Sir Cliff Richard on why he'll always love Surrey, 50 years in show business and staying in shape

Looking fit, healthy and full of vigour, Sir Cliff Richard is celebrating an amazing 50 years in show business. Here, he talks to Janet Harmer about his latest tour, how he stays in shape and why he chose to make his home here in Surrey

His career may have taken him all over the world, but for Sir Cliff Richard it's Surrey that will always be home. Having lived for many years in St George's Hill, Weybridge, he now has a house in Virginia Water (more on that later), but his first memories of the county go back to 1948. It was then that he and his family - father Rodger, mother Dorothy, and two sisters, five-year-old Donna and Jacqui, ten months - arrived in Britain from India, where he had been born eight years earlier.

"We moved into a rented room in a house next door to my grandmother in Windborough Road, Carshalton," says the 68-year-old, during a rare break from rehearsals for his current Time Machine tour. "I particularly remember the great excitement we felt on rushing to the window and seeing snow for the first time."

How things have changed since those early days in Surrey when Cliff's family were virtually destitute. His father had sold everything they owned in India to raise the money for their passage to the UK, and they arrived with just �5.


The current tour

In contrast, today he enjoys a life of enormous wealth and privilege following 50 successful years in show business, which he is currently celebrating with the aforementioned 14-date UK tour. 

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His career is unprecedented in the world of pop music, during which he has recorded an incredible 148 singles, 80 albums and 11 compilations. He has had a No 1 hit record in every one of the six decades of his career and has performed a record number of concerts all over the world.

Despite being at an age when he could so easily sit back and enjoy a comfortable retirement, he is bursting with energy and excited about future concert dates, which have just been pencilled in for 2009. So what continually drives him to perform and record?

"I suppose it's because I just love it and I'm always trying to achieve perfection," he explains. "I'm constantly thinking: can the next concert be better than the last?"

Striving for the perfect performance means that Cliff is rigorous when it comes to rehearsals. Leading up to the Time Machine tour, he rehearsed solidly for five weeks, spending every morning with his band and afternoons on choreography. Such dedication and physical demands would faze many performers half his age, but Cliff takes it all very much in his stride.

"I don't have to do anything special to get myself into shape for a tour like this as I'm blessed with good health and my energy levels are always high," he says. "I'm very active, playing tennis three times a week and going to the gym, and when I'm asked to do something, I can usually do it at a drop of a hat.  

"I eat according to my blood type - group A - on a diet devised by an American naturopath, Dr Peter D'Adamo. As a result, I'm now eating more than ever but not putting on any weight. Also, since I started the regime, over a year and a half ago, I've never felt more positive."

The only downside of the diet is that there are ten foods Cliff has to avoid. So, the likes of red meat, shellfish, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, mangoes, papayas, cashew nuts, dairy and wheat are all off the menu - though, every once in a while, he admits to enjoying a fillet steak.

"Drinking soya milk, though, isn't a problem," he says. "In fact, one of my favourite treats is mixing strawberry and chocolate flavoured soya milk together. It's delicious and full of protein."


Return to Surrey

His diet today is certainly a far cry from the food he ate during his early years in England, when the main meal three times a week was two slices of toast with tea poured over them and sugar sprinkled on top.  

Although his family only remained in Carshalton for about a year - moving on to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, where a third sister, Joan, was soon to be born - Cliff eventually returned to live in Surrey in 1973 and has retained a house in the county ever since.

He was introduced back to Surrey by his then tour manager, David Bryce, who lived with his wife Jean in Weybridge. On many occasions, he would hang out at their home in preference to a glitzy showbiz party in London and quickly came to love the area. He asked Jean to find him a house and soon after moved into Feather Green, a property he bought for �74,000, in St George's Hill.

Cliff remained at the house for 14 years before moving to Charters, a grander property in St George's Hill, that he bought for �1.5m in 1987. Then, in 2006, with more and more time being spent in one of his three properties abroad in Portugal, Barbados or New York, he decided to downsize and moved to a three-bedroom bungalow in Wentworth, Virginia Water.


Wonderful Weybridge

"I initially moved to Weybridge because I love the fact that, although it's in the suburbs, it's like a village and is surrounded by lots of other cute village-like places such as Byfleet and Cobham," he says. "Then, just a short distance away, are beautiful 'real' villages like Shere and Gomshall.

"At the same time, Surrey is a very convenient place to live, being close to London and the airports. But the traffic has got a lot worse over the years - when I first moved to Weybridge, it took 45 minutes to get into the centre of London, but now we have to allow an hour and a half."

He has a good circle of friends around St George's Hill and Virginia Water, and has had strong connections with the Christian community in Surrey, especially in Walton-on-Thames. The preacher David Pawson, who was formerly at the Millmead Centre in Guildford, has also had an influence on his thinking.

"One of my backing singers introduced me to a vibrant evangelical church in Walton, but it became difficult to attend church locally, because I was always singled out," he says. "I wanted to go to church as a Christian and not to be thought of as Cliff Richard. But I understand the difficulties.

"When I was in church once in Barbados and Andrew Lloyd Webber came, I was just as interested as everyone else. It helped me understand that people are interested if a well-known person is among them - and there's nothing wrong with that."  

As well as being his home for many years, Surrey is also the base of the Cliff Richard Organisation, the management company that co-ordinates all his work and charity activities. The office, which he describes as "very happy", is in Claygate and employs five staff, all of whom he regards as friends.

Numerous Surrey charities have been supported over the years through the Cliff Richard Charitable Trust, either through donations or by Cliff making personal visits to schools, churches, hospitals and homes for special needs children. The Chertsey-based White Lodge Centre for children, young people and adults with disabilities, and the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, for instance, are just two such beneficiaries.

His passion for tennis - encouraged by his former girlfriend, tennis player turned sports broadcaster Sue Barker - also led him to found the Cliff Richard Tennis Foundation, which has since become part of the charitable wing of the Lawn Tennis Association. Every Christmas, he hosts a dinner at Hampton Court to raise money for the charity's work in the community. Last year, they raised some �150,000 and this year's event will be on December 9.


Plans for next year

After spending Christmas in New York, Cliff is looking ahead to 2009 when the major event of the year will be a reunion tour with The Shadows in the autumn.  

"It will be fantastic to get back with the Shadows - they were such an essential part of my career for ten glorious years. We have been trying to get together again for some time, but it has been very difficult to do as we're all doing different things and in different places."


My Favourite Surrey

Restaurant: La Capanna in Cobham

Shop: Not Just Silver - a jewellery shop in Weybridge

View: The view of the River Thames from Shepperton

Place to chill: At home!

Place to visit: Wisley Gardens