John Sturgis

The strange return of Cilla Black

What exactly do the young see in her?

  • From Spectator Life
(Getty Images)

She was an unlikely contender for fame from the outset, with a pub singer voice and a nose so  prominent she would later have it surgically reduced. But, with her Scouser-next-door persona and trademark cropped hair, Cilla Black was in the right place at the right time: she rode the popular wave created by Beatlemania and its attendant appetite for all things Liverpudlian. This led to national stardom as a singer.

Then, when her pop career waned, instead of disappearing into obscurity, Cilla managed to relaunch herself into a spectacular second career as one of the biggest names at the lighter end of TV light entertainment. Now, some nine years after her death, Cilla has achieved her most unlikely success yet – by becoming a household name among gen Z.  

‘Her whole persona was about being friendly and outgoing which must have been exhausting to keep up’

I first became aware of this strange phenomenon when we made our annual family trip to panto, the excellent Charles Court Opera’s The Odyssey at the Jermyn Street Theatre. This featured a skit in which a woman pretended to be a man pretending to be a woman, a Scouse woman, to perform a drag queen turn as a grotesque and foul-mouthed Cilla – to uproarious laughter. 

I fully expected to have to explain to our son and daughter, aged 17 and 24, whom they had been lampooning. Instead, I discovered that both were familiar with her oeuvre: ‘Everyone knows Cilla Black,‘ they told me. Imagine my surprise. Or should I say, my surprise, surprise.

To be fair, I had already noticed that Cilla seemed to be popping up a lot recently in my various  social media feeds, but I had hitherto assumed that this was some sort of personalised algorithmic punishment for some forgotten moment of curiosity about her on Google. But

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