Richard Coles – From Pop to the Pulpit – 26th August 2015.
From pop to pulpit is as apt and succinct a summary as you can get of Richard Coles’ life, and it’s what the event looks to focus on. It’s noted he’s posh, but not that posh. “I was the son of a shoemaker, who was the son of a shoemaker, who was the son of a shoemaker…” he begins. An ancestor was responsible for mechanising parts of the shoe industry, and there was a great business boom in both WWI and WWII, making his great-grandfather and grandfather rather successful. “My father, unfortunately, lived in a time of peace.”
Turning to the Communards, he escaped to London at the age of 18. “I lived in an unpleasant flat and couldn’t understand why ladies were waiting for a bus where there was no bus stop.” He met Jimmy Somerville, and they ran a club night. He was recently asked about how he felt about being part of the alternative gay movement: “I didn’t know we were having an alternative gay movement!”
But they had simple goals. “It was our ambition to bring down Margaret Thatcher with pop music.”
Richard had a turbulent relationship with Jimmy; it was “neutral or nuclear. His emotional repertoire is so vivid. We’re very different people. It was what drew us apart, and brought us together.” Jim is a gifted, spectacular, unique person; to feel merely capable or mediocre in his presence can cause people to wither away, especially when they kind of want to be recognised too.
There are several religious twinges he refers to, some that point to darker moments for him personally, others lying in a church in Edinburgh. “I went in as a spectator and came out as a participant,” he explains. In another instance, he felt pierced to the soul and wept. “The chains fell off and I was free. I felt the love, the light and the presence of Jesus Christ.”
Both the Church of England and BBC – two institutions in which he is very involved – aren’t exactly in the favour of the current government. “It’s never a surprise that the Church of England and BBC aren’t beloved by those in power. If the government hates the BBC, they’re probably doing something right.
“Some of the fire has gone from our belly. Both the Church of England and BBC’s place in the mainstream is looking more fragile.” He does note that the Scottish experience of the BBC is one he cannot talk on, but overall “I like to think the BBC has played an honourable part. If it’s lost, we’ll wake up and wonder how the hell did we lose it?”