Cherie Rutherford has finally admitted it. When she appeared on the TV show ‘Blind Date’ 19 years ago, she didn’t tell presenter Cilla Black about the special man in her life!
It all came back to her at the weekend when Cilla’s death was announced from her Spanish villa – “I was so sad to hear about it, for she was so lovely during my brief encounter with her. Real fun.”
The then Cherie Speers wasn’t all that fussed about being on the show.
Her doting ‘nan’ Harriet Curry (now 92) sent off for the forms for her vivacious granddaughter. That was in May 1996, and a month later Cherie was in the hot seat chatting with Cilla, having to choose one of three aspiring suitors at the other side of the screen, going by voice only.
“I chose ‘Cal’ because of his lilting Scottish accent,” said Cherie. “His full name was James Callaghan, the same as the ex-Prime Minister. We had a great time, and were sent off three days to a luxury wooden cabin, beside a lake, deep in the Finnish forest.
“We both entered into the spirit of it all, and struck up a great friendship. We went skiing, paragliding – you name it – and enjoyed the 24-hour daylight of Finland in mid-summer. He was a real gentleman.”
But romance between Cherie and Cal never had a chance – and not just because a TV crew of seven followed their every move! For between the May application and the June appearance on the show, Cherie had fallen in love with Portadown man Paul Rutherford. She had known him for a long time, but it all clicked during that 1996 summer. Paul remains the abiding love of her life, for they’ve been married since 2000.
“Of course, I let Cal in on the secret,” said Cherie, a fitness instructor at Cascades and as fit and lithe as the “vivid blue-eyed Irish Colleen” (Cilla’s words) who had a ball on the show.
They returned from Finland to the LWT studio for the “couch” session and told Cilla they had a wonderful time, hit it off really well and would remain friends – and Cherie returned to Portadown for her burgeoning romance with Paul.
“Afterwards, Cal hitch-hiked to Portadown to see me, with a dozen red roses and I introduced him to Paul,” said Cherie. “They hit it off well.” But Paul was the man for her - they live at Mahon Avenue and Paul is a lecturer, trainer and assessor in the fitness industry.
“I spent quite a bit of time with Cilla,” said Cherie, “not only during the show but also at rehearsals. She was great – just the same person who came across on TV. At that stage I was a keen dancer with the Sharon Moore Dancers, and we did shows like ‘Grease’ at the Grand Opera House.
“Cilla did an impromptu dance with me during the recording – it wasn’t included when the show went out in October – and she was great fun. I’m so sad to hear of her death for I’ll never forget that experience.”