SHE WAS a national treasure, famous first for her singing and later for her dominance of Saturday night television.
Cilla Black, born Princilla White, found fame initially as a teenage pop star when The Beatles helped make Liverpool the entertainment capital of the world.
But her later programmes such as Blind Date and Surprise Surprise made her a new generation’s favourite auntie.
Now tributes have poured in for a “national treasure” after the entertainer died at her home in Estepona in the south of Spain. She was 72.
Black - who suffered from hearing problems and arthritis - reportedly died overnight after flying to Spain with her son Robert.
Friend and fellow presenter Christopher Biggins, who starred alongside Cilla in Surprise! Surprise!, described Black as a “national treasure” adding that she will “always be with me”.
“It’s devastating news, really devastating,” he said.
Lord Grade, former executive chairman of ITV, said a once nervous Cilla soon gained a natural confidence in front of the cameras and went on to become an “enduring family favourite”.
Singer Sir Cliff Richard said he will miss his “outrageous” friend dearly. “Some people will always be with us and Cilla is one of those people,” he said.
“I will always think of her as outrageous, funny, incredibly gifted but above all full of heart.
“She was a very special person, and I have lost a very wonderful friend, I will miss her dearly. God bless her.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Cilla Black was a huge talent who made a significant contribution to public life in Britain. My thoughts are with her family.”
Spice Girl Emma Bunton tweeted: “So sad, what a women, national treasure. #CillaBlack.”
Black and Bobby Willis, her husband of 30 years, were said to have had one of the strongest relationships in showbusiness.
The couple, who lived in Denham in Buckinghamshire, were said to have spent only three nights apart since their marriage before he became ill. Mr Willis, 57, died after a long battle with liver and lung cancer in October 1999.
They had three sons Robert, Ben and Jack with a daughter, Ellen, who died two hours after her premature birth in 1975.
An associate of The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein in the early 1960s, she scored two number ones in 1964 - Anyone Who Had A Heart and You’re My World - as well as enjoying many other hits, before going on to concentrate on TV.
Born as Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool, she went on to host more than 500 editions of her programmes and was the first woman to have her own prime-time chat show on BBC1.
She became one of the most highly paid and successful light entertainment performers in the history of British television.
But Cilla, 72, whose rare talents were matched by a phenomenal capacity for hard work, remained in the public eye for half a century.
Cilla’s enduring popularity stemmed from her amiable nature and her proud accent, addressing people affectionately as “chuck” and her breezy “lorra, lorra laughs” catch-phrases.
Last year, Sheridan Smith, of Epworth, Lincolnshire, played the lead role in Cilla, a television drama series which charted Cilla’s rise.
Cilla black spoke recently how she thought 75 was a good age to die and that she did not want to linger.
As the entertainer approached her 71st birthday last year, she said: “Seventy-five is a good age to go, I still think that way. I don’t want to linger.
“I don’t want to be a burden on anybody. I know 75 is only four years away but I take each day as I find it.”
She later told Radio Times that she had made the remark after watching her mother go downhill in her old age.
Black said: “I meant that I didn’t want to be like that, but I ain’t going nowhere. I just thank God when I wake up every day. I’m going to grow old disgracefully. It’s come full circle.”