Cliff Richard finds solace in his Portuguese paradise
As the singer goes to ground following sex-assault claims, his neighbours in the Algarve say he’s a local hero
THE grapes are being harvested beneath the late summer sun, with teams of men bent double in the vineyards, depositing the fruit in the trailer pulled behind an ancient Massey Ferguson tractor.
Figs are laid out to dry on tarpaulin, and gardeners languidly tend the array of potted geraniums, breaking off to kick tennis balls across the lawn for a friendly Alsatian. From the outside, it is an idyllic scene at Quinta do Moinho, a sprawling whitewashed estate in the Algarve, sitting on top of a hill near Albufeira. But behind the ornate wrought iron gates that bear a coat of arms with the motto “Sing a New Song”, all is far from harmonious.
Sir Cliff Richard, the owner of the property, remains in the eye of a ferocious storm. He stands accused of sexually assaulting a young boy in Sheffield in 1985, after an event featuring the US preacher Billy Graham. Sir Cliff has described the allegations as “completely false”. But there is no denying they have destroyed what he refers to as his most precious moments – the long summers he has spent in Portugal for the past four decades.
“There are times when I need to withdraw and not be accessible,” he has said. “And that’s why Portugal is so important.” In his autobiography he described his time here as ''mental therapy’’.
When the police raided his apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire on August 14 in a search that, controversially, was broadcast live by the BBC, Sir Cliff was in the Alentejo region of Portugal, where he was said to be touring vineyards with his sister. He swiftly returned to Quinta do Moinho, situated a short, dusty walk from the town of Guia, and has been esconced there ever since. On Monday one of Britain’s most highly paid lawyers and the man who represented Max Clifford in his sex abuse case, flew in for a five-hour meeting.
On Tuesday Sir Cliff cancelled a concert scheduled for September in Canterbury Cathedral, and a day later pulled out of a ceremony and pageant to present him with the Keys to the City of Albufeira, an unprecedented honour for an expat. A source close to Sir Cliff told The Telegraph that the singer was “disappointed” not to be able to attend.
“We will give it to him another year,” said Carlos Silva e Sousa, the mayor of Albufeira. “The decision was taken because Sir Cliff is a great citizen of Albufeira. He did a lot for tourism in the area when he came here in the Sixties and Seventies. That makes him a great ambassador.”
When the 73-year-old first started coming to Portugal, the Algarve was a sleepy region with around 30,000 tourists annually. Now it is the country’s best-known and most popular tourist area, last year welcoming 887,000 Britons alone.
Amid the jumble of modern white apartment blocks that now pack Albufeira’s hillsides, holidaymakers were this week lining up to have their photos taken in front of the tiled sign denoting “Rua Sir Cliff Richard” – the street where he bought his first Portuguese property in 1961.
“I might have decided on a career as a property developer if I’d been able to predict how popular the south coast of Portugal would become,” he once joked.
Joanne McGill from Glasgow, who was celebrating her 40th birthday with her husband Steven, stopped to pose for a snap.
“I’ve seen his photo everywhere and lots of adverts for his wine,” said Mrs McGill. “He seems to be a real local hero.”
George, a British pensioner who has lived on Rua Sir Cliff Richard for three years, said he was “horrified” by the televised raid on the Berkshire apartment.
“We went to see him signing bottles of his wine last year and had a quick word – and he couldn’t have been more polite, patient and gentlemanly.”
Sir Cliff is nothing if not settled and widely supported here. He upgraded his Albufeira flat to a beachfront villa, then in 1993 bought his estate, now worth around six million euros. The 250-year-old property, with its traditional windmill – Quinta do Moinho means windmill farm – is cherished by the singer. The terracotta tiles were specially crafted to match the surviving originals, and the swimming pool is inlaid with a mosaic windmill. A guesthouse accommodates his many visitors, and the tennis court – Sir Cliff is a devoted fan of the game – at the back was, last week, the scene of several lively matches with friends, including John McElynn, an American former priest who now manages Sir Cliff’s properties. A tennis coach arrived most days, and Sir Cliff was out practising yesterday. “I have a pro who I hit with for an hour or so, and in this heat it’s great exercise,” he has said.
Sir Cliff, who is worth an estimated £40 million, said that as well as a home in the sun, he wanted, ''my own little farm. And I found it here in the small town of Guia. I thought I could grow figs and vegetables, and I originally planted 10 acres of fig trees.” But then a meeting with David Baverstock, an Australian wine-maker based in the Alentejo region, persuaded him to concentrate on grapes instead.
“It’s quite nice that the vines have given this place a new life – which is why I named my wine Vida Nova, or 'new life’,” he told his friend Gloria Hunniford in a 2005 documentary.
“And believe it or not, since I planted my 16 acres here, my tiny, mini farm has actually inspired thousands of acres to be planted. So who knows? The Algarve could actually become a really competitive, excellent wine-making region.”
Tours of the Adega do Cantor – ''winery of the singer’’ – are popular, with the tantalising prospect of an appearance by Sir Cliff. For the launch of Vida Nova in 2002, he hosted more than a hundred guests, including the British Ambassador to Portugal, and he revels in surprise at the quality of his wine.
“I got better reviews for my wine than ever I have for my music or shows,” he joked. “I was totally thrilled about it, because it was a bit of a gamble.”
His annual sojourn in Portugal is a routine he relishes, arriving after Wimbledon to watch the grapes ripen and the harvesting begin in late August or early September. (In winter, he moves to his estate in Barbados). Neighbours say they rarely see him, although they hear music every now and then, when guests would come to visit. The parties usually ended by 10pm, however.
“As a performer, my life is quite public,” Sir Cliff has written. “My time is spent doing shows or playing tennis, and I’m always surrounded by people, by autograph hunters. That’s fine, of course. It’s what I do. But there are times when I need to withdraw and be ordinary. In Portugal I can get away from it all and live like a recluse for a couple of weeks. I don’t go out much, and there’s no need to shave. I always take someone with me to do the cooking and hardly ever leave the house.”
That has done little to put off the devoted fans who have turned up outside his estate to show their support.
“I was almost in tears when I heard the news of the police raid, I was so shaken,” said Linda Calvert, 66, a devotee since she was 12, who was taking photographs at the estate. “It’s disgusting how he has been treated. He’s such a lovely man. I just want to give him a hug.”
His fans are currently bulk-buying his 1993 single I Still Believe In You in the hope of pushing it to number one in the charts. By Thursday it was 43 and a weekend surge in sales is expected.
In the town of Guia, Sir Cliff’s popularity remains and his bottles are the main attraction at Ramiro Moura’s wine shop, a dimly lit, cavernous emporium with a life-size cardboard cut-out of the singer.
“It’s our best-selling wine,” says Mr Moura, “And it’s the best in the region – it’s won medals. He has invested a lot in the area and rejuvenated the wine industry. He’s loved.”
At his piri-piri chicken restaurant, Diogo Dias, who first met Sir Cliff in 1962, shows me a signed black-and-white framed photograph that hangs next to the latest Sir Cliff calendar. “He is a great ambassador for the region,” he says. “He leads a quiet life here. But we like him a lot.”
Sir Cliff is expected to return to the UK in the coming days for questioning by police, and his spokesman confirmed yesterday that the singer was cancelling his annual visit to New York for the US Open tennis tournament, which begins on Monday.
“Some tourists from England told me about all the trials of showbusiness people from years ago,” Mr Dias says, before adding sadly: “It’s hard to know who to believe any more.”