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The Dreamer: An Autobiography

by Cliff Richard

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Cliff Richard never met Elvis Presley, the man who turned him on to rock’n’roll when he heard Heartbreak Hotel juddering from a car radio in Waltham Cross, but there were a couple of near misses.

In June 1959, during a holiday driving through Europe, Richard knocked on the door of the house in Germany where serving US soldier Presley was stationed and introduced himself as a “singer from England”. “Elvis isn’t here right now,” he was gruffly informed. Seventeen years later a journalist offered to engineer a meeting. Richard declined: he didn’t want a photograph with “Fat Elvis”; he would wait until his hero was “back in shape”.

After Presley’s death, though, Richard organised a duet on his 101st album, Just…Fabulous Rock ’n’ Roll and had an artist paint him and Presley. “He did a great job,” Richard writes with the glinting positivity that characterises The Dreamer, “we look as if we are on stage together.”

As that portrait underlines, the Cliff universe is a curious one. The Dreamer aims for a breezy account of the 80-year-old’s life, yet many of these pages feel gritted and clenched, the testimony of someone who respects his good fortune, but can’t quite shake a deep suspicion that he’s been hard done by. In certain respects he has: the traditional smirking speculation over his personal life darkened in 2014 when allegations were made of a sexual assault in 1985. From a hotel in Portugal, Richard watched, horrified, as BBC News showed officers raiding his Berkshire home. He was never arrested and investigations were dropped, with Richard later winning a privacy case against the BBC, yet it is an interlude that clouds The Dreamer, real-world menace impinging on a carefully curated life. Richard describes his pain: his early-hours terrors and a “meltdown” on his kitchen floor while being comforted by his friend, the former Catholic priest John McElynn.

This, then, is striking new material, but The Dreamer is not his first memoir — 2008’s My Life, My Way was written with the royal biographer Penny Junor. Elsewhere Richard chattily fills in the well-known narrative outlines: his childhood in India, the genteel poverty of an adolescence in Green Line-bus suburbia, life as a teenage accounts clerk, the Elvis-guided desire to become a famous singer that led him into beatnik-era Soho and the world of postwar variety.

“Before Cliff and Move It, there was nothing worth listening to in British music,” said John Lennon — Richard quotes him proudly — but music fans hoping for potent recollections of a British youth explosion might be disappointed by his slick memories (and probably able to guess that the 2i’s Coffee Bar in Soho had a “rich coffee aroma”).

You wish he could loosen his grip on the story a little more, but then The Dreamer suggests he doesn’t really do relaxed. If critical acclaim and credibility eluded him — in 1966 the newly Christian star sat a religious studies O-level while all around him were blowing their minds — he is determined to stress two areas in which he indubitably excels: sales and longevity.

He confesses to his competitive nature and he gleefully shares the rumour that he only came second in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest because General Franco rigged it. He also thinks he won the punk wars. “The Sex Pistols couldn’t play, and Johnny Rotten was certainly well-named when it came to his singing! It came as no surprise to me when punk didn’t last very long.”

It’s a book studded with passive-aggressive “just kidding” exclamation marks, no joke without ire. At times you almost check for Steve Coogan in the ghostwriting wings: the conversation with Tony Blair about WMD, for example, or memories of his friend Jill Dando (“she could do any accent — Scottish, Welsh, Indian — perfectly”).

Fans will want this book on their Christmas lists, but for more dispassionate readers The Dreamer can almost feel like speculative fiction, a portal into a world where the Beatles never happened; acid and the Maharishi replaced by tennis and Gloria Hunniford. It’s fascinating in a way, but, like that painting of Richard and Presley together at last, not the best way to rewrite rock’n’roll history.

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