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Private and public face: The death of Cilla Black

The death of Cilla Black in Spain a few days ago has brought forth a wave of sympathy from the TV personality’s many fans as well as from her many show business colleagues.


The former host of ITV’s hugely popular 80’s dating show Blind Date was known affectionately as ‘our’ Cilla, a tag which neatly encapsulated the girl-next-door image that had been so crucial to her success.


In the aftermath of her death, emotions have run high. In her home town of Liverpool, thousands have signed a book of condolence. Celebrity friends such as Sir Bruce Forsyth have appeared on television to express their grief and shock. Nobody can be left in any doubt as regards this lady’s popularity. Lauded for her ‘common touch’ the death of Ms Black has genuinely shocked an entire nation.


For me and many others of my generation she will for ever be known as the chirpy, cheeky hostess of that 80’s phenomenon Blind Date. Yes it was cheesy, but it was also must-see TV. It was also Cilla’s show.


From the moment she stepped in front of the cameras with her customary wiggle, this was a show that was not about the contestants, not really, it was all about Cilla. Like her idol Margaret Thatcher, Cilla was a power dresser: the shoulder pads made American football shirts look modest and the heels were very, very big. And the costumes? They dazzled.


Back then in the mid and late eighties Cilla was a colossus. Every Saturday night at 6pm we would chortle at her wisecracks as we tucked into our curry and chips. Everybody loved her. Or so it seemed.


But even back then I remember there was a flip side to the coin – maybe even a dark side.


For several series of the dating show, the country waited with bated breath for one of the show’s couples to actually tie the knot. There were some near misses, but it never quite happened. “Cilla’s hat” became a national joke – the hostess would joke every week how desperate she was for an excuse to wear her posh hat – a hat reserved for weddings.


And then t happened. A couple met on the show and improbably decided to tie the knot! ‘Blind Date’ had its TV wedding! As the hostess of the show – a telly cupid – Miss Black was naturally expected to attend this momentous event. But if I remember correctly the hostess would only agree to attend the wedding provided her customary appearance fees were met. Somehow it was a demand that didn’t seem quite within the spirit of the event.


The press made a small meal out the affair, but it soon blew over. Still it just went to show that there was more to Ms Black than just the salt of the earth girl persona she so successfully projected on the television screen.


That people have many different facets to their personalities shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The Victorians first introduced the concept of multiple selves into Psychological study. Humans it appears have an ability to present several different personalities depending on the context in which they find themselves. We change, we adapt ourselves.


Perhaps that explains why so many people felt sorrow his week upon hearing the news of Ms Blacks’ death. They knew her only as the scouse girl-next-door. Celebrity friends such as Gloria Hunniford meanwhile knew her as a charming and funny dinner companion.


Others however knew her as somebody else entirely. Apparently, on her frequent flights back and forth to Malaga, British Airways air hostesses knew her as somebody who could bring them to tears with petulant behaviour of the “Don’t you know who I am?” variety. I understand that she was feared and loathed in equal measures on these journeys. Who’d be cabin crew?


All of which goes to show that people do indeed have multiple selves. The fact that Ms Black drank champagne like the rest of us drink water and had a string of luxurious homes around the world made some people feel uncomfortable. How could a girl from Liverpool who had made a whole career out of her working class roots live this way? It seemed like a contradiction, to some a betrayal. It wasn’t, not really. It was just an example of the multiple self.


At the moment friends and supporters of Ted Heath are expressing solidarity in the face of accusations that the ex-Prime Minister was involved in paedophilia. Resolute they are: Ted Heath was not a child molester. At this stage it is not known whether there is indeed any substance in the allegations. If it transpires that Heath was involved, then his friends and colleagues will be in for quite a shock, not so if you understand the theory of the multiple self.


We’ve all seen the TV footage when somebody expresses shock upon hearing they lived next door to or worked with a serial killer. ‘Jack was such a nice guy,’ they will often say, ‘the last person you would have imagined eating babies.’ Psychologists though are never shocked at these revelations. They know that we put on many different masks to suit a whole host of contexts.


Just this week a new work colleague of mine fell into a similar trap. The lady and I had literally just met a few days ago as we both took up temporary summer posts in a certain institution. Now I like to think I’m a pretty chilled out sort of guy, the type who doesn’t kick up a fuss, but gets on with things; this self is, if you like, my work self.


The lady in question must have assumed that this happy-go-lucky self was all there was to me. She was wrong. Having made a series of comments and jokes at my expense she received quite a shock when I revealed another one of my selves: The ‘I don’t take any shit’ self. Just because you don’t show your teeth doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have any and that you can’t bite when needed. And I bit.


All of which I suppose supports the theory of multiple selves. Perhaps we should all take a little more care when weighing others up, especially those closest to us. It’s all too easy to see the sun shining and even easier to deny any sort of darker side. We see what we want to see.


Because the same friend buying the in-flight champagne for you, could well be the very same friend making the lives of those who serve it a misery.