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'There's nothing I wore on Strictly that could outspangle what I wear in church' Popstar-turned-reverend Richard Coles, 55, talks about the similarities between showbiz and the Church, a big lie in his past, and thinking was great on Strictly en he.

Byline: Richard Coles

There can't be many people who spend their lives straddling two different worlds like the Reverend Richard Coles. The self-confessed 'novelty vicar' juggles church duties in his Northamptonshire parish the world of telly and radio (his most accolade yet being the lowest-scoring Strictly Come Dancing paso doble of all time while 'looking like a walrus in anaphylactic shock'. His description, not ours!). The celebrity half of him, although still dog collared, of course, arrives to meet us at the BBC having spent the morning tending to his parishioners. He's actually rather subdued in person, not especially flamboyant, but has an infectious dry wit and a wonderful way with words - that distinctive voice and patter being such an important part of Saturday Live, the Radio 4 show that made his name.

'I do what I do because I want to connect with people, and being in the media allows me to do that. It also feeds lso s om the self-regarding narcissistic part of me,' admits Richard, who was the inspiration for the vicar played by Tom Hollander in the sitcom Rev. 'I need to keep the old ego in check because the job of a priest is to be self-effacing. But being a vicar is quite showbizzy too. There's nothing I wore on Strictly that could out-spangle what I wear in church.' A priest's vestments aren't just black, you know. They include elaborately embroidered cloth and black hats with pom-poms - there's nothing wallflower about them!

The two worlds collide often, but he says his parishioners are used to his fame now. 'I do sometimes manage to haul in a celebrity like Rowan Atkinson, so they get very excited about that,' he says. 'Once I was in my study dealing with someone med v ph a who was a bit cross with me for spending too much time doing media stuff. I was trying very hard to show what a diligent vicar I was, then there was a little beep on the answer phone that was driving me mad so I played the message and it went, "Hi Richard, it's Tom Hollander here, can't talk long, I'm on Tom Cruise's plane."' Indeed, the worlds often meet at the most inappropriate of times - even at funerals. 'A bloke took my arm and said, "You're a terrible dancer", and then went back to being solemn as we waited for the hearse to arrive.' t You' sole.' Richard says taking part in Strictly was the easiest decision of his life. 'I agonised over it for 0.4 seconds. It was sad it was over so soon. I thought I was marvellous,' he says, having been kicked out in week two. 'But my idea of marvellous didn't coincide with anybody else's.' 'My ha m w b p doesn't for any nonsense.

Leav prepar He'' He has been famous before as one half of 1980s pop duo The Communards, who had a number one with pop classic Don't Leave Me This Way. But nothing can prepare a person for the showbiz juggernaut that is Strictly. 'It was the first time I've done something to make me recognisable since being in a pop band, but it was a lot more and overnight, but it was very welcome. I don't normally notice people staring, actually, because I'm so d recognisab me off.

usually w sta gormless, but my partner notices,' he says of his civil partner, fellow vicar Rev David Coles.

fe Richa cele st Richard thinks vicar-ing is great preparation for the celebrity life. 'Vicars are famous in their own parish in the sense that you walk around and everyone says hello. The other day I was walking down the hill to the vicarage wearing a cloak and a biretta [the clergy's hat] and a man wound down his window and shouted, "Oi, f***ing Dumbledore". So people do notice you,' he says.

