Entertainment & Arts

Cilla Black: 'I don't want to see a 70-year-old on TV'

Cilla Black Image copyright PA
Image caption Cilla Black scored two number one hits in 1964 with Anyone Who Had a Heart and You're My World

TV presenter Cilla Black is to be honoured at this year's TV Baftas in recognition of her 50-year career.

Starting out as a singer, she recorded songs by Lennon and McCartney, and went on to present ITV's Saturday night staples Blind Date and Surprise Surprise.

This autumn, her rise to fame will be portrayed in a three-part drama, starring Sheridan Smith as the flame-haired Liverpudlian.

Before she collects her award on Sunday, Cilla talked to the BBC about her stellar career, why TV bosses called her "sexless", and how she became a feminist without realising.

How did you find out you were getting the Bafta?

Well, I heard from my son Robert that they wanted to honour me, and I thought, "why?". Blind Date, got [a Bafta] 20 years ago and I thought that was it. I've got a Bafta for the whole production team of Blind Date and rightly so. But I was very flattered. Very honoured.

You've had a really long time to prepare for your speech now. Is that nerve wracking?

No, I don't get nervous, not when I'm being honoured just for being alive. Because basically that's what it is, however you dress it up!

How does it make you feel?

Old. Really old! I'm 71 at the end of this month. I never thought I'd be here today.

Why not?

Because a pop singer's life, in my day, was only three years at best.

Image caption Cilla's first TV show ran from 1968-1972 on BBC One, with guests including Cliff Richard
Image caption Val Doonican was among the other singers who duetted with the star
Image caption Black rehearsing with fellow entertainer Bruce Forsyth for The Cilla Show in 1973

Do you still get many offers of work?

Yes I do, but I'm a lady of leisure. I'm 71, living disgracefully. I can't get over Lily Allen being partied out at her young age! I'm still partying!

Going back to the TV shows you are still probably best known for, Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, I read you were chosen for Blind Date as you were seen as a very sexless person?

I was still singing then. I went on tour to Australia and there was a show called Perfect Match on the telly. It really bugged me. I thought "why isn't this on our television back home?"

[ITV producer] Alan Boyd said: "Well, we tried to pass it through the Independent Broadcasting Authority but they wouldn't pass it because of its sexual connotations."

Then a few days later, I had a phone call from the same Alan Boyd, and he said: "I've thought of an idea how to pass it by the IBA. I thought 'who is the most sexless person on television?', and I thought of you!" That's a true story.

Image copyright Rex / ITV
Image caption At the height of its popularity in the 1980s, Blind Date was watched by 18 million people every Saturday night
Image copyright Rex / ITV
Image caption Surprise Surprise specialised in reuniting family members and couples separated during the war

Do you think television has changed for women now? They wouldn't get someone who was viewed as "sexless" to host a show like Blind Date.

Look, as long as they've got talent I don't care. You must have talent. But [if you have] a 70-year-old and a 25-year-old with the same talent, I'm going to watch the 25-year-old! I don't want to see a 70-year-old on television.

Do you feel that people of your age and generation are under-represented on television?

Please, I've had my time [laughs]. Look, I'm going to enjoy myself. If it be in television then so be it, but I've had my time.

Sheridan Smith is playing you on screen later this year. Have you spoken to her about it?

I've met her and we went out to dinner. She turned up at my flat with this red hair and it was like looking at a young Cilla! I was bowled over.

It must have been strange for you... Was she studying your mannerisms for her performance?

Well we exchanged telephone numbers. I said: "You're filming in Liverpool, if there is anything that you're unsure about, just give me a bell." I haven't heard from her, so it must have gone right!

Is there anything in the drama that will shock people?

They'll probably be shocked about how many rows I had with [my husband] Bobby. They'll be shocked about that but it was only because I was passionate about my career. I come over quite selfish I think, and Bobby - how he stood it, I don't know.

Did your ego ever get too big? Did you go through a diva phase?

Oh yes! I even sat in my dad's chair when I went back to Liverpool. And he just said: "Hey you - up!"

There's only one regret, and that's America. I did the Ed Sullivan show more than once with the Beatles and they tried to break me there. Now it wouldn't be any problem but in them days you had to live there to be a success, so I was a wuss. I bottled out and I was homesick and I came home.

Were you not tempted to try again in the 1980s?

Well, I had children then and they were off to school and I was doing TV, which fitted nicely into my private life.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Her husband and manager Bobby Willis with their newborn son Robert John, in 1970

You were everywhere on TV in the '80s and '90s. Was that hard for your sons?

I remember one day my son, our Robert, was looking at me on the settee and looking at me on the television, and then all of a sudden he said: "Why don't you bring that pretty mummy home with you?"

And I thought: "Oh dear, I'm going to have to dress up at home now as well!"

Do you think it's a myth that women can have it all?

Well I did it, didn't I? I have it all. I'm living proof.

You know, when people ask me do I believe in feminism - well, I didn't even know I was a feminist. I was the top of the bill, I've always been the top of the bill. So I don't know what equality is.

You never had any wobbles? Was it never hard to balance work with raising a family?

No I always wanted a family, in fact, I wanted six children.

Your kids must have been good sleepers, then!

Well no, I had a lot of trouble with Ben because he was demand-fed. Robert was the perfect baby. If I would've had Ben first, I wouldn't have had any more!

The great Kenny Everett used to send me messages [on the radio] at 2 o'clock in the morning: "This is for Cilla, she's just about brillo-ing the baby's bum right now." And he'd dedicate a song to me. It was fabulous!

Image caption The star set her sights on show business after a school report labelled her "suitable for office work"
Image caption Even the dogs had perms in the 1970s

You said you're ageing disgracefully. Have you tried anything like Botox or plastic surgery?

No, but I'm thinking about it. I would never have Botox but I'm thinking about fillers. You know, this looks pretty good [but] I think I'm a bit old now. What you see is what you get.

Have you reached the point, like your friend Ringo Starr, where you've stopped doing autographs?

No, if I go out I expect it. To do the autographs and the new thing, the selfie. I don't like the selfie because it's too close. There ain't no people with arms long enough to do a selfie of me.

Cilla Black receives Bafta's special award on Sunday 18 May. The ceremony will be screened on BBC One.

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