I was born in 1955. ‘Anyone who had a heart’ was top of the pops when I was 9. My elder sister was very keen on Top of the Pops, and on the charts – they never quite grabbed me in the same way, and I firmly diverted my loyalties from pop to classical and folk music in my mid-teens. But Cilla was different. She touched my heart and moved me. I knew her songs, and I felt I knew her: she was magic. I loved to sing her songs loudly and confidently. Go on, try: learn from her hit version of ‘Alfie‘ or watch this behind-the-scenes video. Don’t you want to be Cilla? I guess I have always wanted to be Cilla … she gave hope to so many little girls that we too could reach for the stars. But I soon realized I couldn’t sing like that .
There were other women pop singers then who were fantastic: Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Petula Clark. Pop music had a number of iconic women, though I don’t think we would have called them that. People much younger than me think of Cilla as the compere of Blind Date, a warm and cuddly Liverpudlian, representing the girl next door, Everywoman, as we’d like her to be. But there can’t have been much that was ordinary about Cilla. She was determined, professional, hard-working, and genuinely herself – a person of instinctual integrity, who seems, despite the temptations of that glitzy world, to have retained her values. She was never pompous.
I have been gripped by nostalgia today (her funeral), along with so many people, not for Cilla the TV presenter, but Cilla the singer who continued a successful career over many decades, juggling career and family; not effortlessly – it was doubtless a huge effort. Cilla who had the confidence to be herself: to sing, to know that she could do it, even in a man’s world. And Cilla who adapted her career: juggling family and many other commitments. And who continued, despite fame, to be loyal, friendly, witty and down to earth.
Would she be pleased that a Cambridge academic aged 60 spent today feeling nostalgic for what she felt she owed to Cilla? I think she would have laughed and given me a hug, if she could. And she would have been delighted. (But there are too many of us queuing up for that hug). I’ll keep her in my personal gallery of feminist icons. (And of course I don’t really wish I’d been Cilla! I hope I’ve been me).