Cilla Black: Christopher Biggins recalls husband’s death
Priscilla Maria Veronica White, otherwise known as Cilla Black, was a much-loved singer, television presenter and actress. Championed by fellow Scousers and close friends the Beatles, she began her career as a singer in 1963, and secured a number of top 10 hits on the UK singles charts. Alongside a successful recording career, Cilla hosted her own TV show — Cilla — and hosted a number of entertainment shows such as Blind Date and Surprise Surprise.
This year marks seven years since her tragic death at her holiday home in the Spanish town of Estepona.
A recent Channel 5 feature-length documentary told Cilla’s story with rare and never-before-seen footage and interviews from those who knew her best.
‘Our Cilla: The One and Only’ explored the relationship with her manager, Bobby Willis, who she married in January 1969 and Marylebone Town Hall.
They were married for 30 years until he died from cancer in October 1999. Cilla had to contemplate a life without him by her side.
Cilla Black’s life fell apart when she lost ‘everything’
Cilla Black and her husband and manager Bobby Willis on their wedding day.
Christopher Biggins, Cilla’s co-presenter on Surprise Surprise, told the documentary: “Bobby was dying.
“I used to go out and visit the house, and it was really sad because she knew, the boys knew, and I think he knew.”
Bobby took his final breath on October 23, 1999. Mr Biggins continued: “It was tragic.
“Her husband, her lover, her best friend, she had lost everything. And he did everything for her.
Cilla, Bobby and their son Robert.
“I remember the night he died. She rang me in tears, saying, ‘I don’t know what to do with the dogs.’
“Because he did everything.”
Cilla returned to work just two weeks later, with her return a remarkably emotional affair.
Ian Hamilton, director of the 2001 Royal Variety Performance and a close friend of Cilla, told the documentary: “We were doing the first episode of the series following Bobby’s death.
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Cilla and Bobby married in 1969.
“And she was obviously very, very nervous about it. She would always come on and do a little bit with the audience before we started taping the show.
“Graham Skidmore, the voiceover, would say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Cilla Black’ and she would come on.
“At that point, the audience went completely wild and stood up and applauded.
“I think that must have touched her enormously.”
Cilla famously resigned live on air in 2003.
Cilla recalled in a later interview: “If I hadn’t gone back when I did, I would never have done it.
“I’m glad I did because, at the end of the day, my work has been my lifesaver. It’s been fabulous.”
Her closest friends rallied around her, helping Cilla maintain her ability to spot a fresh opportunity.
She teamed up with Barbara Windsor and Paul O’Grady to perform ‘Gotta Have a Gimmick’ from the musical Gyspy in the 2001 Royal Variety Performance.
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When Cilla walked on stage for the 18th series of Blind Date in 2003, she famously resigned live on air.
It was the first and last time that the show was screened live — and stunned the British public.
Mr Hamilton said he felt Cilla’s departure came “at the right time”.
He said: “The ratings were sliding a bit. They were trying to introduce different bits of the format that I don’t think she approved of and, had Bobby been alive, I think they would have sat on them quite quickly.
“I think without Bobby she felt a bit more vulnerable and I think it was just the right time to get out.”
Cilla continued to make a number of appearances on TV afterwards, guest-presenting editions of The Paul O’Grady Show among other things.
When she made her final exit in 2015, the public was there to wave her off.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Liverpool ahead of her funeral services, and her close friends gave moving tributes.
The day after her funeral, The Very Best of Cilla Black, a compilation album of her most popular songs throughout her career, became Cilla’s first number one album when it topped the charts.