Cilla Black will be laid to rest today as family, fans and stars from across the showbiz world gather to say a final tearful goodbye at her funeral.
Sir Cliff Richard will pay his own musical tribute, performing his song Faithful One at the start of the service to celebrate her life and mourn the passing of one of Britain’s most enduring and best loved entertainers.
The star will return to Liverpool - where she first found fame - for the last time with hundreds of fans expected to line the two-mile route to the church to pay their respects as her cortege passes.
Speaking ahead of the service, TV celebrity and close friend Christopher Biggins, who will be giving a reading, said that it was like “Cinderella” had returned home, and that Black will be looking down with her husband Bobby and enjoying a “glass of champagne”.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “It’s going to be a tough day I think but also a joyous day, saying goodbye to our dear friend Cilla and I think this is absolutely the right place for her to return to. It’s like Cinderella has returned to Liverpool... If Cilla were here, she’d love it.”
Biggins said the family had a little party in a hotel last night to remember her, and that her sons Robert and Ben, who are speaking at the funeral, are doing “amazingly well”.
He said: “You think she’s going to ring and say, ‘Shall we go to the Ivy?’ or you’re going to turn up somewhere and she’s going to be there. The reality is that she’s not but we’re going to give her a good send off today, a really good send off.”
And Biggins said he thought Black would love the way in which her life is being celebrated, saying: “I think she’s up there with a glass of champagne and Bobby having a laugh and looking to see who’s coming, who’s not here, why aren’t they here, and just having a good time...
“It’s just wonderful for the family and for Cilla. It’s fantastic this tribute that Liverpool is paying to her.”
One of the first people outside the church this morning was one of Black’s neighbours from her childhood home in Scotland Road.
Robert Ross, had returned to Liverpool today to pay his respects.
Mr Ross, 72, who now lives in Colwyn Bay said: “She was my next door neighbour. She was a very bright girl, very down to earth.
“I remember her growing up, singing and dancing, going to different parties, going down to The Cavern Club. She used to perform down there with The Beatles.
“She was the Queen of Liverpool, she was. She will be sadly missed.”
Black’s funeral will begin at 1pm at St Mary’s Church in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton. The church was where she received a wedding blessing on marrying her much-loved late husband and manager Bobby Willis in 1969.
Liverpudlian entertainers Jimmy Tarbuck will lead mourners in prayers and Paul O’Grady, who called Black his “best friend” will give a final eulogy.
During the Catholic requiem mass presided over by the Right Reverend Thomas Williams, Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool, psalms and biblical readings will be given and Amazing Grace will be among the hymns sung by the church choir.
Poems will be read by two of Black’s three sons, Robert - who is also her manager - and Ben.
Black’s 1964 number one Anyone Who Had A Heart will be played and The Beatles composition The Long And Winding Road will close the service.
Her body will then be laid to rest at a private ceremony in Allerton Cemetery alongside her parents.
Born Priscilla Maria Veronica White, she grew up with her parents and brothers above a barber’s shop in the tough dockland district of Scotland Road, the inner-city area ravaged by wartime bombing.
Black’s first performances were as a youngster standing on a chair during post-pub singsongs with her family in the days long before TV entertainment.
But her big break came after she took a part-time job as a cloakroom girl at The Cavern Club, met The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein and rose to fame and fortune in the Merseybeat era of the Swinging Sixties.
Younger generations grew up with her as a staple of Saturday night TV, on her long-running popular shows Blind Date and Surprise, Surprise.
Black’s career spanned six decades before her sudden death, aged 72, after a fall at her villa in Spain on August 1.
She may be on course to top the albums chart on Friday, with her The Very Best Of collection provisionally sitting at number two, the Official Charts Company.
The record re-entered the Top 40 at number 14 two weeks ago following the entertainer’s death.