Today of all days, people throughout the UK will be looking around for a saviour. The person who most closely fits the bill, according to a new academic study, is Sir Cliff Richard.
The research, published in the Cambridge University Press journal Popular Music, says Sir Cliff's song lyrics, photographs, stage lighting and performances all reinforce his image as a latter-day messiah. "Cliff Richard seems to have established a remarkably consistent public persona which presents him as a friend in need, a bridge to happiness and, hence, a figure modelling itself on Jesus Christ," it says.
The study, which many will find hard to swallow and some will find offensive, says: "The relationship between him and his fans appears to rely to a considerable degree on the myth of redemption which the singer offers and the fan seeks."
Sir Cliff is one of the most successful performers in British pop music history, with 14 UK No 1 singles, surpassed only by Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Westlife. He is also widely known for his strong Christian faith, which is reflected in many of his recordings.
The author of the work, Anja Löbert, a sociologist affiliated with the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, found that Sir Cliff's song lyrics show repeated themes of redemption, incorruptibility and undying love, presenting the singer as a redeeming friend. "It is not so much the question whether or not Richard is merely pursuing missionary endeavours as a Christian by means of this poetry, or whether he is, in fact, presenting himself as the Saviour," says the study.
It cites a number of official images of the star that have religious connotations: "Both arms are spread out at an angle of 110 degrees from the body and reach out towards the sun. The palms of his hands are opened, the face entirely bathed in sunlight. The figure is photographed from a low angle camera perspective through a transparent sky.''
Ms Löbert makes it clear that Sir Cliff is careful not to suggest that he is Jesus: "The message is not so much 'I am the Saviour' as 'I am a saviour (of some sort)'." Nevertheless, she adds: "The semantic proximity to Jesus is evident: he remained unmarried and is normally neither represented nor perceived as a sexually desiring or desirable being.'' No comment was available from Sir Cliff at press time.