“She was feisty, she didn’t let anyone get in her way’: Kara Lily Hayworth on playing an icon in Cilla Black musical

PUBLISHED: 09:30 09 April 2018 | UPDATED: 16:03 18 April 2018

Kara Lily Hayworth in Cilla The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin

Kara Lily Hayworth in Cilla The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin


From Cavern Club coat-check girl to 1960s stardom, Cilla Black’s remarkable rise to fame is told in a musical about her early life coming to the region. Kara Lily Hayworth tells Simon Parkin about taking on the iconic role.

Christopher Weeks, Alex Harford, Jay Osbourne and Gemma Brodrick-Bower in Cilla The Musical. Photo: Matt MartinChristopher Weeks, Alex Harford, Jay Osbourne and Gemma Brodrick-Bower in Cilla The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin

When you’re a performer with a powerful singing voice and vibrant red hair and the role of Cilla Black comes up, you’d think you would be head of the queue; particularly so when you once met the late singer herself and have a framed autograph.

But Kara Lily Hayworth, who plays the lead in a major new musical that is coming to Norwich Theatre Royal, insists it was her agent that pursued her to audition for the role.

“My acting agent said he thought I’d be perfect for it, so I actually just went on a whim really,” she recalls. “Then I looked her up and realised we’re both the same height, both red heads, so I thought I tick a couple of boxes. They were open auditions all over the country. I auditioned at the Dominion Theatre in London. Then through several rounds I eventually got the part.”

Kara was plucked from 2,000 hopefuls in what was a long process to find the right performer to play the iconic role in what is a musical adaptation of the critically acclaimed ITV mini-series based on the early life of Cilla.

“For the first audition they just needed us to prepare a 1960s song. I sang Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow by Carol King. But then for the auditions after that we had to sing Anyone Who Had a Heart and You’re My World, and also prepare some of the scenes from the script,” she adds.

“We had the final round of auditions, for the final four girls, at the actual Cavern Club in Liverpool. We got up and got to sing there which was really cool and it was filmed for ITV.”

Cast of Cilla The Musical. Photo: Matt MartinCast of Cilla The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin

All the hard work paid off and having landed the role the musical got its premiere fittingly enough at the Empire in Liverpool.

“Obviously it was amazing. I’m not from Liverpool and its quite daunting playing such as iconic as Cilla Black in Liverpool, her home city. But the reaction was amazing,” she adds.

Born Priscilla Maria Veronica White, the future star Cilla grew up in a musically oriented household in one of the toughest parts of Liverpool.

During her late teens she could be found in the city’s trendy clubs of the day like The Cavern, where she worked as a coat-check girl. She also served coffee at The Zodiac, another clubbers’ haven, where she met her husband-to-be, Bobby Willis.

She quickly became a mini-celebrity, performing alongside acts at the forefront of establishing the “Mersey Sound”, such as The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers. It wasn’t long before she came to the attention of Brian Epstein.

The story of her rise to chart-topping 1960s star was one that Kara researched having grown up when Cilla was more synonymous with TV shows.

Kara Lily Hayworth as CIlla and Carl Au as Bobby. Photo: Matt MartinKara Lily Hayworth as CIlla and Carl Au as Bobby. Photo: Matt Martin

“I knew her most watching Blind Date at my nan’s house,” she admits. “I didn’t know an awful lot about this incredible pop career that she had before that. I learnt a lot about it during the auditioning, and you realise how many hits she had. Everyone knows the huge success of Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, but there was so much more before that.”

The musical charts the story from her earliest days at the Cavern through to national fame. Kara said: “I starts with her going on nights out at the Cavern and being a coat-check girl, and being friends with The Beatles. Then when she first meets Bobby and it follows it right through until her very first TV show, Cilla, where she was presenter.

“It really is that whole early period when she gets discovered by Brian Epstein, the love story that her and Bobby had, which had its ups and downs like any relationship.

“During it you see lots of different sides to them both. She was very feisty, she knew what she wanted and she didn’t let anyone get in her way. She was very ambitious and you see all of that. Also, of course, all the hits, both from her and you’ve also got The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Mamas & the Papas, The Big Three, such great music.”

She adds: “I sing 18 songs just myself. But it’s also a real drama and because the songs are presented in-situ as it were, they are in the studio or as they were performed live, rather than being used to tell the story, so they are as they would have been. Because of that I’d describe it more of a play with music than a musical.”

Learning the song Kara was struck by Cilla’s voice. “When you listen back to her songs from the 1960s her voice was amazing, she had such a powerful voice and a great range. In the later years her singing did become more of a personality thing. But back then she had a lot of power behind it.

Kara Lily Hayworth in Cilla The Musical. Photo: Matt MartinKara Lily Hayworth in Cilla The Musical. Photo: Matt Martin

“These songs aren’t easy to sing. When I was first learning them that’s what really stuck me, that these are tricky. I don’t think I sound like her particularly. I’m not doing an impersonation. It is my own take on the songs.”

One thing she did endeavour to get as accurate as possible was the accent.

“I have always had a good ear for accents and I love doing them anyway,” she says. “We’ve got a few Liverpudlians in the cast, so they’ve make sure I’m doing it right.”

Later Cilla lived in Buckinghamshire and it was there that a young Kara met the star she watched on Blind Date.

“It was a chance meeting in a clothes shop,” she recalls. “I was about 12 or something. I’ve still got her autograph at home in a little frame.”

By then Kara was herself already on her way to stage stardom having aged 10 got her first break starring as the red-headed orphan Annie in a tour of the musical with Paul O’Grady - in the guise of Lily Savage – playing Miss Hannigan.

Jeff Pope, Carl Au, Kara Lily Hayworth and Robert Willis at the Cilla The Musical Gala Night at the Liverpool Empire. Photo: David MunnJeff Pope, Carl Au, Kara Lily Hayworth and Robert Willis at the Cilla The Musical Gala Night at the Liverpool Empire. Photo: David Munn

“It was amazing looking back, but at the time I just thought it was easy to get into big shows,” she laughs. “I thought you just went to auditions and got the part. I’ve since found out that is generally not the case!

“We toured the UK and there were three groups of kids, because obviously we were all very young, but I have such amazing memories of that. It was the best time.”

t Cilla, Norwich Theatre Royal from April 17-21, 7.30pm, 2.30pm April 18-19, 21, £37.50-£10, 01603 630000,

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