Cilla Black to be laid to rest today
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 when the service starts at 1pm.. Fellow TV celebrity and close friend Christopher Biggins will give a reading, before Liverpudlian entertainer Jimmy Tarbuck leads mourners in prayers and Paul O'Grady, who called Black his "best friend", gives a final eulogy.
One of the first people outside the church this morning was one of Cilla Black's neighbours from her childhood home in Scotland Road.
Robert Ross 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."
Hazel Cowell, 70, watched as fans and media gathered outside the church.
Mrs Cowell said: "I remember her getting the wedding blessing at this church 47 years ago.
"We were able to see right into the church.
"I thought the '60s was the best era, you were lucky to have lived there.
"Liverpool was the place to be. I thought it was fantastic to be young and innocent.
"I think there will be lots of people here. She was popular in Liverpool and everywhere."
Margaret Heaton, 66, from Manchester said she was the first to arrive at barrier gates outside the church this morning - at 5.45am, eight hours before the funeral is to begin. Mrs Heaton brought her own floral tribute of white roses.
She said: "I brought her favourite flowers, cream roses. I have got very fond memories of Cilla and the 60's, me and my friend, who I have lost, singing and dancing. Just fantastic memories. I just wish her family well. She will still always bring pleasure to our lives with her music."
Linda Milne, 63, came down from Scotland to be at today's memorial.
Mrs Milne, from Dundee said: " I just came to pay my respects really. I grew up in the 60's and loved her music. I've been to The Cavern yesterday, I'm a big Beatles fan, and I'm here today."
Mrs Milne held a hand written note that read, "Cilla fondest memories from your number 1 fan. You're my world."
Former Blind Date contestant Mark Finch made the trip from Scotland.
He said: 'What a lovely woman, an absolute pleasure to meet. Such a down-to-earth woman, you couldn't wish to meet someone so down to earth, her only fault was I didn't get my date!
"She made you welcome, she makes everybody welcome You don't feel shaken or anything like that, a really down-to-earth person and I miss her - I think the country misses her.
"I just think she's a woman who's put so much into music and show business and I just wanted to show my respects."
Classroom assistant Eddie Lynch, 56, travelled from his home in Glasgow at 6.30am this morning to get a prime viewing spot.
He said: "She was so beautiful and polished. I travelled all this way because I've always loved Cilla. I took the day off.
"There was something about her. I met her twice in 1975 and 1978 and she was always gorgeous and immaculate. I saw her six times in show.
"When I heard she had died I was shocked because she always seemed ever young and girlish. A lot of people know I loved Cilla so I had to come. I think today will be very sad."
Biggins and O'Grady along with Gerry and the Pacemakers singer Gerry Marsden, comedian Jimmy Tarbuck and TV presenter Carol Vorderman have arrived for the funeral.
Sam Leach, a club promoter says he gave Cilla her "big break" in 1961, said the star "made Liverpool proud".
With his backing she booked her first gig at the Casanova Club in the city, and performed as Swinging Cilla.
As he arrived at church, he said: "She started with me in 1961. I was the King of Liverpool in those days. I started the Beatles and Cilla."
The 79-year-old spoke of his emotions today as the city said farewell to one of its most famous daughters.
"It's sad because here I am, and I feel guilty because I'm still here. But I'm sure she'll be delighted by all the people making a fuss. She's done Liverpool proud."
Cilla impersonator Brenda Collins, 64, arrived in Liverpool from Durham yesterday to honour her "icon".
The cruise ship worker said: "I was working on the cruises and we were sailing out of Liverpool. I was due to go on stage in three days into the cruise and Cilla is my opening act of my show.
"A man came up to me and he said 'Cilla has died'. I thought he was joking I was about to walk away, my world came crashing down I had to go to my cabin and pull myself together.
"Out of respect to Cilla I changed the opening of my show. On the last night of the cruise I did a tribute act and the place went up. It will remain with me forever.
"I had to stop the show and ask the passengers to give me a minute. There were sobs from the audience. I have been impersonating her for 48 years and when she changed her hair I did, when she changed her hair colour I did.
"It's been amazing that she's been my icon."
As the first of the coaches passed by, on-lookers crowding the barriers on the approach to St Mary's spotted comedian Julian Clary among those inside, waving and clapping.