‘Cliff never stopped praying for me’

Pop star and entertainer PAUL JONES was once a hostile atheist who loved rubbishing Christians. Until one day, everything changed…

It was the easiest money Paul Jones had ever made.

A TV company hired the lead singer with Manfred Mann to talk about the subject he hated most  - Christianity.

Even better, the other panellist on the live talk show was the performer who Paul felt represented everything cheesy and ridiculous about Jesus – Cliff Richard.

“It was just after Billy Graham had been in Britain and at that time, I was violently anti-Christian,” says the singer, now 64.

“When they asked me to come on to attack Jesus and Cliff, I told them that was my hobby. I would have done it for nothing, but to be paid to debunk the Christian myth and Bible gobbledygook, well that was just too good an opportunity to miss.

“I was really nasty to Cliff. I mean, I didn’t just argue with him, I insulted him personally and told him how stupid Christians were.  I dismissed Jesus as a fairy story and Christians as deluded fools. After the show, I went off to a party feeling I’d put the Christians in their place.”

It was some 20 years later that Paul, now a devoted Christian, heard where Cliff went after that infamous TV show. Despite his on-screen tirade, Paul received regular invites to showbiz parties at Cliff’s house where he continued to dismiss Jesus while enjoying the best hospitality.

He adds: “One night, I asked Cliff if he hated me after that programme. He laughed and told me he just went into his dressing room with a few Christian friends and prayed for me – me, the guy who’d just slagged him on TV.

“I was amazed. Remember Cliff was, still is, a big star and I’d just denounced him and everything he stood for. To know he’d prayed for me confused me. ”

Paul Jones’ career spans more than 40 years at the top. He came to prominence as the award-winning lead singer with Manfred Mann (Do Wah Diddy and Pretty Flamingo) then later formed The Blues Band.

As an actor he has appeared in everything from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Broadway to TV soaps. Currently, he enjoys a huge following with his programme on Radio 2 featuring blues music. Paul has also hosted the British version of the 700 Club with his wife, Fiona Hendley.

During the 60s, music critics hailed his unique, earthy vocals and songwriting talent. Such was his success, Paul was even approached to become lead singer of a new band being formed called the Rolling Stones.

But unlike his career, faith was never an important factor in his life.

“My parents were nominal Anglicans. My brother and I were sent to Sunday school but we used to bunk off,” he laughs.

Paul’s four years with Manfred Mann earned him critical acclaim, so his sudden departure after just four years as front man, sent shockwaves through the music industry.

“I’m regularly asked why and all I can say is I left for the same reason that I joined, that is, it was the right thing to do at the time,” he explains.

“I had a number of hits as a solo artist then I did a lot of session work with singers like Gerry Rafferty and Dave Edmunds. Brian Jones asked if I wanted to join the Rolling Stones, but I didn’t feel it was the right thing for me at that time.

“People say I missed out on all that sex and drugs and now looking back I can say ‘Thank God I did’.”

Paul continued his hostility to the Christian faith, until one day, when Cliff called with another invitation.

“He phoned to ask if I’d like to go with him to hear an evangelist called Luis Palau. I thought: ‘this will be fun’ and accepted.”

That was in 1984, 17 years after Cliff and Paul’s TV encounter. During those years, Cliff had kept praying for his fellow musician.

“That summer was the moment God gave me the chance to dedicate my life to him, although I didn’t realise it when I went to see Luis,” says Paul.

“It was a mixture of Cliff’s influence, and Luis and God getting through to me that day. I gave my life to Christ, me the hardened atheist, and I’ve never looked back. I apologised to Cliff, several times, for my behaviour. Despite my antagonism, he never gave up, never stopped praying for me. He witnessed through his words and his actions, as well as his marvellous suppers.”
Paul and Fiona are members of an evangelical church in Surrey. The couple, who have been married fifteen years, travel the country with a number of Gospel music shows and have run Christian marriage courses.

“For years, I rebelled against God’s Word and I thought I was doing all right,” says Paul. “Now I see how wrong I was.”


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