I wasn’t sexy and I knew I never would be

But she does ad­mit that she was ruth­less and would love to be more of a diva like her idol Shirley Bassey. As a new drama re­lives her rise from the Liver­pool streets to star­dom, Cilla Black re­veals all to

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FEATURE -

unny the things you for­get on the road to fame and for­tune. Cilla Black was star­tled to be re­minded how wonky her teeth were back in the day. When she saw the ac­tress Sheri­dan Smith ‘be’ her in a new drama about her early days, it was the teeth that stuck out. Lit­er­ally. ‘They had a false set made up for her, mod­elled on what mine looked like at the time,’ she says, rolling her eyes. The early Cilla teeth were cer­tainly, erm, dis­tinc­tive. ‘The front two were kind of crossed over,’ she says, try­ing and fail­ing to con­vey the idea with her fin­gers. ‘How Sheri­dan man­aged to sing in those, I’ll never know.’

‘She got me down to a T. The singing was ter­rific. When she did Any­one Who Had A Heart, she was in tune at the fade­out. I wasn’t. I re­mem­ber record­ing it and lis­ten­ing to the play­back with George Martin and say­ing, “George, I’m flat there, I’m just un­der­neath the note.” He said, “It’s fine; it’s soul, Cilla.” What he meant was he didn’t want to pay the mu­si­cians for another record­ing ses­sion.’

Over the years the story of how Cilla, from Liver­pool’s in­fa­mous Scottie Road, rose to pop, then TV star­dom has be­come ter­ri­bly twee in the telling. The tales about how she used to do Ringo’s mum’s hair and how John Len­non called her Cyril are true, but have been told to death, surely? The sur­pris­ing thing about Cilla, the three-part TV se­ries (‘Three!’ shrieks the woman her­self. ‘My first re­ac­tion was I didn’t know there was enough ma­te­rial for one’), is how fresh the story seems. Per­haps this is be­cause, far from fo­cus­ing on the Bea­tles con­nec­tion, the story is more about Cilla and her re­la­tion­ship with her teeth and her nose (the lat­ter she also had fixed, as soon as the money started pour­ing in), and the two most im­por­tant men in her life – her fu­ture hus­band Bobby Wil­lis, and Brian Ep­stein, the pop guru who made her a star.

Bobby, who died in 1999 from can­cer, was her man­ager – and her rock. They mar­ried in 1969 and he was al­ways at her side. What wasn’t as well known was that Bobby him­self had had a chance of fame – which Cilla or­dered him to turn down. Some­how she’s not as shocked at this por­trayal of down­right cal­lous­ness as she is by her teeth. ‘Well, it was true,’ she says, when I say the young Cilla came across as as­ton­ish­ingly ruth­less. ‘I was ruth­less, but you had to be in those days, es­pe­cially as a woman. When it came to Bobby, yes, I gave him an ul­ti­ma­tum. I said, “There’s only room for one ego here and I’ve got it.” The ego had landed, more or less.’

Bobby ha d a won­der­ful voice, she says. ‘ He sounded a bit like Johnny Mathis. He was a bet­ter singer than I was – but he couldn’t do it on stage.’ She says she knew if Bobby him­self pur­sued a mu­si­cal ca­reer, their re­la­tion­ship would be over, and with it, prob­a­bly, her ca­reer. ‘We’d have gone our sep­a­rate ways. I’m con­vinced of that.’ Did Bobby re­sent that, though? ‘Prob­a­bly,’ she ad­mits.

He also had trou­ble with her diva-ish ten­den­cies, even then.

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