Hazel Southam talks to Sir Cliff Richard about his role in highlighting the work of Tearfund – and why he has often felt ‘useless’
He’s sold more than 250 million albums worldwide, had 14 number one hits and even sells his own wine to Waitrose. But what really motivates Sir Cliff Richard is his involvement with Christian aid and development agency, Tearfund.
Although he became a Christian at 20, it wasn’t until 1966 that Sir Cliff Richard made a public declaration of his faith at a Billy Graham rally. Three years later, fledgling Christian agency Tearfund asked Sir Cliff to do a concert at the Royal Albert Hall to raise funds and awareness. He did so, raising enough to send a Land Rover to Africa, and his association with Tearfund has continued ever since.
In the intervening years, he’s travelled to countries as diverse as Cambodia and Uganda.
Though he’s now got what he calls “a much more positive attitude” towards the plight of the people whom he visits, Sir Cliff still struggles with the shock of their situation and the contrast with the rest of his life. He recalls flying to Cambodia two years ago to make a film about Tearfund’s work with those living with HIV/Aids, straight after touring in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
“We worked with a lovely girl called Mollica, who was only 12. Her mother had died of Aids, her father had Aids, her grandfather was still alive and she had two siblings – and basically she looked after them.
“She was just wonderful. She was the star of the film. I was just an interviewer and went around with her as she showed us her routine of life: having to buy food, go to school, come back and cook for her family, things like that.
“It was a heart-warming situation because I thought: ‘At least she’s going to be one of those people who’s safe [not sold into the sex trade] because she’s been embraced by Tearfund’.”
Nonetheless, doubts have crept in about his effectiveness. After his first trip to Bangladesh, Sir Cliff recalls being “horrified” by what he’d seen.
“I remember on the final day saying to one of the nurses: ‘I come and do these things, but I don’t feel good, I feel guilty. I feel all sorts of things … hopeless. You know that any minute now I’m going to be in a jumbo jet turning down food while below us people are hungry. I think we should stay.’
“She said: ‘Can you give an injection?’ I said: ‘Well, no, I can’t.’ And she said: ‘Go home, we don’t need you here.’ You do what you can do. Everybody thinks about the frontline. But we’re all part of a cog, a massive whole group of cogs and you play your part. I’ve tried to play mine in terms of presenting people with the problems that are happening in the third world. But every time I’ve ever been, it’s been another shock.”
Another shock for Sir Cliff came when he visited the Maasai and found his fame stripped away. No-one there knew that he was one of the world’s most famous pop stars. He recalls: “I got up and sang Why should the Devil have all the good music? And I pulled a few poses. Well, the women were in hysterics. They had obviously never seen anything like it, as there was no TV, nothing. And it was just so funny, and I suddenly thought: ‘That puts me in my place’.”
What’s kept Sir Cliff passionate about Tearfund’s work in more than 70 countries for nearly 40 years has been the belief that everyone can make a difference. He remembers talking to Tearfund’s founder, George Hoffman, saying: “I just feel totally useless. What value am I?” Hoffman replied: “Remember this, one person cannot change the world, but you could change the world for one person.”
That’s what Sir Cliff has been trying to do ever since, and what he believes every Christian can do – change the world for one person.
• To find out how you can make a difference, contact Tearfund on 0845 355 8355 or visit www.tearfund.org.
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