Cliff Richard has no time to stop

There is one male celebrity who consecutively tops calendar sales in his category year in and year out.

And it’s not Justin Bieber.

Sir Cliff Richard is not only one of the biggest-selling singers in the world but he’s also the man behind the most in-demand male celebrity calendar in the world.

Online retailer Amazon recorded more sales of Richard’s calendar than any other male celebrity in 2010. Sales in 2011 alone topped 4million worldwide.

It’s big business for Richard, whose varying poses in the 2012 edition include the 71-year-old riding on a tractor, swimming with dolphins and shirtless, laying on a white towel getting a back massage in what appears to be a tropical location.

Cheesy? Yes. And Richard is well aware.

‘‘We have fun with it,’’ Richard tells Weekender from New York where he’s in town as a spectator at the US Open tennis tournament.

‘‘It’s a bit like records. You could be number one and then get knocked off by someone else. But it’s still fantastic. It’s become almost like a tradition for people. They expect me to do a calendar and, of course, it’s getting harder and harder.

‘‘I keep saying to the cameraman ‘Look, there’s a limit to how many different ways I can stand’, so I have a good stylist to find me some nice clothes, we pull a few poses.

‘‘One year I had a shot coming out of the pool and it made all the headlines with some people said, ‘It’s not his body. They put Cliff Richard’s head on somebody else’s body’. But it was my body.’’

It’s true, the ‘‘Peter Pan of Pop’’ is in spectacular shape for a man in his eighth decade.

And he has no plans to slow down.

The eternally youthful singer, who released his 89th album Soulicious last year and has 123 single hits to his name, is returning to Australia next February for a national tour, including a concert at Newcastle Entertainment Centre.

Reviews of Richard’s last tour of Australia in 2010 with The Shadows spoke of the singer  ‘‘spinning around on stage like a teenager, showing no signs of turning 70’’.

His good health and physique is the result of regular stints on the tennis court, two glasses of red wine a day and a strict diet.

‘‘The funny thing is I’ve never had a problem with energy and things like that,’’ Richard says.

‘‘I still think that, regardless of your age, what you need to project is the love of what you do and project energy and fun. For me, that’s not difficult to do.’’

Richard says age is a state of mind.

Earlier this month, he tells Weekender, he was in Portugal playing tennis in 44-degree heat at midday.

‘‘I think you can allow yourself to get old and when I say old, I’m 72 this year. So I’m no spring chicken but you don’t have to allow yourself to be old,’’ he says.

‘‘If I sing Move It on stage – my first record I ever made – I still feel 18! I can’t be 72. I don’t know how to be 72 to be honest.’’

Born Harry Rodger Webb in Lucknow, India, on October 14, 1940, Richard spent the first eight years of his life in that country where his father worked for a company that serviced Indian Railways.

Richard recalls growing up listening to his parents’ music: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and big band.

In 1948, the family moved to England where it would be another 10 years before Richard and his group The Drifters emerged in the UK charts for the first time with Move It.

Like most kids at school, Richard was turned on to rock’n’roll by Elvis Presley.

‘‘The first time I heard Elvis it was absolutely inspirational because he was so different to everything else,’’ Richard says.

‘‘Suddenly I heard Elvis singing Heartbreak Hotel and I went ‘What was that? Is it a human?’

‘‘I’ve always said that if there had been no Elvis, there would have been no Cliff Richard.’’

Exactly when Richard decided he wanted to become a rock’n’roll singer isn’t clear.

He always thought it was later in life until a few years ago when he received a letter from an Australian woman who once had a penpal exchange with Richard as a girl at school.

‘‘She gave me a copy of the letter and, would you believe it, it said, ‘My name is Harry Rodger Webb – my original name – I’m 12-and-a-half years old and I go to this school in Cheshunt and my ambition is to be a famous singer’.

‘‘Now, I don’t remember having that feeling when I was 12, and yet there it was written down.’’

In 1958, Richard and The Drifters (who would eventually become The Shadows) released the debut single Move It, which is credited – including by none other than John Lennon – as the first British rock record.

A string of hits followed with Living Doll, Please Don’t Tease, Summer Holiday, A Girl Like You and Do You Wanna Dance.

It was the emergence of The Beatles that saw Richard and The Shadows’ popularity being overshadowed in the early ’60s.

The Shadows split in 1968, leading Richard to set out on a solo career, taking off in the mid-’70s with the album I’m Nearly Famous, which put him back in the charts.

Songs like Devil Woman, We Don’t Talk Any More, Wired For Sound and Some People saw Richard become a certified superstar through to the ’80s and in 1995 the singer became Sir Cliff Richard when he was knighted by the Queen. With Elvis Presley he holds the honour of having made the UK singles chart in every one of its first six decades.

Throughout his career, Richard has maintained a clean-cut image.

He turned to Christianity in the mid ’60s and has never looked back, shunning the excesses associated with rock’n’roll.

‘‘I had a sort of spiritual adventure in the late ’60s and it changed my life. It gave me a whole attitude that I liked and I enjoyed being what I was and so I didn’t do what everyone else did.

‘‘In a way it made me kind of radical because I wasn’t throwing television sets out the window and stuff like that.

‘‘I think the public are way beyond whether we’re married or not married, whether we have a faith or don’t have a faith. I don’t think they care.’’

Richard does not dabble in drugs and the life-long bachelor has never been married.

He has a live-in male companion, which has drawn questions about his sexuality, though Richard has always denied he is gay. In many ways, Richard is a mystery man outside of his music.

What we do know is he loves playing and watching tennis, he has several properties outside of England, including Barbados and New York and owns a boutique winery in Portugal. His private life, though, remains private.

Instead, Richard is happy to enjoy the limelight on stage as a performer and considers himself blessed to still be active in his 54th year as a singer.

‘‘Somehow or other I’ve done the right thing. I’m not even sure what that was but I’m still here,’’ he says.  

Cliff Richard’s Still Reelin’ & A Rockin’ Tour appears at Newcastle Entertainment Centre on February 5. Tickets on sale September 21 at ticketek.com.au.

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