In another life, Cliff Richard could have a photo with his hero, Elvis Presley, stuck to his fridge. Imagine! But alas, he doesn’t. Why? Because Cliff Richard is a shallow guy who values looks over all else, apparently. In an interview on ITV’s breakfast show This Morning on Monday, the British crooner stunned presenters Alison Hammond, Dermot O’Leary and, er, Sarah Ferguson, by claiming he once turned down a photo opportunity with Elvis because, as he put it, the King had put on “a lot of weight”.
He had one chance, in the Seventies while he was promoting his single “Devil Woman”. A journalist offered to introduce them after an interview, but after seeing Presley in person, Richard asked to delay it: “I thought if I’m having a photo taken with him, and it’s gonna be hanging on my refrigerator, he’s gotta look good. I put it off, and then, of course then he died.”
Cue awkward chuckles from the sofa, and one visibly unimpressed Hammond, who responded: “Should never have put it off, just because [he was] a little bit heavier.” Viewers have rightly applauded her, even if her guest didn’t have the good grace to at least look embarrassed.
Richard’s remarks are astonishing for many reasons, not least because he was originally styled as the UK’s answer to Elvis (seems ludicrous now, doesn’t it?). In 1958, he was doing his best to impersonate the “Suspicious Minds” singer, from the jet-black quiff to the thrusting hips and “rubber legs”. And yet he turned down a chance to be pictured next to his hero, simply because of the way he looked? Does he think that having a few extra layers of fat on your body somehow quashes your talent?
When it comes to music, the way you look is the last thing that should matter.
Back in 2020, I wrote about the frenzy over Adele’s change in appearance. “Her weight, whatever it is, will not be her legacy,” I said. “No one talks about Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald or Etta James – heroes of Adele’s and of mine – for their dress size.” The same goes for Elvis, and all of the other artists who brought us joy with their music.
Many reacting to the clip doing the rounds on social media have implied that Richards’ remarks have something to do with his age. But unfortunately, attitudes like his are still embedded deep into our collective consciousness. Studies in recent years show that many people still associate being fat with laziness. Arguably this has been exacerbated, in spite of the positive steps made by the body acceptance movement, by the marketing of Ozempic as a weight-loss drug, rather than the diabetes medication it was invented as.
“The breathless articles, the Oscars jokes, the TikToks: they’re all about how already healthy people are using a new injectable drug to whittle themselves down, pursuing thinness at any financial or physical cost, because being fat is the worst kind of failure,” Rachel Pick wrote in her moving essay for The Guardian earlier this year.
Indeed, even the King of Rock’n’Roll was judged for the weight he gained over the years, with critics condemning him for what they viewed as a lifestyle of greed and over-indulgence. That, the general consensus goes, is what killed him. In 2021, historian Sally Hoedel attempted to rectify this with her book Elvis: Destined to Die Young. In it, she charts Presley’s persistent health problems, which were often written off as the consequence of his drug addiction, arguing instead that he had a family history of degenerative conditions.
“Elvis is seen as less or more than human, like an image, and he’s been reduced to this rock’n’roll guy who died in his bathroom from taking too many pills,” she told The Observer. “That’s not enough for a man who culturally shifted our universe. It’s not accurate and it’s not enough. Elvis was a sick man who hid a lot of his weakness to fill concert venues and support his family. By examining his flaws and health issues, maybe we can start to see his humanity again.”
Humanity is key, and something Richard could do with being reminded of. Through all the years of my own struggles with body image, eating disorders and the body dysmorphia many of us Nineties babies know all too well, music has been the one constant inspiring me, reminding me of why I do what I love. And despite the countless articles, social media comments and nasty criticisms aimed at an artist’s physicality, not once has that stopped me (or, I doubt, anyone else) from loving someone’s music.
Richard let the mask slip on This Morning, revealing a side to him that is judgemental, nasty, and superficial. Meanwhile, Hammond, who has spoken openly about her own issues with body image, is a living, breathing example of the fact that weight has absolutely zero bearing on who you are as a person. She is the beaming ray of sunshine we love to see as we begin our days. Cliff Richard or Alison Hammond? I know who I’d rather have a photo with.