Sue Barker heartbreak: Cliff Richard romance ‘ended by rock and roll’

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The former tennis ace, 64, has savoured a lengthy career as a Wimbledon correspondent and as the host of A Question Of Sport. But in September, it was announced that Barker, Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell will all be replaced as the BBC tries to appeal to younger audiences. Away from her professional career, the sportswoman’s relationship with Sir Cliff drew a lot of attention after he claimed that he nearly proposed to her. In the singer’s new book Cliff Richard: The Dreamer, he divulged details about their time together. 

Sir Cliff recalled how he had admired Barker’s unstoppable talent on the tennis courts for years before they eventually met. 

He spotted her embracing his former bandmate Hank Marvin, from The Shadows, at a match in Brighton after being told they would get on due to their Christian beliefs. 

The singer was informed by Alan Godson, a Liverpool vicar, that Barker was “on a spiritual journey” and needed help because she was in the public eye.

Sir Cliff called her “out of the blue” and they arranged for them to watch The Shadows perform in London before they went to a religious venue. 

At another encounter, they met on the tennis court and he suspected she returned easy shots to him before she asked to “play flat out for a while”.

After that, he recalled her scoring multiple aces and that the ball was like “a yellow blur” that “rocketed back past me at the speed of light”.

Sir Cliff and Barker remained in touch via phone calls and letters as they jetted off to different parts of the world on their individual sport and music tours. 

He recalled: “It is well known that Sue and I went on to have a close relationship for a year or more, I have only fond memories of that time. 

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“She and I never had a cross word and 40 years on, if I ever see her, our friendship is as deep and natural as it ever was. And that’s the way I know it will always be.”

While Sir Cliff did not divulge the exact details behind their split, in previous relationships the impact of his music career regularly impacted his decision to end things.

In the book, he recalled his fling with Carol Costa as well as dating Delia Wicks, Jackie Irving, and two women named Janice and Jean. 

During the early flashes of Sir Cliff’s career in the late Fifties, he remembered fans being outraged when they saw him with other women. 

In one encounter, he waved at fans while Jean was sitting on his lap and saw “a few of them scowl” and one girl “threw her programme on the floor and stamped on it”.

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Sir Cliff was surprised it “meant that much to them” but because he was “loving being Cliff Richard” – rather than Harry Webb, his real name – he terminated the relationship.

He wrote: “I didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardise it. I told Jean that I was sorry but I couldn’t see her again.”

Sir Cliff had a similar incident with Jackie Irving, who the star considered proposing to but when he spoke to his manager about the idea it was met with grave news. 

He recalled: “You might lose between 10 and 25 percent of your fans… but you would still have enough to be successful.”

The star “knew instantly” that he “didn’t want that to happen” and felt it “wouldn’t be fair to mislead Jackie” so ended it in 1963. 

Sir Cliff professed that while he had been with wonderful women, his true love would always be “rock and roll”. 

He did not cite a reason for ending the relationship with Barker in the book but in 2008, he spoke to the Daily Mail.

Sir Cliff said: “I seriously contemplated asking her to marry me, but in the end I realised that I didn’t love her quite enough to commit the rest of my life to her.”

Cliff Richard: The Dreamer was published by Ebury Press in October and is available here. 

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