“Dearly beloved, let there be light…” were Reverend Richard Coles’ opening words before he switched on his stage light for his show at the Kenton Theatre on Sunday evening.
The only vicar to appear on Strictly Come Dancing (with the lowest score in the show’s history for the Paso Doble) and having a number one hit with the 1980s band The Communards. Reverend Richard originally from Kettering said he had enjoyed “trolleying the streets of Henley” earlier and commented that he’d never seen a Whistles opposite a Rohan on the high street and wondered why we had a hidden Waitrose!
He then recounted a story of stopping off at an M6 service station to go the toilet and nearly missing a pedestrian and having to slam on his brakes. He said, “I then sat down to have a cup of tea and the gentleman came across and said, ‘Oh it’s you! I look forward to telling my wife later that one of the Pet Shop Boys nearly ran me over!” He told the audience I often get mistaken as someone else including the Housemartins.” He asked if people remembered him appearing in Strictly? He said, “If you blinked you missed me. When we did a group dance I was at the back. When my agent asked me are you sure you want to do it as you’re never going to win.” He did though enjoy having a spray tan and found out that glitter just gets everywhere.
The Reverend then explained his first experiences of being part of the church, at the age of 8 singing in the Chapel Choir and becoming Head Chorister. Realising at the age of 13 when his voice broke that he would no longer be the star of the show. Back then he thought Christianity was a fairy tale. At the age of 18 in 1976 he realised he was gay and knew he could no longer live in Kettering so came to London and met Jimmy Sommerville busking who had moved down from Glasgow and started playing gigs together. He commented “It took me 6 months before I understood him.” The big break came when Jimmy asked Richard to join him on the Bronski Beat US tour playing the saxophone. The duo then broke away and formed The Communards with Don’t Leave Me This Way topping the charts in 1986. When his 14 year-old nephew watched the YouTube video of this song he commented “Even then you can see there was a vicar struggling to get out.”
At the age of 30, Richard signed up to study Theology at Kings College. He recounted his ordain and parish selection processes with funny stories and his experience of being at a rector of an inner-city parish against that of his Knightsbridge parish. He went on to tell some funny funeral stories (no spoilers here) and said that vicars loved to swap these stories. He retired from the church last year, because he didn’t like that the Church of England still doesn’t recognise gay marriages.
Reverend Richard then spoke of his heart-ache of losing his husband David who was also a vicar in 2019 at the age of 43 and writing his memoir of loss, The Madness Of Grief which became a bestseller.
Talking about his love of doing radio, he commented, “Live radio is so much fun.” He told the audience that going back on Saturday Live wasn’t going to happen but he will be on Radio 4 next year.
After the interval, questions from the audience were answered. These included – is music still in your life? (he learnt the accordion over Zoom in lockdown) what’s your favourite musical and which character would you play? (Eliza Doolittle/My Fair Lady) and is your heart open to love? Richard said that he had met actor, Dickie Cant through a dating app at the end of last year who is the son of the late children’s Playschool TV presenter, Brian Cant.
Another audience member asked Reverend Richard about his podcasts entitled The Rabbit Hole Detectives where he is joined by archaeologist, Dr Cat Jarman and Earl Charles Spencer as they chase the provenance of historical objects both real and metaphorical. Reverend Richard said, “We have some great discoveries and they are really good fun to do. We take the mickey out of the Earl a lot. I got to know the Earl originally when I was involved in a charity that Diana was involved in. When the press were hounding me after David’s death, he offered for me to go and stay with him and his family. I call him my ‘Earlfriend’.”
Will we see Reverend Richard joining Jimmy Sommerville at Rewind Festival? Unfortunately the answer was no because he said, “I don’t want to retread it and can’t remember any of the songs.”