The Christmas of the New Millennium saw Sir Cliff Richard at the number two chart position in the UK, Australia and New Zealand with ‘The Millennium Prayer’. The overtly Christian single had been at number one in the UK for the first three weeks of December, and reached the top 20 in most of Europe.
‘The Millennium Prayer’ is the Lord’s Prayer set to the traditional music of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. It was not originally written as a chart single, but was initially composed as part of the Share Jesus International production ‘Hopes and Dreams’, which Cliff was involved in.
The miracle of the song is that it reached the top of the charts despite huge opposition from anti-Christian activists, politically correct corporate bosses, Cliff’s own music label, the media, the BBC and other mainstream radio stations, and many more!
EMI, Sir Cliff’s label since 1958, refused to release the song saying that it did not have commercial potential. However, Cliff knew different. He took the song to the independent label Papillon, and they agreed to release the single with the proceeds going to the charity ‘Children’s Promise’.
However, it was a learning curve for some who believe that man controls everything. The corporate heads, politicians and leaders of nations may think that they control the world, but God makes it plain in the Bible that He is ultimately in charge and there are times when He will choose to intervene. Three thousand years ago the writer of Proverbs in the Bible said,
“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” (Proverbs 19:21)
A Rock’n’roll Legend
Sir Cliff Richard is the third best selling singles artist in UK music history. He has amassed sales of over 21.5 million records in the UK. In the mid 1990’s Cliff’s former manager Peter Gormley calculated that he had sold over 250 million records worldwide. Although this figure is still widely quoted, the figure will be far in excess of that now. Cliff has had 18 number one singles in the UK including at least one in every decade from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, and culminating in The Millennium Prayer at Christmas 1999. He has received three Brit Awards and two Ivor Novello Awards. Cliff is the UK’s most decorated and acclaimed solo pop singer with a career spanning more than sixty-five years. All of this is despite him being an unabashed Christian in an industry where faith is often ridiculed and generally seen as a barrier to success.
He was born Harry Roger Webb to British parents in India in 1940, at the height of World War Two. With The Shadows as his backing group, Cliff was initially marketed as a ‘young rebel’ rock’n’roll singer following in the footsteps of American artists like Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Cliff’s first hit ‘Move it’ reached number two in the UK charts in 1958 when Cliff was just eighteen. For a brief time some speculated that he might be another short-lived teenage star as his next four singles suggested a decline in popularity when they reached numbers 7, 20, 10 and 21 respectively. But Cliff was here to stay and he proved it by releasing the mega world-wide hit ‘Living Doll’ which rocketed to number one in late 1959. It also made the top slot in three other countries, and even gave him his first top 30 hit in the USA. This was followed by a further UK number one hit ‘Travellin’ Light.’ Out of his next eighteen singles he had five more number ones and only one track missed reaching the UK top 5! By the time The Beatles began to dominate the charts in 1963, Cliff was well established as the top solo artist in the UK, with a growing following in Australia and much of Europe.
Then, in 1966, Cliff caused a sensation at a Billy Graham crusade by announcing to the world that he had become a Christian. Apparently, many of his fans wept in the days following, realising that his new found faith meant that some of his values would undoubtedly change! Some probably thought that Cliff might give up his music career to become an evangelist, and he actually did consider giving up the pop music business to become a teacher. It somehow seemed incongruous that a ‘proper’ Christian (ie one who actually lived by the teachings of the New Testament rather than one who only attends a church for weddings and funerals) could remain at the forefront of the popular music business. It hadn’t really been done in the UK before! But Cliff was soon persuaded by Christian friends to stay in the business. The Bible did not say that it was wrong to pursue a music career, and Cliff became a pioneer, making a new path for Christian musicians to follow.
In his earlier days, moralising parents had harshly criticised Cliff as a ‘crude exhibitionist’ but he soon worked out a way to remain a popular recording artist in the secular world as well as performing with Christian groups and testifying at Christian events. Although he looked like a confident individual, it had all been an act! Cliff was never the ‘crude exhibitionist’ he had been accused of, he was simply acting the part of a cool rock’n’roll star;
“When I became a Christian my confidence grew“, He said later. “My attitude changed because suddenly it was not important to be right all the time. It’s important to put all I have into my career, but Jesus changes your attitude towards yourself and towards other people.“
Cliff didn’t put his music career on the back burner, but he did bring his Christian values to the fore so that music and fame would never again be the most dominant forces in his life.
Cliff is totally unique in being the only Christian artist to have had a succession of Christian songs reach the top of the UK charts. In December 1988 “Mistletoe and Wine’ reached the top slot with a clear Christian message about Christmas. Two years later in 1990, ‘Saviour’s Day’ became his 13th number one single and his 100th top 40 hit. Controversy hit at Christmas 1999 and into New Year 2000 with ‘The Millennium Prayer’. Not only did EMI refuse to release the single, but many mainstream radio stations refused to play it. The fact that the single reached number one with very limited airplay and without the backing of a major label is quite amazing. A ‘miracle’ in this sense. It became his 14th UK number one single and was the third best selling single of his entire career. It received the Ivor Novello Award for the best selling single of 1999 and also reached number two in Australia and New Zealand making it a platinum selling single in three countries.
2000 years ago, the world was given the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ, God the Son. A few years later when the disciples asked Him how to pray, Jesus gave us the words of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. In 1992, singer David Bowie knelt on stage and prayed The Lord’s Prayer in front of a TV audience of millions. Just seven years later, as the world entered the highly anticipated third millennium AD with many fears and concerns, Cliff made sure that the most important prayer ever prayed was shared with the world through contemporary media. Although many in the secular world opposed it, God had a hand in things and his servant Cliff Richard sang out ‘The Millennium Prayer’ for the world to hear.
The Legacy of Sir Cliff Richard
For over six decades, Sir Cliff Richard, MBE has been a great example to the world. He is an ambassador for Christ who has shown that it is possible to be a faithful, Bible-believing, church-attending Christian without having to throw away a high profile career. He has shown the secular world that it is possible to continue with a largely secular career without having to compromise his faith and values. Since the mid 1960’s, the gentleman of rock’n’roll has been a shining example of what a true Christian should be. Cliff has never forced his beliefs on his fans, yet neither does he hide his faith from them. He says,
“If I’m going to represent God I have to do it the best I can, so I will go as far as I can into rock and roll carrying my Christian banner!“
Story by Ralph Burden