Jane Asher and Cliff Richard at the cover of the Jane Asher's Magazine 5th issue, the Christmas special.
Jane's suit by Sam Browne. Earrings by Agatha. Jane's hair and make-up by Anna Cobley. Photography by Bonieventure.
Welcome to my Christmas issue!
Welcome to the Christmas Special issue of my "Cookery & Craft" magazine.
I am delighted to bring you this year's edition of my Christmas Special. Again, it's packed with delicious cookery and clever crafts, all designed to make this a Christmas to remember.
I am delighted to be welcoming a special Christmas guest to this issue – Cliff Richard. I know from your letters just what a favourite he is, and as he is busy as ever, preparing for his new musical 'Heathcliff', I was especially pleased that he found time for us to meet so that I coupld present him with the cake I had designed for him. With the announcement of his knighthood, this has been a particularly exciting year for him, and we had a lot to talk about when we got together.
(...) I do hope you enjoy my christmas Special, and that you find plenty of ideas to inspire you. But most of all I hope you have a wonderful time, and a big thank you to you all for making the first year of my magazine such a resounding success.
A very Happy Christmas and New Year.
Jane meets Cliff Richard
Cliff Richard is one of our best-loved entertainers, and Christmas wouldn't be the same withouth one of his songs in the charts.
This year, he's been awarded a knighthood – and with his new stage show, Heathcliff, coming up, next year should be a special one, too.
|Mistletoe and Wine. 'the decorations are up and it's time to relax, enjoy a glass of wine and toast everyone's good health.'|
|Get cracking. 'Pulling crackers is a good way to start celebrating and we had plenty at hand to get the party under way.'|
|Festive fun. 'Giving and receiving presents is always such fun, especially when the gift is a complete surprise!'|
The last time I met Cliff Richard was this summer, at the Hampton court Flower Show, which he was visiting to help publicise a number of charities.
His knighthood had recently been announced, so on greeting him I naturally fell to my knees and grovelled...
But I was pleased to see the same old Cliff smiling at me – or should I say the same young Cliff? He retains so remarkably the boyish charm and unassuming friendliness that we have all come to know and love over the years, that a less pompous or jollier knight would be hard to imagine.
I love the ring of it: "Sir Cliff" – I know none of us will think of him as "Sirr Harry Webb", his original name – has an intriguing misture of grandeur and informality that sums up perfectly the lack of pomposity that is one of this trademarks.
I have been very lucky so far in previous issues, in having three good friends – Joanna Lumley, Jeremy Irons and Maureen Lipman – agree to join me on these pages. i like to choose someone whom not only do I admire, but whom I know all of you will enjoy reading aout – and I know from your letters that they were all extremely popular subjects.
For this Christmas Special, Cliff was not only my choice, but yours, too. However, he has very little time to spare with the announcement of the knighthood, I knew he would be more in demand than ever. So it was with a little hesitation that I telephoned him and gave him the good news that he had been selected for yet another (and far more exclusive) honour – the Conferring of the Cake. Would an incredibly busy knight-to-be let me make a cake for him, and be photographied receiving it, so I could show all my readers?
As you can see, he agreed enthusiastically, and we met at a hotel for an early Christmas party.
Cliff enjoys every aspect of Christmas: naturally, as a devout Christian, he never forgets the reason for all the celebrations, but he indulges wholeheartedly in the fun and glitter that has come to surround the basic message. 'My ideal way to spend Christmas would be to go on midnight communion on Christmas Eve, then enjoy the Big Day at home with the family, opening presents round the tree and having Christmas dinner with all the trimmings – goose is my favourite.'
As we helped to finish decorating the beautiful tree that the hotel had installed in a corner of the room, we both agreed that ours at home nver looked quite so effective.
