Sir Cliff Richard has been accused of molesting a boy on the night he appeared as a guest of the US evangelist at a football stadium in Sheffield.
By Gordon Rayner, and Edward Malnick
Sir Cliff Richard has plenty of reasons to remember the night of June 28 1985. Not only did he perform in front of a crowd of 47,200 as a guest of the American evangelist Billy Graham, he also met the Bishop of Sheffield to defuse a row over his refusal to boycott apartheid-era South Africa.
Outside the Bramall Lane football ground, where the singer was to appear on stage with Graham, members of Sheffield’s anti-apartheid movement demonstrated against Sir Cliff’s insistence on performing charity gospel concerts in South Africa, which earned him a place on a UN blacklist of performers.
“I go wherever Christians invite me to speak about Jesus. It’s a platform I’ve been given by God,” he told the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, which carried a picture of him dressed in a white suit next to Graham on the next day’s front page.
On Thursday night, Sir Cliff was preparing to relive the events of that evening, this time for the benefit of South Yorkshire Police, after learning that he had been accused of sexually assaulting a boy aged under 16 on that night.
Having stated that he will “cooperate fully” with the police “should they wish to speak to me”, he left no doubt that he is ready and willing to fly to Britain from his home in Portugal to answer questions about what happened on that night 29 years ago.
Sources close to the 73-year-old singer said the police have not told him any details about the allegation or about his accuser, but “he is absolutely certain these allegations are false because throughout his life he has never been involved in impropriety of any kind”.
Two weeks before his appearance at Bramall Lane, Sir Cliff, then aged 44 and yet to be knighted, had missed out on the biggest live event of the year, the Live Aid concert at Wembley, because he was already committed to singing at a charity gospel concert in Birmingham.
Billy Graham, who was then at the height of his worldwide popularity, had packed out Sheffield United’s home ground five nights running, with approximately 200,000 people seeing his charismatic performances, more than twice the number that witnessed Live Aid.
Sir Cliff’s association with Graham dated back to 1966, when he publicly announced his Christianity as he first shared the stage with him in England, and his appearance alongside the American preacher in 1985 helped swell the numbers at the ground to its biggest crowd of that decade.
Among the public were hundreds of children from Christian organisations, one of whom now claims to have been assaulted by Britain’s bestselling singer.
South Yorkshire Police have given no further details about the nature of the alleged assault and it was only through reports in the media that Sir Cliff discovered the allegation involved his appearance at Bramall Lane.
Although Sir Cliff was very much aware that rumours had been swirling around the internet for well over a year, the police raid on his £2.5 million flat in Sunningdale, Berkshire, came out of the blue.
“He had no idea the police were coming,” said a source close to Sir Cliff. “No appointment was made, they just turned up and demanded to be let in.”
Less than 24 hours earlier, oblivious to the police operation that was about to engulf his life, Sir Cliff had spent Wednesday at his vineyard on the Algarve, where he had been filmed starting up a large pressing machine containing this year’s harvest.
Wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes from the August sunshine, Sir Cliff cheerily announced: “God bless all who drink the product, and anyone else who doesn’t drink it, you should start!”
On Sunday he had given a 45-minute interview to the English language radio station KissFM Algarve, in which he had talked about the success of his Vida Nova wine label and talked enthusiastically about his plans to record a new album in Nashville in October.
Friends of the singer pointed out that despite the widespread internet rumours that he would be the latest celebrity to be accused of historic child abuse, no one appeared to have come forward to add any weight to the single allegation being investigated by police.
They also suggested that the BBC, which was present at his address when the police arrived to raid it, may have been tipped off by detectives.
A BBC source said a producer for the corporation had heard a rumour of the impending raid from a “non-police” contact and had been watching the property for any police activity.