Island legend Bernie – the singer who did it his way!
The voice of the late Bernie Cullen could clearly be heard in the Newport Minster Church just after noon on January 4th, singing ‘There’s A Kind Of Hush’.
Any hush was quickly broken, when the full congregation clapped and cheered as his coffin was carried down the aisle. He was an Island legend, and that was the perfect proof. There will never be another like our Bern, and I’ve never found one person who didn’t like him.
Bernie made friends wherever he went. Some knew him through his local football life and many others for his vocal talents with the Medina City Jazz Band, the Five Alive, Backtrax and his own solo gigs. He was a much respected plasterer in the building trade and loved a pint. During his life he raised such a lot for local charities, was virtually unbeatable when he played shove ‘alfpenny at the Princess Royal, and was a fanatical Manchester City supporter. Ironically, a couple of days after he passed away, City beat ‘the other team from Manchester’, as he used to call them. He would have loved that.
Personally, I have so many precious memories of time spent with Bernie. In more recent years, we drank coffee in the Cullen Arms, his bottom-of-the-garden man cave. He was a dream to interview and there were times when he got quite excited during live radio interviews. In the end, I decided to pre-record them, just in case. In fact, he was the first-ever guest on my IW Radio show, John Hannam Meets. He was also on my 25th anniversary programme.
In his Five Alive days he was known to drop his trousers to reveal his union jack boxer shorts. At a classy mainland ball at Burnham Beeches, attended by Princess Anne, he did the same thing, by Royal Appointment. She enjoyed it and he managed a few quiet words with her, much to her delight, apparently. On another occasion Bernie and the boys were thrilled to meet the Maigret TV star Rupert Davies.
Once at Warner’s, Puckpool, he came on stage to embarrass me, dressed as Dame Edna Everage. I did get my own back – but it took a while!
Wembley Stadium held a special memory for Bernie. “When City beat Leicester 1-0 in the 1969 Cup Final, me and my brother, Tony, managed to slip on to the pitch after the game. I went in goal and he took a penalty with his bowler hat and I couldn’t even stop it. We ended up in the VIP lounge,” he smiled.
Bernie was a very talented goalkeeper and something of a showman in between the posts. He played in the same Hampshire Schools team as ex-Spurs player Martin Chivers. When Newport won a major trophy at Fratton Park, Bernie celebrated rather a lot. When committee man Ollie Hamilton got him back to the Island, he took him to his front door, pushed him in and ran away as fast as he could.
The Five Alive supported famous bands like the Nice, Searchers, Tremeloes, Troggs and Swinging Blue Jeans. Bernie loved all that. He still had an ambition to do a tribute act to his idol Frank Sinatra, Sadly, he was taken too early to achieve that final dream.
Bernie had a tough start to his life. Both his mother and father died when he was quite young. They would be proud of all that he achieved and that he meant so much to so many people. I was privileged to have been a good friend. ‘My Way’ was his favourite song – and that’s how he lived his eventful life. God bless, mate.