of his most ardent supporters have not been here to see his name finally cleared. His old friend Cilla Black died suddenly, not long after she had made a public statement offering her unequivocal support for him.

Cilla Black on stage at the Auckland Town Hall, 1971. Photo / NZH
Cilla Black on stage at the Auckland Town Hall, 1971. Photo / NZH

Then his niece Linzi - who worked for the police in a support capacity - also died after a battle with cancer last July, horrified at the accusations against him. He attended the funeral, and found himself in the extraordinary position of being surrounded by hundreds of police officers.

"All her colleagues had come to show their respect for Linzi. It was so uplifting for us, as a family."

At Cilla's funeral, her sons asked him to sing, which made him emotional on every level.
It sent a clear message to the world that they did not believe the allegations either.

"Yeah, that was a difficult thing to do. Her boys initially asked me to say something, then they rang up a few days before and said: 'We've got Paul [O'Grady] saying something and Jimmy [Tarbuck] doing this, would you sing something?'

"So I thought I'd sing this song called Faithful One. It's a Christian song and I hadn't sung it for years."

"Tom Jones was there and it's intimidating when Tom's around because he's such a fantastic singer. He should have been up there."

Sir Cliff Richard. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Sir Cliff Richard. Photo / Sarah Ivey

As he got his confidence back, Cliff even managed a series of concert dates in the UK and Ireland. It wasn't easy getting back up on stage.

"I didn't sing for a long time. When I went on tour last year Paul Gambaccini rang me and said: 'You're going on tour? Well you know you won't be able to just start singing.' I said: 'What do you mean, of course I will.' He said: 'No, when my charges were dropped I did something for the BBC and I couldn't get started.'"

"I wasn't sure that would happen, but sure enough, the first show in Killarney, the audience all stood up and applauded and they went on for about a minute and I was on the verge of tears. I was thinking: 'I'm never going to sing.' After that I said to my keyboard player: 'I'll give you the nod when I think I'm going to get choked up, you start playing.'"

Now that the huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders, he is off on a cruise with friends in the Mediterranean on a luxury yacht as the guest of Jackie Caring, wife of retail and restaurant tycoon Richard Caring.

He will be back in the UK for Wimbledon. It's probably fair to assume he might receive more cheers than the players. "I'm not expecting anything," he says modestly.

A new album will be released later in the year and - yes - the Cliff Richard 2017 calendar has already been printed. "I've started the repair," he says. Something of a fitness and health addict, he is on a diet regime eating foods recommended for his blood type - A Positive. It's not necessarily aimed at losing weight, but helping him maintain that youthful reputation he's so famous for.

"I like to do the best I can so that I keep enjoying life. You can age quite well as long as you don't get sick. I think a lot of it's to do with genes."

Mentally, he is building back his strength, too. "I don't know that I'll ever forget all this but I already feel freer than I've felt for two years. It's just a fantastic, euphoric feeling.

It was the support of his family and friends which got Richards through the ordeal. Photo / Getty Images
It was the support of his family and friends which got Richards through the ordeal. Photo / Getty Images

"I don't have to think about these things any more. What helped me was all my friends saying: 'You have nothing to feel guilty about, so don't behave guilty. Head up, walk around, do whatever you want.'"

He wishes Cilla was here to help celebrate. She would have brought the champagne. "It would have been fantastic to share it with her. We'd have had to have cracked open a bottle, no doubt about it," he smiles.

"She would have come in with her heels on; with Cilla there was always high heels. She was fantastic. So full of life. Cilla would have been great to share this with because she was very much on my side."

There is sadness, though, that she died while that "dark cloud" was still overhead. "The people who know me were absolutely devastated," he says.

"That's the thing these accusers don't realise. It's not just me they are having a go at. It is my family. All my friends have been through this with me and been absolutely distraught by it all. It's affected a lot of lives."

At his side throughout were his sister Joan and his close friend, former priest John McElynn who manages his homes and travels with him. It was John who picked him off the floor on the day he collapsed in anguish.

"John was absolutely fantastic," he says. "There are certain people whom you think: 'Would I have got through this if they hadn't been around?'"

It was Gloria Hunniford who recommended the criminal lawyer, Ian Burton - another crucial member of Team Cliff - to him.

"Ian told me he'd never worked with someone like me who seemed to have 100 per cent public support.

"So the public were playing a role without even knowing it - that comforted me."

"John said that when I was on the phone to Ian my whole demeanour changed. He calmed me down and made me think positively. I remember him saying: "It's not a matter of a good case, it's a matter of no case."

"And that's what's happened. There was no case because there was no evidence."

Richard is a clever and well-connected man, and he says the reason he is speaking out so vociferously this week is because he can - and should, on behalf of all those victims of false accusations who cannot.

"I'm in a privileged position. I can afford to go through this. But the average man, a teacher, a dentist, a plumber, if something like this happens and he's innocent then I don't know what advice I'd give other than: "Say what you think, what you remember - and trust that justice will prevail."

"Staying positive is important. That's what I got from my friends -the "head up" thing. If you are not guilty you can keep your head up."

His own head is held high, but the challenge is for him to not let the events of the past 22 months change his relationship with his fans.

"It has changed my approach to life. Not irreparably, I don't think. It's just that I don't think I'm ever going to forget. It won't be possible to."

Even so, he knows that he cannot be paranoid about putting his arm around every young fan who asks for a photo. "You can't be ... just because of a photograph," he says. "I'll have to get past that".

- Daily Mail

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