Cilla Black is a charming slightly "whacky," Liverpool girl with an infectious personality - and a talented voice. Brian Epstein, manager of the famous Beatles, thought so much of her that he put Cilla under contract as soon as he heard her sing and she became the only girl in a stable of pop-stars that includes The Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas.
I met her one Friday afternoon recently in a television studio where she was rehearsing for a musical show. That morning she had risen from her bed in Liverpool at 6 a.m. to catch an early train to London.
"The travelling is a bit of a drag," she drawled in the "Scouse" accent that has become world-famous through The Beatles. "I did fly down the other day, but I don't like it. I went back by train but it takes so long."
Cilla had dreamed of becoming a singer all her life (she is 20) but fame and fortune have only come in the past six months.
"I had a job as a typist when I left school at 15," she told me in the crowded studio. "It was the first interview I had and I took the job and stayed in it for three years. When I was 16 I sang my first song before an audience. It was in the Iron Door -- that's one of the best rock clubs in Liverpool -- and I was clapping my hands to the music.
"Then the bass player came over with a hand mike and asked me to sing. I was terribly embarrassed and drew back, but some friends egged me on. Eventually I got up and sang "Fever." I was lucky. The crowd liked me; the group liked me; but it was strickly amateur stuff. I used to sing in the evenings after that with another group under the name of Swinging Cilla.
"This went on for some time, but nothing seemed to be happening. There were all these great groups in the city, but nobody knew about us. For a time I gave up entirely."
Cilla (real name Priscilla White: "The name change sort of happened...") had kept her office job all this time and when she did take up singing again the group she joined soon went off to Germany and Cilla stayed at home with her family.
The train of events which led to records, road shows, and many television appearances, really began when Cilla was sitting in the "Blue Angel Club" in Liverpool and again was asked to sing without warning.
"I got up and sang and Brian Epstein was in the audience. We talked afterwards and I signed a contract. I gave up my job and I haven't stopped since."
Cilla is aware of her good fortune. "Sometimes I complain about the pressure but I know people who'd give their right arm to have the opportunity -- I'm very lucky."
She pulled thoughtfully at her red hair -- "the hair's mine but the color isn't" -- told me that she was soon to join a month long tour with Billy J. Kramer and Gene Pitney. After that she hopes that a plan to go to Israel with The Beatles, will be finalize. "I've never been out of England." she added.
I ask her about time off. "Well, my interest is singing and when I'm not actually performing I still seem to be thinking about it all." I hope to write some songs -- I get these outbursts of melodies, but before I can get to a tape recorder they've gone."
"I spend a small fortune on magazines. And then, of course, I read all my own fan mail -- and The Beatles' too, sometimes. Lots of letters I get ask for information about The Beatles -- I seem to be the fountainhead of all information about them. Most of my fans seem to be girls. I don't mind."
Just then one the director's assistants grabbed Cilla by the arm.
"Can you walk down the spiral staircase for the song? " asked the assistant.
"What! In my boots? Well alright, why not?"
She turned to me: "I'm going to sing "Anyone Who Had a Heart." (This is now the No. 1 record in Britain.)
I asked Cilla about the future.
"I can't stay a rocker forever. I'd love to do cabaret work in nightclubs. I'll grow old like everybody else. It's funny, though, how you change. I remember when I was 14 I gave my hair a color rinse, then the other day the daughter of a friend of my mother did the same thing. She's only 14! I thought."
"I'm still an apprentice in this business. I've got to work my way up."
Cilla would not agree that there was anything called the "Mersey Sound."
"Groups from anywhere can play it," she said. "It's just that when Brian Epstein's group started recording they took material that was out of the hit parade. At first nobody noticed it."
"I remember The Beatles sang a song called "Love Me Do" for months on the stage. It was very raw and rocking. But when they made it into a record the song was polished and it came out very quiet. But it was really a very wild number. If they made a record of "Love Me Do" now, everyone would accept it with the screams and the drive."
I asked Cilla if she liked the South of England. "Well, the dancing is better here but the music is good in Liverpool. There are thousands of groups there now. One thing -- life is so fast down here."
She was just telling me about her family -- "Dad's a docker and they're knocked out by all this..." -- when the director called: "Cilla Black."
I watched her descend the spiral staircase before a battery of cameras, miming dramatically to "Anyone Who Had a Heart." Cilla's hair cascaded before her face in time to the music as she advanced on the retreating cameras. After only six months it all seemed very professional.