d The reverend is currently being noticed as host of the new series of The Big Painting Challenge. 'We were doing Strictly at the same time as filming so Di [Buswell], my beloved dance partner, had to traipse around after me. I'd be shooting in Loch Lomond, then I'd have to meet her in the Dunbarton Leisure Centre to do a paso surrounded by kids at their karate class.' It's hard to imagine the 55-year-old showbiz vicar living the pop star life he did previously. 'I didn't do rock 'n' roll, really. Silliness, but not destructiveness. Self-destructiveness, maybe.' Walking away from the pop star lifestyle of excessive recreational drug taking, he turned to God, who also helped with a whole heap of guilt he'd been suffering from the rather outrageous decision he made to tell those around him that he was HIV positive when, in fact, he wasn't. He admits he said it to get bandmate Jimmy Somerville off his back during an argument and got so carried away with the 'dark glamour' of it, he kept up the lie for five years. Four years ago, he wrote an autobiography about his life, admitting his shock lie to the world. 'It was tough to do, but everyone always wanted to know how I'd gone from this to that and I couldn't do that unless I was honest,' he says. 'But the reaction was lovely. Although I did get a huge bollocking from one friend who summoned me for a ticking off.' Having studied for a theology degree and ordained into the Anglican priesthood in 2005, the Rev never imagined he'd return to the spotlight under this different guise. 'I thought I'd shake the dust from my shoes, walk off and say, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." But there's always room for a novelty vicar.' He also thought the vow of celibacy would never be an issue, imagining living the rest of his days alone. 'I didn't think I'd be with anyone, let alone a vicar. I thought I'd be flying solo, which I liked well enough. Not all the time, though - you can't do flat-pack furniture on your own.' ' Luckily he met David on a cigarette break after a sermon 11 years agopartner fall of my and now has all his DIY needs covered (and yes, they also stuck to the vow of celibacy gay priests must adhere to). 'He's really handy. He can sew, paint, bang bits of wood together, he's a potter, a weaver, he's brilliant,' he says. 'He also doesn't fall for any of my nonsense. He thinks I get conceited and self-regarding sometimes and he'll give me a telling off. He's usually right, as well.' tell He's right' The couple live together in the village vicarage with their four Dachshunds. 'Sometimes we talk shop, but mostly we bumble around. His study is upstairs and mine is downstairs and sometimes we tweet each other rather than speak. There is lots of dog stuff to do, and David's always in the garden.' It sounds idyllic, but Richard begs to differ. 'Not always.

We disagree. We argue about television. I'm not allowed football and he's not allowed to watch Legally Blonde or Sister Act ever again.' There's never a dull moment in the parish. 'You expect the unexpected. There's always a knock on the door. The other day there was one at 5.45am. I opened the door and there was a bloke in camouflage dress holding a shotgun. I thought 'Oh my God, it's the end of me' but it was an enquiry about a baptism. He was on his way to shoot rabbits and thought he'd call in at the vicarage.' So, in his own unique way, the Reverend Richard Coles is still living life on the edge. | | Richard on The Big Painting Challenge 'It's not Bake Off for painting, although you may be forgiven for thinking so. The difference is a good cake and a bad cake are very easy to tell apart; a good picture and a bad picture are much more subjective. It's 10 amateur painters and we put them through a series of challenges - the one that divided people was a life class. The body was in constant movement, which really challenged them - somebody gave the model an extra leg!' SUNDAY HOW WILL YOU SPEND YOUR EASTER SUNDAY? Describe your day I pootle around feeding the dogs, then I'll be in church for 7.30am. We have an 8am service, then the main service, followed by an Easter egg hunt. After that it's lunch, then I take Communion to people who are unable to come to church, then we have Evensong and there's a nice do after that. It's a pretty full day. I spend all day in my pyjamas on Easter Monday.

What's for Easter lunch? I've stopped eating meat - I thought I'd give it a go at the start of the year and, apart from a couple of lapses, I've done alright. But no lamb on Easter Day - I will think about lambs instead. Sunday lunch is often a puy lentil cottage pie. My friend Kev has been vegetarian forever and he only makes one thing called slop and top - vegetables with cheese on top. You do end up making a lot of slop and top.

Hungover or fresh as a daisy? We're quite a hard-drinking parish. We're very social, we like a knees-up. Whisky is my tipple, but I've been off that for Lent - as well as giving up Twitter.

Lie-in or up with the larks? I get up early and say morning prayer at 6am. I can't do lie-ins, I like getting up early, even on holiday.

'Sometimes we his civil 'My partner doesn't fall for any of my nonsense. He'll tell me off. He's usually right'


Richard with Big Painting co-host, Mariella Frostrup


His Flash Gordoninspired paso on Strictly

Communards, with Jimmy Somerville back in the 80s; Rev Coles with one of his beloved Dachshunds; and with his partner David L-R: In The Co

In his church robes
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 1, 2018
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