My life, my way
Over the Cliff
MY LIFE, MY WAY
By Cliff Richard with Penny Junor
Headline Publishing Group. 308 pages. £20.00
This autobiography is ‘an attempt to put the last 50 years into some sort of context, to make sense of some of the extraordinary things that have happened to me and to explain, as best I can, what it has felt like being Cliff Richard.’ Cliff invites you to read this book if ‘you want to know what I really feel about things.’
It tells the story of his early boyhood in India in a ‘God-fearing’ home; their difficult early years in England from 1948, his discovery of rock music and the beginnings of his phenomenal career. We see the progress of that career, his ambition and success, with considerable emphasis on his image, looks, clothes, cars, houses, fans, girlfriends and why he didn’t marry, and his generosity. He says: ‘I made money quite quickly … many people in my business have gone off the rails for this reason... but I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t thank God for all that’s happened to me.’
A chapter is devoted to his conversion in 1966 and the subsequent invitations to speak and sing at meetings and rallies. After a struggle he decided not to give up his career but rather use it to help others and promote Christianity. He has found Christianity incredibly demanding in terms of his ‘thoughts, time and actions’. The press gave him a hard time following his conversion, and have continued to do so. The chapter ‘Filling the Void’ talks about how his priorities changed. He became aware of how wealthy he was and wanted to give something back. He became involved with the Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund (Tearfund) and it was for this charitable work that he was knighted in 1995.
Cliff may have found ‘his way’ in his career, but one wonders at what spiritual cost? He interweaves his Christian beliefs throughout the story of his life but some aspects of his witness are worrying. ‘Now I am less rigid in my interpretation of Christianity.’ He feels there are many areas where compromise is not only desirable but necessary. ‘We should watch what’s happening and keep Christianity relevant.’ For example, on relationships: ‘The world has changed — people don’t always marry, many of them have partners… homosexuality has been legal for more than 30 years. The commitment is what counts — and I’ll leave the judging to God.’ Again, ‘No one’s quite sure what to do any more, but I think the church must come round and see people as they are now. Gone are the days when we assumed loving relationships would be solely between men and women. In the end, I believe, people are going to be judged for what they are as people. What they are sexually is something else that only they can deal with; no one else can…. The couples I’m thinking of committed themselves to each other and they’ve remained committed. So what’s the difference? The church is going to have to decide, and it will have to be really sensitive and wise.’
Not the only way
Cliff believes that it is arrogant to claim that Christianity is the sole provider of truth. He sees that there are all sorts of good and truthful things that come from other philosophies and anyone who genuinely seeks God will find a path. ‘It happens to be the one that works for me … maybe it is the simple logic of Christianity that I, being not very well educated, find so appealing.’
In the early days of his faith he read his Bible regularly and went to church each Sunday. Now he is more relaxed — dipping into the Bible when he feels the need. By his own admission, ‘I stopped going to church regularly a long time ago because it became too difficult. I would tend to be surrounded by people who wanted autographs’. He does emphasise his need to be spiritually fed and that he tried unsuccessfully to overcome the problem. When at his home in Barbados he occasionally goes to a Catholic church — ‘I really enjoy it and I like taking communion — I feel it brings me close to Jesus’.
In summary, the book provides an interesting account of the life of a successful celebrity, and of the pressures on a Christian in show business, but lacks the depth that we might have hoped to see in the life of a high profile Christian. In many ways it is a lost opportunity to get the message of the gospel across to his many fans, and to acknowledge the hand of God in his success which he instead puts down to having ‘been born with that indefinable X factor’. He says, ‘When it comes to how I achieved all this I’m as puzzled as anyone. I do have a few theories, however — and I have been lucky’.