A 59-year-old former teen idol has put the Lord's Prayer, sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, at the top of the UK national hit parade.

The BBC and other mainstream radio stations kept Sir Cliff Richard's Millennium Prayer off their playlists, saying the musical quality was too poor. Denied the oxygen of publicity, the record was expected to fail, but instead the music world learned November 29 that the recording had seized the number one spot ahead of current pop idols, Boyzone.

A music industry executive, Gennaro Castaldo, told London's Daily Mirror newspaper: "It shows that for once this is not simply about marketing and radio play. It looks like his devoted fan base, coupled with the push from the wider Christian community, has helped him along."

Among many red faces in the recording industry are executives from Richard's long-time recording company, EMI, who did not want the song, even from a star with 13 previous British number one hits in a 40-year recording career.

Instead, the Millennium Prayer was brought out by a smaller company.

Even Richard, who is a committed Christian, at first had doubts about the idea of combining Christianity's foundation prayer with a tune known in many countries as the herald of the new year. He was reported as feeling that the idea made one "want to puke [vomit]" before realizing that it was "a stroke of genius … The combination of the two is perfect."

Richard is an enduring figure on the British music scene. His first UK no 1 record was Living Doll in 1959 - and he took the same song back to the top in 1986.

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995, Richard has never married and has a reputation for clean living. His boyish looks have earned him the nickname "the Peter Pan of pop." He has ...

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