A 59-year-old former teen idol has put the Lord's Prayer, sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, at the top of the UK national hit parade.

The BBC and other mainstream radio stations kept Sir Cliff Richard's Millennium Prayer off their playlists, saying the musical quality was too poor. Denied the oxygen of publicity, the record was expected to fail, but instead the music world learned November 29 that the recording had seized the number one spot ahead of current pop idols, Boyzone.

A music industry executive, Gennaro Castaldo, told London's Daily Mirror newspaper: "It shows that for once this is not simply about marketing and radio play. It looks like his devoted fan base, coupled with the push from the wider Christian community, has helped him along."

Among many red faces in the recording industry are executives from Richard's long-time recording company, EMI, who did not want the song, even from a star with 13 previous British number one hits in a 40-year recording career.

Instead, the Millennium Prayer was brought out by a smaller company.

Even Richard, who is a committed Christian, at first had doubts about the idea of combining Christianity's foundation prayer with a tune known in many countries as the herald of the new year. He was reported as feeling that the idea made one "want to puke [vomit]" before realizing that it was "a stroke of genius … The combination of the two is perfect."

Richard is an enduring figure on the British music scene. His first UK no 1 record was Living Doll in 1959 - and he took the same song back to the top in 1986.

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995, Richard has never married and has a reputation for clean living. His boyish looks have earned him the nickname "the Peter Pan of pop." He has never been linked to the rock and roll drug scene and claims to have been the worse for alcohol just twice in his life.

Premier, a London-based Christian radio station of which Sir Cliff Richard is a patron, was one of the few British stations to regularly play the Millennium Prayer before it reached the top of the hit parade.

Cindy Kent, a Premier presenter and a friend of Richard who used to sing with him, told ENI: "When we heard that BBC Radio 2 would not be playing the record, we were amazed. We felt they had greatly underestimated Cliff's popularity.

"It is a melodic arrangement, and the Christian character of the millennium was another reason why we expected it to succeed."

Premier Christian Radio started playing the Millennium Prayer every hour on the hour through the day as a way of demonstrating its support for the record. It called BBC Radio 2's decision "unbelievable" and "an incredible abdication of its responsibilities to its millions of listeners across the country."

It was particularly incensed at the denial of airtime because Richard was giving the proceeds to children's charities, Cindy Kent said.

She had spoken to Cliff Richard after the record reached no 1. "He was thrilled but also bewildered at the treatment of the record [by most radio stations]," she said. "He wasn't bitter. I don't think Cliff has it in him to be bitter."

A columnist with the Sun tabloid newspaper in London, Dominic Mohan, expressed his surprise at Cliff's improbable hit: "Never in 1000 years would I have believed the Lord's Prayer, sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, would have made it to the top spot."

Kent believed a factor in the record's steady climb to the top was the "British thing to love the underdog." With the odds stacked against Richard, many people would have thought: "We'll show them."

Related Elsewhere

For more on Cliff Richard, visit the Sir Cliff Richard Home Page or Cliff Richard News.

If you have the RealAudio player, you can hear a clip of the Millennium Prayer here.

Premier Radio can be heard through its Web site: www.premier.org.uk

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