THEY were Cilla Black’s original Blind Date.
Billy and Lynda Cunningham, from Prestonpans, were brought together by the Liverpudlian singer and TV presenter years before the dating show ever aired.
The pair met at the stage door to see their pop idol at Scarborough’s Futurist Theatre in August 1974 and their shared love of the red-haired singer saw them marry nine years later.
And although Cilla, who passed away at the weekend aged 72 after suffering a stroke, wasn’t on the guest list for their big day, she was one of the first to know the couple had got engaged.
Billy, a civil servant, said: “It feels like we’ve lost a close friend. She’s been there all our lives. She brought us together and we saw her sing and perform so many times.
“She always said hello and wanted to know our news.
“In 1983 she was at the Edinburgh Playhouse for her 40th birthday and it was one of her best concerts – that’s when we told her we were getting married.
“Then at another concert we told her we were expecting. She was always absolutely delighted and she always told her husband Bobby. He was such a nice man, too.”
Billy, 57, met Lynda Hedley, from Newcastle, when he was just 16. “I went down by myself from Edinburgh to Scarborough to see Cilla’s show and hoped to meet her at the stage door,” he recalled.
“I went on my own – well, none of my pals liked Cilla, she wasn’t cool then, they were into Roxy Music or Kate Bush.
“But I’d loved her since I was five and watched her on Ready, Steady, Go and I thought she was a great singer and brilliant on her own TV show – you really felt she wanted to be your friend.
“I got there about 6.30am and had to wander about all day until the show in the evening. I was at the stage door when a teenage girl and her mum arrived, and asked me if Cilla had been yet. She hadn’t, so as we waited Lynda’s mum got chatting to me.
“We saw Cilla and the show, then swapped addresses and I went home. Lynda wrote to me though because she was there for the week and Cilla was filming her show.
“We became pen pals and started meeting up at concerts, panto, summer shows – we’d always be in the front row – then eventually we became boyfriend and girlfriend. Cilla brought us together.”
Lynda, 56, said: “We were Cilla’s first Blind Date before the series even began.
“I’ve got more than most to thank her for. It’s because of her I met the man I have been married to for 32 years this month and with whom I have two beautiful daughters.
“I will always be grateful to her for that.”
Billy, who sings with the Fivers, Sing in the City’s Musselburgh choir, added: “We’ve never sung a Cilla number but I think we will do a tribute to her now.
“Lynda and I have e-mailed the book of condolence in Liverpool and we hope to go the memorial service.”
Stars including Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Paul McCartney and Christopher Biggins have paid tribute to Cilla since her death in Spain on Sunday.
Born Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool, she became one of the nation’s favourite entertainers after transforming herself from a successful singer in the 1960s to the front woman on shows such as Surprise Surprise.