The singer was among figures including Professor Stephen Hawking and actor David Hasselhoff who turned out at the 18th Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards.
Sir Cliff walked the red carpet ahead of the ceremony, which honours the UK’s unsung heroes who have displayed courage, selflessness and achievement against the odds.
He said he was “bounding with energy” to be making his major first television appearance since an investigation into child sex allegations was dropped.
The veteran singer, who has launched legal action against the BBC and South Yorkshire Police for alleged collusion in the case, retreated from public life during the two-year probe that saw albums and a biography postponed.
The 76-year-old said: “When you go through something like the last two years in my life, you realise how lucky you are really.
“That’s just a blip in my life, really.”
He also told Sky News: “I’ve leant on my faith for two years and I would not have it any other way. My faith stayed strong and now it’s stronger.
“I do believe God has a part to play in the fact that I’m still here and people still like me – it’s a miracle to me after all these years.”
Emma Bunton, Sir Tom Jones and Mary Berry were among the other big names to grace the red carpet ahead of the awards being doled out.
The glittering annual ceremony will be hosted by Carol Vorderman at central London’s Grosvenor House, with presenters to include Prime Minister Theresa May and the Prince of Wales.
Categories include special recognition, emergency services, child of courage and TSB community partner, with the winners coming from across the country and from all walks of life.
Meanwhile, Charles will present the Prince’s Trust Young Achiever Award to Francesca Brown, 25, who overcame depression and family troubles to found an inspirational football development programme for girls called “Goals4Girls”.
The award is presented every year to a young person who has turned their life around against the odds and is now helping others.
It came after Sir Cliff also revealed he had plans to tour in mid-2017 and had learnt how “reliant” he was on others during the past two years.
He said: “Of course, I knew I had good friends. I didn’t realise how good they were.
“When something like this happens, you’re suddenly surrounded by a force of energy and love.”
The prime minister greeted waiting schoolchildren as she walked into the ceremony soon after, with one even calling out: “I love you!”
Charles followed shortly behind, heralded by strains of the national anthem.
Inside, Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes will also be bestowed with a special recognition award after they rewrote the history books at the Rio Games, sending records tumbling and surpassing all expectations.
William Edwards, 24, who risked his own life to save pensioner Anne Wade while she was trapped inside a burning car, will be honoured as an outstanding bravery award winner.
The winners were chosen by a judging panel made up of celebrated figures in national life.
Organisers received tens of thousands of nominations from the public while researchers discovered “remarkable individuals”.
Charles was introduced by Dame Maggie Smith who described him as her “good friend” before a video detailing the creation and 40-year history of The Prince’s Trust was played.
He went on to present The Prince’s Trust young achiever award to Francesca Brown, 25, of Bromley, who overcame depression and family troubles to set up an inspirational football development programme for girls.
She trialled her football-based “Goals4Girls” imitative as a voluntary project two years before joining The Prince’s Trust enterprise programme in 2015, which helped her turn it into a viable business.
In presenting the award, Charles said: “Francesca’s remarkable story demonstrates the importance of my trust’s work and the impacts such support can have.”
It came after Ms Brown described the significant toll social media was taking on young girls growing up today and said she had to give girls 10-minute breaks so they could check their Snapchat and Instagram notifications.
Asked if she had a Snapchat account, Dame Maggie quipped: “No, I have no idea what it is.”
The Prince’s Trust helps disadvantaged young people to get their lives on track by supporting 13 to 30 year-olds who are unemployed, struggling at school or at risk of exclusion.
The Prime Minister said Prof Hawking had “quite simply changed the way we think about the world around us” as he was presented with the lifetime achievement award.
The acclaimed theoretical physicist replied: “Thank you, Prime Minister, for those very kind words.
“I deal with tough mathematical questions every day – but please don’t ask me to help with Brexit.”
He told the audience he was excited for the innovations of the future including developments in robots, driverless cars and “computers that will win every board game they will play”.
YouTube star Nikki Christou, from Enfield, also received cheers and a standing ovation as she arrived on stage to be presented with a child of courage award.
The 12-year-old was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening facial disfigurement arteriovenous malformation – an abnormal connections between arteries and veins – at the age of just six.
Two years after her diagnosis she started a YouTube channel, featuring make up and baking tutorials, which now has 95,000 subscribers.
The crowd applauded when she said: “Haters – it’s more about them than it is you, really.”