Have you ever had someone from another country try to tell you about some singer or actor who is really famous in their homeland, but unknown anywhere else? They’ll say something like: “Johnny Hallyday is the Elvis of France,” or “Eppu Normaali are the Beatles of Finland.” Or even how “Shah Rukh Khan is the Tom Cruise of India.” And you’ll just nod politely and mumble something like “Er, yeah, I’m sure they’re great. Whatever.”
There is so much cultural commerce between Britain and the UK, that you would assume that British and American celebrities would be inter-changeably famous – that you would, as an American, be familiar with every huge British superstar. But it’s not true. There are in fact many British megastars who aren’t actually famous at all outside of Britain.
You may even be surprised to hear that the musical act with the strongest case for being declared the “Beatles of Britain,” aren’t actually The Beatles. The “Beatles of Britain”… the musical act so famous that they dominate the music charts for decades… so well known that they are interwoven into the country’s very fabric… is some dude you never heard of named Cliff Richards.
Who the hell is Cliff Richards?
I don’t really know who this guy is, that’s what is so amazing. As far as I’m aware, I’ve never heard a Cliff Richards song. But he apparently has had dozens of “hits” in the UK. No, wait, not dozens. Scores of hits. Over the course of decades. He’s had so many hits that in fact, Mr Richards is the most popular musical act in the history of the country.
The numbers don’t lie. By record sales, the best-selling artist in the history of the UK is not the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Elton John or Pink Floyd. It’s this Cliff Richards guy. I would love to tell you his story, including some facts about how he became famous, and maybe even an anecdote about what makes him so special, but unfortunately, I have no friggin’ idea about any of that. I never even heard of this guy until I moved over here and started hearing frequent references to him on television and in conversations. I think he’s even been knighted, for services to the musical greatness of the British Empire, or something like that. I guess I should call him Sir Cliff Richards- the most famous person, most excellent, mega-celebrity that you’ve never heard of.
This all may be rather hard to believe if you’re an American – that the biggest, most famous artist in British history is some guy who is far less famous in America than Rick Astley. This is a country that absolutely (and rightly) prides itself on its musical output. But Mr Richards is somehow more about musical “input” – less of a cultural export and more of a cultural “never left the port.” It’s like finding out that America’s most famous, most beloved actor isn’t Brad Pitt, or Harrison Ford, it’s character actor Tony Shaloub. Who the hell is Tony Shaloub? You know, he’s that guy who pops up in movies and TV shows. Imagine finding out that he was the most successful, wealthiest actor in American history, and you’ll be a little closer to understanding how strange it is that Cliff Richards exists as a British superstar.
We don’t have the problem of having secret megastars in America. The “Elvis of America” is actually … Elvis. Leonardo DiCaprio is famous in Germany, Beyonce is famous in Taiwan and Tony Shaloub is a fine actor, but he’s not inexplicably ultra-famous.
If you’re British and you’re reading this and you’re thinking “What tosh! There’s plenty of rubbish American superstars I’ve never heard of.” First off, thanks for confirming that Cliff Richards is rubbish, I knew it – I just knew it! And second, how can you be sure that you know what you don’t know? Maybe you’re right. Just… maybe. Garth Brooks? Howard Stern? There probably are a few people in the USA who are supremely well-known who have never crossed the pond in their popularity. But you’d really have to move to America, and live there a few years to really know for sure if say, the Dave Matthews Band were secretly really much more famous and popular than Michael Jackson. Otherwise you’ll have to take my word for it.
If not, then I invite all of my British readers to write a blog post listing really really really really really famous Americans you’ve never heard of until you moved to America and lived there for a bunch of years, but who are in fact the most successful person at their chosen profession in the entire history of the country.
I look forward to reading that. In the meantime, here’s my list of more British megastars, who explicably aren’t famous even a tiny little bit in America:
Who the hell is Robbie Williams? He was one of the lead singers, along with Gary Barlow, in Take That, one of the most popular groups in the UK a few years back. He then became one of the country’s most popular solo acts of the late 90s.
Who the hell is Gary Barlow? He’s the slightly less famous, but still incredibly popular other singer from Take That. Gary Barlow has sold more than 50 million records and is in the middle of a career resurgence, which you won’t have noticed, unless, of course you are British. In which case, you love him.
Who the hell are Take That? A huge pop group with way more chart success than say, the Clash, the Cure, Amy Winehouse, and the Smiths combined. The kind of hugely popular musical act that would appear on a TV show hosted by Ant and Dec.
Who the hell are Ant and Dec? Let’s move away from music, and into TV. These guys, two little dudes, are the kings of British television. They don’t sing, dance or act but they’re estimated to be 4th wealthiest TV personalities in the nation. They host every show that matters over here, including Britain’s got talent, alongside judges like Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini.
Who the hell is Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini? She’s a singer from the supergroup Girls Aloud, who has gone on to a solo career as a singer and TV personality. One thing I do know about her – she keeps getting remarried and taking on her new husband’s name. I may have missed some of her names. She may be Cheryl Tweety-Cole-Fernandez-Versini-Cumberbatch since I last checked.
Who the hell are Girls Aloud? They were apparently big. Really big. According to Wikipedia, they hold the record for “Most Consecutive Top Ten Entries in the UK by a Female Group. Yes, I had to look them up on Wikipedia, because I have never heard a Girls Aloud song. I imagine they sound remarkably like… All Saints.
Who the hell are All Saints? I really don’t know who they were, but people at the office talk about them all the time as if I should have heard of them. Apparently they had a stack of number one singles in the 90s. Around the same time that Jordan was topping sales on all the book charts.
Who the hell is Jordan? Not Michael Jordan, just Jordan. She is also known as Katie Price. She was what they euphemistically call a “glamour model” over here. Which means she became really famous for having big boobs. Somehow she parlayed that into being, for a while – in the land that gave birth to Shakespeare – the United Kingdom’s best-selling writer. You have to admire her entrepreneurial instincts, she’s almost as good a businessman as Alan Sugar.
Who the hell is Alan Sugar? Sir Alan Sugar actually – he’s one of the two or three most well-known businessmen in the country. He’s also the billionaire TV star of Great Britain’s version of “The Apprentice.” Which means he’s following in the footsteps of his far more famous, but probably far less successful American counterpart, Donald Trump.
Who the hell is Donald Trump? Well, he’s kind of the Cliff Richards of America. Someone who really really really shouldn’t be famous, but regrettably, somehow is.