Best and Worst of Times: Rocky road to Blighty for the Bachelor Boy: Cliff Richard talks to Danny Danziger
Monday 17 October 1994
My father worked for a catering firm, and his company provided him with a big apartment and servants. It was a real cushy number. One of our servants would come along to my school to serve me wonderful lunches, and when I had finished, he'd take everything home again.
When I was about seven, just before home rule, there was a threatening, uncomfortable atmosphere in the country. It was time to get out. So my parents made plans to go to England. They had always talked about 'coming back home to Blighty', although they had never been there, and I realised with a shock that somehow they had never thought of India as home. I had two younger sisters, and almost everything we had was spent on buying the passages across for the five of us. We arrived in England with just pounds 5.
When they found out at my new school that I came from India, and because I was dark and swarthy, I was teased and bullied the whole time. So I learnt how to fight. I fought day in and day out then - I used to come home black and blue. I can remember burning a boy's wrist to the bone by rubbing it on the playground. It horrifies me to think I could have done that - I couldn't do it now, and I'm not proud of it, but the bullying stopped after that.
We rented a tiny room in a house next to my grandmother, and the five of us lived in that one room for a year. We didn't have our own toilet, so we were using chamber pots. It was our bedroom, and our kitchen, too - we had a paraffin stove, on which Mum cooked porridge in the morning. At night, we'd go to my grandmother's for dinner.
I didn't mind living at such close quarters, because it was like camping out. But I can remember my mother crying a lot, and my Dad would say: 'Don't worry, it will get better, we'll get ourselves out of this mess.' But pretty soon there were six of us living in the room, when my sister Joan was born.
Because my Mum had to go out working, I was taught how to make Joan's bottle, and do her feed.
Eventually, the local health inspectors came and looked at our living arrangements. They said: 'You can't possibly live like this,' and put us at the top of the waiting list for a council house.
The council house felt like a palace - although we had to wait for my father to build our first lot of furniture. We never had holidays, and we couldn't afford a car - we were far too poor. But my sisters and I used to go round with the other kids on the estate; there were great woodland areas to go rambling around, we made our own catapult, and saved up for the elastic, and all that was fantastic fun.
At the bottom of our little street was a big chestnut tree. We used to run up to it, jump as high as we could, and then throw a stick at the tree to get the conkers down. One of my recurring dreams was that I'd jumped - and stayed up - and found that I could fly by flapping my arms, which was a wonderful dream to have at that time.
When my father fell ill, I became the breadwinner. I left school at 16, and got a job in an office. I was called a credit control clerk, but I was making tea mostly. I don't suppose my mind was on it, really - all I wanted to be was Elvis.
A year later, I made my first record. 'Move It' was released in August 1958, and soon entered the charts, so I gave in my notice. When a cheque for pounds 50 came in, the first thing I bought was a television set for my father. It wasn't long before we moved to a bigger house. A few years later we moved to a mansion, which my Dad would have loved, but he never made it.
My sisters and I talk about our childhood a lot, and none of us remembers being unhappy. I think that's a great pat on the back for Mum and Dad - they must have done something right.
Cliff Richard is marking his 35 years in the music industry with a British concert tour, which begins next month.
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