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Diahanne Rhiney's picture
Diahanne Rhiney
Cilla Black's legacy of authenticity

RARE BREED: The late Cilla Black

LAST WEEK brought the sad news of Cilla Black's death at the age of 72. A British entertainment icon and household name, she has been a 'national treasure' for as long as I can remember.

I cannot claim to have ever considered myself a 'fan' of Cilla Black. I didn't grow up hearing her music in my home and I suppose as a young black woman there was little I felt I could truly identify with.

However, as I have said many times before, when my own beloved mother passed away at just 57 years old, her funeral was a true remembrance. Nobody spoke about what car she drove or what university she attended, yet everyone had an anecdote that reflected her kindness, her sense of humour, her charisma, sincerity and wisdom. At that time, more than ever before, I began to develop an understanding of legacy.

These days, everything is 'now' and our generation is defined by reality stars who are too concerned with their bank balance to care what their contribution to the world might be. We rarely acknowledge the reality of our own inevitable deaths. Nobody ever tells us to pause, reflect, meditate and focus on how we might live an authentic life that bequeaths a lasting and meaningful legacy.

What struck me in recent days is that Cilla Black was part of a rare breed in the entertainment industry. Today, our TV presenters seem more and more glossed up and dumbed down. I never feel we really see the 'real' person, warts n' all. There seems to be a need for TV presenters to fall within a certain age group, to be dressed in a similar daytime TV style, to wear a similar clothes size, and have a similar sense of humour. We still have very few black and ethnic or over 60's being offered airtime and one would need to cross over to BEN TV or Al Jazeera to see headscarves, Ankara, or dreadlocks.

Cilla seemed to represent everything that was arguably unfashionable at the time. She was a 'scouser' who never toned down her accent or lied about her working-class upbringing; she was a redhead who never went blonde, and she dazzled in sequins long after the 80's. All in all, according to those who knew her best, she remained the 'same old Cilla' over the course of decades and despite continuous fame.

In recent years, as her hearing faded, she said that wearing diamond earrings was meaningless when compared to the gift of hearing.

I think this sincerity is what gave Cilla the staying power to remain a national treasure over decades. There were no scandals or exposed lies; like her or loathe her, what we saw is what we got.

That is exactly what authenticity is; to know who you truly are, to embrace it, work constantly at bettering it, to bear your flaws and seek to be the best you can be. The definition of authenticity 'concerns the truthfulness of origins, attributes, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions.'

It is not hiding where you are from, but being proud of what it has made you. It is not what you say you believe in, but what you believe in when you are alone; when the church is empty and nobody is watching. It is not what you end up with, but rather your original intentions. It is about striving to be your best but being unafraid of your flaws. To be unafraid to ask yourself, 'who am I without my car? Without my jewelry? Without my makeup on? Without my job?' And knowing that no matter what you gain or lose in life, you will still be YOU.

When Fern Britton debuted her admirable weight loss, and attributed it to 'healthy eating and sheer hard work', her viewers were horrified when it was eventually revealed she had undergone gastric band surgery. The controversy, and decline in fan base, that it sparked was not because there is anything wrong with gastric bands; it was because she wasn't honest about her journey.

People respond to candour and frankness. It is the “glue” of integrity and virtue that holds society together. When we set about creating a version of ourselves that is a lie, it not only breeds distrust, but it does deep damage to one's own psychological wellbeing.

This is how people come to respect you, gravitate to you, depend upon your unchanging nature, appreciate you for who you truly are, and stick around when times get tough. This is how you create a legacy.

I believe it to be so crucially important to leave behind a beautiful legacy. We may not all have a national fan base; but we all have someone. And if just one person reminisces and remembers you as an authentic and kind person who gave back and remained true, in good times and bad. That is more than enough in my book.

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