DEPENDING on your tastes, it was a golden moment in the history of British music or a cringe-making aural atrocity.
Whatever the ultimate judgment of cultural commentators and musicologists, Sir Cliff Richard held Wimbledon’s centre-court crowd spellbound with a spontaneous singalong one rainy summer day in 1996.
But Richard’s supposedly impromptu ‘unplugged’ session at Wimbledon was a stunt dreamed up by one of the country’s top PR gurus.
The ageing popster’s rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain’, backed by an implausible choir of women tennis stars Virginia Wade, Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver, Gigi Fernandez and Conchita Martinez, stunned sodden centre-court spectators.
While it no doubt warmed the hearts of the singer’s die-hard fans, many Cliff sceptics resorted to diving under the sofa with fingers in both ears.
Now it has emerged that the performance, to an audience that included Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and actress Joanna Lumley, could have been avoided.
Sir Cliff had previously discussed the idea of singing at Wimbledon with his publicity man, Mark Borkowski. And when it rained on the famous venue, the singer’s first move was to reach for a telephone rather than a microphone and get Borkowski’s approval.
Last night Borkowski, who represented Cliff Richard for five years, admitted: "When he was going to Wimbledon, I said to him: ‘If it rains, you could always sing.’
"Then [when he was there] he called me and said it was raining. He asked what should he do and I said he should sing.
"People often think of Cliff Richard as the Queen Mum of pop, but he’s got a great understanding of what it takes.
"It always rains at Wimbledon, it’s one of the certainties of summer, and I thought why not have some fun.
"It wasn’t deeply premeditated - it was about having fun.
"You never know when you suggest something to someone whether it’s going to stick with them in their minds, but this obviously did. Cliff Richard is Cliff Richard. You’ve got to recognise he’s a showman - that’s why his fame has lasted five decades."
And the PR man, who will be appearing in his one-man show, Son of Barnum: A Stunt Too Far, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, denied the widespread media ridicule that followed the performance meant the singalong had been a mistake.
"You can never get it right all of the time and you can’t please people all the time. Of course the media was going to take the piss, but it doesn’t matter because the majority of people liked it.
"Of course some people will be negative, but instead of the usual scenes when it rains, we had something we will forever remember."
Sir Cliff, 63, was in Edinburgh last night, where he was expected to perform to a sell-out audience at the Castle.