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He's the hunkiest thing in a dog collar since Denzel Washington wowed Whitney Houston in The Preacher's Wife.

And if churches really want to start packing their pews again, they should recruit Richard Driscoll right away.

Richard, 33, is the EastEnders' vicar with the blue eyes, the tender mercies

And the flock of fans who wish he was the real thing - their friendly neighbourhood minister - grows day by day.

Richard, who plays Alex Healy in the Beeb soap, is bombarded by fanmail from female viewers - and some of it would bring a blush to the face of even the randiest Rev.

In an exclusive interview with the Record, Richard - an East End boy turned EastEnders heart-throb - revealed: "I've had women asking me to bless them. One lady said that if I was her minister she'd be in church every week.

"Other viewers seem to want to corrupt me. The other day I got a letter which began `I've never written a letter to a telly star before but here goes - I'm 18, 5ft 10ins, with blonde hair and blue eyes' ...

"At that point, and with some reluctance, I handed the letter back to the girl at EastEnders who looks after our mail and I wished I was 22 all over again!"

Richard has been an EastEnder for exactly one year.

He had a quiet entrance, and the actor - who might have made the grade as a footballer if he hadn't discovered girls - spent most of 1997 itching for a juicy storyline.

It came at Christmas as Kathy (Gillian Taylforth), despairing that hubby Phil would never mend his wild ways, sought comfort in the arms of the vicar, who runs the refuge down Walford way.

They sampled the pleasures of the flesh together but, according to Richard, Alex has been wracked by emotional and spiritual turmoil ever since.

And this week, just to add to his problems, he clashes with Kathy's son Ian over the role of the refuge.

"Alex has got a lot of conflict," said Richard. "He's been suggesting to his father that he should work at his relationship with his wife - but there he is having an affair with a married woman.

"He feels a bit of a hypocrite - he feels guilty and ashamed.

"But the inescapable fact is he's attracted to Kathy. Something strange and wonderful happens to him when he's around her."

Richard is revelling in the role of a telly vicar, even if some fans believe he really is preaching the gospel.

He explained: "I was at a function and this bloke was staring at me for fully 20 minutes, before he finally plucked up the courage to come over.

"He asked me `How long have you been a vicar?' I had to tell him it was only make-believe. We should never underestimate the power of TV."

BUT if you tell Richard his performance is so convincing he could be a reverend for real, he'll be your friend for life.

He's a firm believer in God and Divine intervention - that's how he reckons he got the EastEnders job.

Richard is a man with a pretty dark past, but he doesn't like talking about it.

Recent revelations about heroin addiction and convictions for theft have made him wary of journalists.

But, in his first-ever newspaper interview, the handsome star admitted how feeling God's presence for the first time helped him conquer his inner demons.

"It happened about seven-and-half years ago," said Richard.

"I walked into a chapel and the next thing I knew I was on the knees praying.

"I was at my lowest ebb, really down, confused with life and spiritually bankrupt. There seemed to be no way out.

"In my prayers I said `If there is a God, please take this pain away from me'.

"I got very upset and I let out all these emotions. It was quite frightening and I was worried someone might come into the chapel.

"But, frankly, by that stage I didn't have much choice.

"I got through that day and to me it was the first time I felt God's presence."

RICHARD has visited churches since, but prefers private prayers to sermons from a minister.

He describes himself as spiritual rather than religious and says he's "modernised" God so He is relevant to his life.

"God to me means Good Orderly Direction and that's how I try to live my life now," he said.

"I say `try' because, let's face it, no-one is perfect. I believe that God's message comes from other people.

"For instance, if I had a dilemma and you listened, sharing your experience with me, you'd be helping me through that bad time. That's the way God works for me.

"I believe in Divine intervention and reckon He must have had a hand in me getting the EastEnders job.

"I think I'm in touch with the way I feel and I reckon that came through at my audition. I'm right for the character of Alex - I was what they wanted."

Richard loves playing Alex, but doesn't think he could do the vicar's job for real.

He admitted: "I think the church would be too controlling.

"But I reckon I could have gone into a caring profession and helped old folk or under- privileged children.

"I used to work on a farm which was visited by deprived kids and found it really rewarding.

"I did it for nothing - for my own soul if you like. I wanted to give something to society that was free and unconditional."

Richard's first ambition was to be a footballer.

HE was a keen sportsman in his teens, who also excelled at rugby and cricket and was once on the books of Charlton Athletic.

He laughed: "I was pretty good, even if I say so myself. But I'd just discovered girls and that was a lot more gratifying.

"I definitely preferred going round to the girlfriend's to a five-mile run in the pouring rain! Sometimes I look back and wonder what would have happened if I'd stuck in at football.

"But if I had, I probably wouldn't be here, with a great part in a top- rated soap, talking to you."

These days Richard is rumoured to be romancing Lorraine Jury, the ex- wife of Iron Maiden rocker Steve Harris.

But he prefers to keep his love life secret. Ask him about vices and Richard will say he's no different from the next guy.

"I don't drink and I try not to swear. Women? Yes, I'm fond of women. I like to enjoy myself - what can I say?

"Basically, I'm someone who's made mistakes and now I'm just trying to get on with life as best I can.

"I'm not perfect and I never will be. I come imperfectly perfect - that's what I try telling myself when I'm giving myself a hard time!"
COPYRIGHT 1998 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Smith, Aidan
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 2, 1998
Previous Article:THE FINAL SAY ...; McCann must sort out jobs for Bhoys.

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