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Cilla Black: Chester Blind Date contestants remember a national treasure

Cestrians share their memories of Cilla

Chris Walton meeting Cilla Black when he was a contestant on Blind Date in January 1997

Chester contestants who appeared on TV’s Blind Date have paid tribute to the show’s host Cilla Black, following her shock death this weekend.

Chris Walton from Boughton was a ‘number 2’ contestant on the popular Saturday dating show which aired back in January 1997 and said he was sad to hear ‘the national treasure’ had passed away at the age of 72.

But 18 years after appearing on the show, the 45-year-old said he could still recall the effect Cilla had on him and the other contestants.

“It was a long time ago now that I was ‘Our Chris from Chester’, but I still remember it well. We actually didn’t get to meet Cilla until filming the show. We’d been through all the rehearsals and the first I saw of her was when we were sat there on the hotseats.

“I remember the autocue telling her to ‘ad lib chat’ and did just that so well.

“She was just an absolute professional who had done all her research and in fact we filmed it all in one take.

“She took a lot of interest in the fact I had been in the Navy, and was just very good at what she did.

Chris added: “I never get starstruck because everyone’s human, but Cilla really was fabulous, and like everyone I was very sad to hear she’d died. It’s the end of an era because she was a national treasure.

“Even though I wasn’t picked on Blind Date it was still an experience I won’t forget.”

And Deeside man Gary Owen, who appeared on Blind Date in 1986, will always hold a special place in his heart for Cilla.

He appeared on the show as a picker, but it wasn’t meant to be for Gary and his date, who went their separate ways after the show.

But six years later, on his wedding day to bride Lyn in Barbados, he received a special message from Cilla, who happened to be staying in the same hotel as the happy couple.

'A lorra, lorra laughs'

“Cilla was actually staying in the same hotel as us in Barbados, and she sent us a message saying congratulations and giving us her best wishes, which was just a really kind thing to do,” said Gary who was invited to appear on a special show celebrating the show’s 10th anniversary. “It was a big surprise and so kind that she thought of us.”

Millions of people tuned in to Blind Date every week during the late 1980s and 1990s to hear Cilla’s legendary catchphrases including ‘Lorra lorra laughs’ and ‘What’s your name and where d’ya come from?’.

Lucy Broughton from Littleton was 21 and in her final year of university in 1991 and thought going on Blind Date would be a ‘fun thing’ to do after her mother put her forward for the show.

“I discovered I had quite a talent for giving corny answers,” recalls Lucy. “I remember seeing Cilla for the first time when we were all in our hotseats and it was literally as the theme tune was playing and that partition moved back that I first saw her.

“As I was number one, I felt I was the first one to be greeted as she swept on and my first recollection of her was her teeth!

Lucy, now 45, added: “She was so lovely and professional. I had been to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa the year before and all she wanted to speak to me about was that! So any hopes I had of shedding my ‘nice girl’ image for the show were dashed!

“I was sad to hear she had died - she was such a national treasure,” Lucy added.

And of course Cilla wasn’t always a TV presenter. Back in the 1960s, she was a musical icon championed by the Merseybeat bands of the time such as The Beatles and Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, and she achieved two number one hit singles.

'National treasure'

Former Chester Chronicle editor David Parry-Jones was a young reporter when Cilla was riding high in the pop charts, and even tried to ask her out!

“As a Chronicle cub reporter I interviewed her when we were both in our twenties and she was performing in the former Odeon Cinema in Chester,” remembers David. “Being young and bullish in those days, I asked her to a party, after she’d done her show. It would have been a kind of ‘Blind Date’ for her. But I’ve forever had to live with the indignity of being turned down flat!”

Cilla in her 60s heyday(Image: PA)

Meanwhile, other Cestrians have memories of Cilla in her heyday, like Handbridge-born Malcolm Powell who met Cilla on several occasions when he played drums with many of the 60s bands at the time. His band the Whitby Ward Trio toured the clubs of Liverpool and Birkenhead and would bump into Cilla often.

“I used to go to a guitar shop called Frank Hessy’s in Liverpool where she was a lot, they’d all be there - Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the likes,” he remembered.

“Cilla had a great voice - a few people have said they didn’t like it but she was a fabulous entertainer ; at that time there was no other female vocalist like her, she was the onle one doing it. And because she was local we would see her a lot.

“I just remember her being very Liverpudlian! She was always pleasant and came across very well. What I saw of her on TV in later years was what she was like in real life - very down to earth and never altered in her ways.

“I was sad to hear she had died, I mean I didn’t get the same lump in my throat as I did when John Lennon died, but it’s always sad when someone passes away. She was great back in those days though, they were fantastic times.”

Cilla Black dies aged 72: Friends pay tribute to 'one of the brightest stars in showbiz'

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