'I have two trees each year and I always mean to plan an elegant colour scheme like this,' Cliff says rather wistfully. 'But somehow I can never resist piling everything on until it's really over the top. I suppose I should be more ruthless and chuck out some of the old favourites.' But somehow, I don't think he will, and his trees – like mine – will go on on bearing those familiar decorations that carry their own nostalgic messages from over the years.
|All that glitters. 'Cliff loves putting up the Christmas decorations each year. At home he usually has two Christmas trees, uses lots of holly and poinsettias and strings lights over the mantlepiece and doors.'|
The next year or so is going to be an especially busy and exciting time for Cliff. When he begins to talk about Heathcliff, the musical he is producing and starring in, based on Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, his face lights up and he can hardly contain his enthusiasm.
'I have wanted to do this ever since I read the book as a schooloy. it's a dream come true that it's really happening after all the years of talking and planning. I've recorded the album – the magnificent music and lyrics are by John Farrar and Tim Rice. The first single, Misunderstood Man, was released in October and the next, Hard to Be, is set for release on November 27th. The songs involving Cathy I recorded with Olivia Newton-John – largely because we have worked together before and our voices blend very well – but obviously, once we start performing the show on stage, we will release a cast album.'
I wondered if Cliff have ever worried that, as a man in his fifties, he might be too old to play the dashing young Heathcliff?
'To do Wuthering Heights realistically, you would have to use children,' he explains. 'did you realise that Cathy was fifteen when she got engaged to Edgar? That's why this musical is called Heathcliff – it's one aspect of the story, seen through his eyes as he looks back in his forties. He died at 42, you know – and as forty-year-olds in those days were considered old men, I feel completely comfortable playing him in my fifties! The age scale is completely different now.'
|Lighting up time. 'The Christmas decorations are all in place, the presents are arranged under the tree, and the food is ready. It's nearly time for the party to begin, so Cliff takes care of the final touch by lightning the candle.'|
Cliff is so intrinsically good natured and exudes such positive niceness that there have understandably also been doubts expressed in the media as to whether he can convey Heathcliff's moody, turbulent and troubled character.
When asked about this, he shows a natural irritation of any professional performer at the assumption that it will be his own personality, rather than that of the character he is playing, that will be projected on the stage.
'Jane, I've said this to the press so many times: I may well be Mr Nice Guy and I don't have any problem with that; I like being liked. But give me a dagger and I'll stab Caesar viciusly to death on stage – and then go out to dinner with him afterwards!'
Cliff is particularly pleased with the designs for the production. They are based on the paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, an early 19th century German Romantic artist, whose style is in many reminiscent of some of the early drawings of Emily Brontë herself.
As Cliff says, 'the cover of the CD (Songs From Heathcliff, released on EMI on October 3th) looks absolutely wonderful – I only wish, at times like this, that large, old fashioned LPs were still made. The fronts of CDs and cassettes seems so small when you've got a magnificent picture like ours to use.'
The necessary flashbacks to Heathcliff and Cathy's early years will be achieved using the very latest in design technology: images will be projected onto vapour screens, through which the live performers can move without disturbing the ghostly images between, achieving the effect of beings in a state of semi-existence and mystery.
|Novel moment. 'Cliff was suprised and delighted with his special Heathcliff cake, which I gave him not only to enjoy at Christmas, but also to wish him well in his marvellous new production.'|
Initially, Cliff will take the show to strategic UK arenas. After that, it's to australia, south Africa and maybe even Broadway, and a run in London's West End.
It promises two or three very busy years ahead, but as always, Cliff will find time to escape to his Portuguese retreat near Albufeira in the Algarve, where his current prode and joy is his vineyard. 'I can't wait to start sending bottles of Château Richard to my friends!', he laughs. 'And I've got some olive trees, and figs, too.'
It's obvious just how much this haven means to him; he goes over there several times a year, often with members of his family, and as usual this year he plans to fly over immediately after Christmas to spend New Year there.
When the production of Heathcliff finally appears next year, it will be the culmination of years of thought and planning, and the fulfilment of a long-cherished childhood dream. I hope he has a huge success with it and that this Christmas, and all the others to come, are as happy for him as he truly deserves.
|Music man. 'Unsurprisingly for someone who has spent so long working in the music business, Cliff's enjoyment of music is far ranging. At Christmas, he loved listening to classics, but carols are definitely his favourite.'|
Cliff fans are sure to love the Heathcliff cake.
