In his darkest days, Sir Cliff stood up in church and sang Faithful One at the funeral of his closest friend Cilla Black.
She had been his rock after he faced false allegations of historical sexual offences.
But after suffering a stroke in her Spanish villa, aged 72, she never lived to see him cleared or win his case against the BBC’s coverage of the police raid on his home.
Three years later, as Cilla’s family celebrate what would have been her 55th year in showbiz, Sir Cliff has joined her in a new duet, singing You’re My World alongside Cilla’s 1964 vocals.
For her eldest son Robert Willis, the song – on the tribute album Cilla With The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – is the perfect way to mark Cilla’s landmark and the end of Sir Cliff’s ordeal.
Pop singers Cilla Black (left), Cliff Richard and Lulu at the height of their fame
(Image: Getty Images)
- Cilla Black’s son wept as he discovered lost tape of mum performing lullaby she sung to him as a child
Robert, 47, says: “It was terrible what he has been through. He has had a very turbulent time and, amazingly, he’s come out of it.
“Mum would have been delighted to have duetted with him. She was incredibly loyal and protective of her friends.
"She loved Cliff and would have been really thrilled for him that he was vindicated on every front.”
Cilla and Cliff first sang together in the 1960s, their duets including Passing Strangers in 1968 and Walk On By in 1969.
Cliff and Cilla first sang together in the 1960s
- Cilla Black’s son says he sleeps in the room where she died to keep his mum’s memory alive
As Robert grew up, Cliff was almost part of the extended family.
He says: “He’s a wonderful guy, really loving. The fact that he did this song while everything was going on… I’m so grateful to him. It was very emotional hearing it.”
Sir Cliff emerged from a four-year ordeal in July, winning £210,000 damages from the BBC for its live broadcast of a 2014 police raid on his house over sex abuse claims.
Sir Cliff and Cilla were firm friends for decades
(Image: Getty Images Europe)
Now able to focus on the future, Sir Cliff, 78, says the chance to sing with Cilla again was “a privilege”.
On August 1, 2015, Cilla passed away in her villa in Estepona, Spain. She had spent the morning with Robert, he then went out for the day, only to return at 5.30pm and find her collapsed on the terrace.
The coroner found she had died of a rare stroke caused by a fall, between 12.30pm and 2.30pm.
So how does Robert handle those feelings of “what if?”
He says: “The thing is, you don’t really question the close calls in our lives. We’ve all had things that have happened where it could have gone either way. It was just her time. She had an incredible life.”
Cilla Black and her son Robert in Sydney
Robert and brothers Ben, 44, and Jack, 38, refused to sell the villa as it was so special to Cilla and their dad Bobby, who died from lung and liver cancer, aged 57, in 1999.
But when they sold the family home in Denham, Bucks, they unearthed photos, including a fun one of Cilla and Bobby posing at the Sydney Opera House.
Robert says: “I’m at that point now where if I see a TV clip or a photo of her it makes me smile. I just remember the good times.
“She was there because of her force of personality and character.”
- Cilla With The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is out now.
Showbiz and TV editor’s picks
Holly breaks silence
Hollyoaks star pregnant
Kim Porter’s grieving son
I’m A Celebrity camp exposed