Little did I think that I would be working for the star of Summer Holiday, whose path to the film's premiere in Leicester Square was blocked by tens of thousands of screaming girls. I still sometimes pinch myself in disbelief, but you have to take hold of yourself when you are working for someone famous; the star-struck thing has to go out of the window.
Mind you, Cliff has his own heroes and heroines, too. I remember once bumping into Sue Nicholls from Coronation Street when shopping with Cliff in Manchester, and both of them turned to jelly. It was very cute.
I have a theatre background and worked as company manager on a number of musicals, including Oliver!, Cats and then Time, starring Cliff, which was how we met.
I found him a consummate professional - intelligent, down to earth and not suffering fools gladly. I had worked with many celebrities before and knew he could have been a cocky little devil. But I honestly thought, "Hey, this guy is even nicer than he seems on screen."
Becoming disillusioned with the theatre, I decided to go back to my Welsh roots and run a retreat for actors. Then one night 12 years ago, Cliff's manager rang to ask me whether I would come to have a chat with the two of them. Cliff had apparently enjoyed working with me and now needed a PA, although he didn't think I would be interested. Little did he know that his offer couldn't have come at a better time.
My job is to allow Cliff to wake up in the morning without any worries about the day ahead. I don't run his life but I do help with his agenda - which may include making engagements with VIPs, booking in an hour of tennis, and sorting out restaurants, shows and shopping trips. I've even set up auditions for him and helped with his catering.
When I am on tour I may well be asked to take up the roles of many of my colleagues back at the office, and my day ends when Cliff's asleep. I'm a bit of an all-rounder. I also act as his driver and sometimes his escort, especially to the movies. Cliff used to believe that visiting cinemas would be a hassle because he would be recognised, but I managed to find a friendly projectionist who could sneak us in by the back door so we can watch a film in peace. The funny thing is that when I went to Euro Disney with him I was the one who was asked for autographs, because I bear such a resemblance to Elton John; even Elton himself agrees.
Cliff and I have a professional, working relationship, but we also have a friendship. Trust is important; I need to be able to understand when he needs to talk abut something and when he doesn't. The worst thing I ever had to do was to break the news of Jill Dando's murder to him. It was a terrible time, because everyone in the office had known her.
That tragedy also made me more fearful about Cliff's safety. On one occasion I was absolutely terrified that he was about to be attacked by a man who jumped up on stage and ran towards Cliff with his fist clenched. The man turned out to be just an overwhelmed Christian who wanted to thank Cliff for all that he had done, but it gave us a scare.
I would describe my rapport with Cliff as one where I know my place, yet I'm still the joker of the pack. In this business one needs to have a sense of humour and I like to surprise Cliff, particularly if he is down about a nasty piece of criticism. One night, for example, I arranged a "blind date" with Liz Dawn, who plays Vera Duckworth in Coronation Street. She hid behind the wings at the end of his show and sang "The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music" to him - we all had a hilarious time together.
People endlessly speculate about Cliff's being a bachelor, particularly the tabloids, which constantly ask "is he or isn't he?" But I can tell you that there is no hidden agenda in his life. Often I think that some of his lady friends would make nice wives for him, but he's happy as he is. He is so much of a public institution that he doesn't have much time for a private life; however he does a lot of entertaining, which I will join in with if required. He recently held a dinner party where the starter was cooked by me, the main course by him and the pudding by Gloria Hunniford. He's also a big fan of our local fish and chip shop, much to the delight of the staff.
The thing that set Cliff apart was his coming out as a Christian. Most people think Christianity and rock'n'roll don't go together, but why can't it be cool to be a Christian, and does it have to be sinful to be sexy?
I was at Top of the Pops the other night and watched the kids rocking around to Cliff's "Millennium Prayer". Yet the industry continues to criticise him for making the song. What do they want from him - cocaine-sniffing and orgies? A mate of mine rang up and said to me, "Tell Cliff that I am sick and tired of people knocking him. I'm a bloody atheist but that song is great."
Although you don't have to be a Christian to work for Cliff, I am and we sometimes debate religion together, but he never Bible-bashes.
In all the years he has been in the business Cliff's had little time off, but he's treating 2000 as a sabbatical. None of us know how it will work out, or whether we shall be needed. I'm just glad that the rumours of his taking a double-decker bus across Australia are untrue, because I would probably have been chosen as the driver.
Katie SampsonReuse content