Basic Cake Recipe
For the Heathcliff cake:
25cm/10in square cake
Serves: 25-30 portions
Cooking time: 3 1/4 - 3 3/4 hours.
- 25 cm/10in square cake tin (double lined with baking parchment)
- 450g/1lb currants
- 450g/1lb sultanas
- 175/6oz raisins
- 175g/6oz mixed peel
- 175g/6oz glacé cherries
- 175ml/6fl oz brandy
- 450g/1lb plain flour
- 450g/1lb butter
- 4 tsp mixed spice
- 450g/1lb dark unrefined molasses sugar
- 8 eggs
- 100g/4oz ground almonds
To make the cakes:
- Mix the dried fruit and glacé cherries together and soak overnight in the brandy.
- Preheat the oven to 150ºC (300ºF/Gas 2). Sift the flour and the spice together.
- Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat the eggs and add to the creamed mixture a little at a time, beating well with each addition. Fold in the flour, using a metal spoon.
- Fold in the fruit, the mixed peel and the ground almonds and mix well.
- Transfer into the prepared cake tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 3 1/4 - 3 3/4 hours for the 10in square cake. Oven temperatures vary, so always cook until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
- 1 egg white, size 3
- 225g/8oz icing sugar
- few drops lemon juice
Whisk the egg white until slighly frothy. Sieve, and stir in, a little icing sugar. Beat well. Gradually add the remaining icing sugar, beating well after each addition. Add the lemon juice and beat the mixture until smooth and glossy.
You can adapt this design for use in other celebration cakes: an open Bible for christenings or an open photo album for anniversaries, for example.
- 25cm/10in square fruit cake
- apricot jam, boiled
- 1,75kg/3 1/2lb marzipan
- icing sugar for dusting
- 1,8kg/4l roll-out icing
- assorted food colours including brown and green
- non-toxic gold paint
- royal icing (opcional)
- fine paintbrush
- 40.5 x 30.5cm/16 x 12 in cake board
- Cut a 7.5cm/3in strip off one side of the cake and stick with hot apricot jam to the next side of the cake. Trim off any excess. This will give a rectangle measuring roughly 33 x 18 cm/13 x 7 in.
- Cut the two outside edges vertically at an angle to form the pages. Shape the top of the open book by cutting a V-shaped groove in the centre. Brush the cake with hot apricot jam.
- Dust the work surface with icing sugar and roll out the marzipan to 3mm/ 1/8 in thickness. Lay the marzipan over the cake and smooth over with the palm of your hand. Trim off any excess.
- Dust the work surface with icing sugar, then knead a roll 1,4kg/3lb of roll-out icing to 3mm/ 1/8in thickness. Brush the marzipan with a little water and drape the icing over the top. Smooth with the palm of your hand and trim off any excess. Using the back of a knife, score the book's pages in the icing along the vertical sides of the cake.
- For the book cover, knead 175g/6oz of roll-out icing with brown food colour. Dust the work surface with icing sugar, then roll out a long strip of icing to 2mm/ 1/16in thickness. From this large strip, cut four 2.5cm/1 in-wide strips. Brush the cake board next to the edges of the cake with water and pñace the strips around the cake to form the covers of the book, neatly mitring the corners.
- For the bookmark, knead green food colour into 50g/1 in-wide strip, trim the ends and score one end with the back of a knife to make the bookmark fringing. Strick to the centre of the book with a little water, forming the bookmark. roll out the remaining supgar paste and use to cover the cake board, sticking with a little water.
- Using non-toxic gold food colour – not to be eaten – and a fine paintbrush, paint the edging and the treble clef on the bookmark. With food colours of your choice, paint the picture, musical notes and wording. If you don't have confidence in your artistic skills, use a real picture or photo and attach to the cake with a little royal icing.