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Cilla Black on her challenging childhood: 'We never ever had a front door!'

EntertainmentCilla Black on her challenging childhood: 'We never ever had a front door!'


Cilla Black and Bobby Willis interviewed in 1993

Once described as the “greatest TV presenter of all time”, few people stole the hearts of the nation quite like Cilla Black. Championed by her close friends The Beatles, she hit the big time in the Sixties with number one singles ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ and ‘You’re My World’, the former of which was the UK’s biggest-selling single by a female artist that decade. Her musical prowess catapulted her into the media spotlight, and she enjoyed a wonderful career spanning some 50 years.

Best known to many as the presenter of entertainment shows Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, Express.co.uk explores the humble beginnings that produced one of the most-loved showbiz stars of years gone by.

How it all began for the woman once dubbed ‘Liverpool’s Cinderella’, then known as Priscilla Maria Veronica White, was anything but glamour and glass slippers.

Born in the Vauxhall district near the banks of the River Mersey on May 27, 1943, Cilla was the daughter of Priscilla Blythen and John Patrick White.

Her upbringing was explored in the recent Channel 5 feature-length documentary ‘Our Cilla: The One and Only’.

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Cilla Black

Cilla Black grew up in Liverpool. (Image: GETTY/CHANNEL 5)

Cilla Black

Cilla Black performing in the early Sixties. (Image: GETTY)

Douglas Thompson, author of the 2012 book ‘Cilla: The Biography’, said: “Cilla started life in a working-class family in Liverpool, a very wartime, post-war upbringing.”

Cilla once said in a TV appearance: “I’m a Scouser born and bred on Scotty Road, next door to a Chinese laundry.

“I lived behind a barber shop and we never, ever had a front door.

“So I didn’t know I was poor, because everybody else was in the same boat.”

Cilla Black

Cilla Black has an early night before leaving for Glasgow, 18th February 1964. (Image: GETTY)

Mr Thompson added: “It was a very community-orientated, we’re all in this together type attitude that everyone took.”

Yet, out of hardship and challenge came some of Cilla’s most cherished qualities.

As her father John struggled to find work as a docker, Cilla witnessed her mother’s determination to do whatever was necessary to succeed.

She once said: “There was a lot of striking, so my mother sold second-hand clothes in a market.

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Cilla Black

Cilla Black talks to a friend in Liverpool’s iconic Cavern Club. (Image: GETTY)

“She was very much her own person and very much, more often than not, the breadwinner of the family.”

Mr Thompson revealed Cilla’s brimming confidence stemmed from watching her mother’s work ethic.

He recalled: “Cilla’s confidence came from watching her mother cope on the stalls, in the sense that she could talk back to anybody who gave her a piece of their mind.

“She could give it back twice as much, and I think Cilla saw that women were not to be downgraded, and could speak up for themselves.

Cilla Black with The Beatles

Cilla stands in between John Lennon and Paul McCartney (Image: GETTY)

“The quick wit stayed with her throughout, and it worked in later years on television.”

Cilla’s mother would take her “two, maybe three times a week” to the local cinema, which ultimately inspired Cilla to her future success.

Cilla’s ability and passion for music became apparent from a young age, with her father a harmonica player and her mother a singer.

Destined to become an entertainer, she landed her first job at Liverpool’s iconic Cavern Club, most famous for its connection with The Beatles.

Her impromptu performances impressed John Lennon and Co, and she was encouraged to begin singing by Liverpool promoter Sam Leach, who booked her first gig at the Zodiac Club on Duke Street.

It was her first appearance in the local music newspaper Mersey Beat that she was mistakenly referred to as ‘Cilla Black’ rather than her real name. She subsequently decided to keep the name.

After a host of top 10 singles in the Sixties, she landed her own BBC variety show, Cilla, in 1968.

Her television career truly took off in the Eighties and Nineties, when Blind Date, Surprise Surprise and The Moment of Truth were all in their prime.

She celebrated 50 years in showbiz in 2013, and passed away two years later at her home.

Such was her connection with the British public, her compilation album The Very Best of Cilla Black topped the UK Albums chart, becoming her first number one album.



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