Rev Richard Coles is overjoyed Holby City star Joe McFadden won Strictly not least because the win netted him £700 on a £50 bet.
The former pop star turned vicar and broadcaster spoke to The Chronicle between performances at Chester Cathedral where he has been narrating the Christmas Crackers show featuring Chester Music Society Choir and Chester Philharmonic Orchestra.
Talking about the hit BBC 1 show, he said: “It was the most brilliant experience, really good fun. I loved every minute of it. Apart from being booted off, which I didn’t like, it was brilliant.”
He described his professional dancing partner Dianne Buswell as ‘gorgeous’.
Pantomime villain judge Craig Revel Horwood is a ‘total pussy cat’ apparently and the larger than life Bruno Tonioli, who choreographed The Communards’ 1987 video for Never Can Say Goodbye, is actually a ‘very thoughtful and interesting man’.
And he used a less than vicar like expression to dismiss rumours of fall-outs on set saying it was total nonsense...or words to that effect.
“I don’t think anybody had a cross word with anybody else and it’s quite pressured,” added Richard, who worked hard but interestingly didn’t feel any nerves during the live shows despite being watched by 10m viewers. “I just really enjoyed it.”
He didn’t even mind producers taking the proverbial out of him in the way he was portrayed given his dancing skills weren’t the best. “As a vicar of a parish I’m used to being the butt of the community’s jokes,” he says, adding that he ‘notoriously’ appears in the parish panto, knobbly knees competitions and ‘Guess the weight of the vicar’.
So what about the winner? Critics have said Joe McFadden wasn’t as accomplished as Debbie McGee or Alexandra Burke.
“Debbie obviously is a professional dancer, who I think is dazzling. I think Alex was consistently brilliant. I think what you saw with Joe was a steady rise and improvement, he got better and better and better. And he’s a lovely man, he’s a really great guy. I genuinely would have been happy for anyone to have won but I was particularly pleased it was Joe because I put a bet on him!”
Are vicars allowed to bet?
“I don’t know, but I did,” responds the reverend with a smile. How much did he put on?
“£50 quid. I got 14-1 whatever that is, so I’ve got £700, something like that,” he says, beaming.
Richard, 55, has been on his own personal journey and not just in TV terms.
He grew up in Northamptonshire where today he lives with his civil partner Rev David Coles and preaches at St Mary the Virgin in Finedon.
But as a young man he was, by his own admission, a ‘not very good’ keyboard player alongside gifted vocalist Jimmy Somerville in pop group The Communards.
Then in a radical change of direction, he jettisoned his long-held atheism to become a vicar, with a side-line in broadcasting – he occasionally plays the church organ in case you were wondering.
Sitting in the cathedral refectory, he feels completely at ease.
“Your life is just your life, isn’t it? I was a chorister so being somewhere like Chester Cathedral is sort of where I started out. My first experience of music and performing was as a choir boy and I’m very much at home in these sorts of places.”
Intriguingly, he was ‘a convinced atheist’ between the ages of eight and 28.
“There was a moment where I made a leap of faith or in my case it was a sort of the fall of faith – I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. But it had been coming on for years in retrospect. It just all of a sudden made sense in a way it hadn’t before but I’d always liked it. I liked the environment, I liked the people, I like everything about it except I didn’t believe it. Then all of a sudden, bang, I did.”
Comparing being a vicar to his old career as a pop star, he joked: “It’s not as well paid and you don’t tour, particularly, but there’s a lot of performance involved and there’s nothing the church doesn’t know about showbiz.”
He recognises not everyone in the Church of England is at ease with the idea of homosexuality but says society at large and the church has ‘come a long way in a short time’. It certainly doesn’t impact on his daily life. “For me being a gay man in the church is like being a gay man in Debenhams – it just is.”
Turning to the festive season, Rev Coles recognises Christmas is ’tough’ if you’re poor or lonely or you’ve lost a loved one but his hope is the community can rally round to support each other. And he has learned that ‘lightness of touch’ is helpful, paradoxically sometimes when dealing with the most serious of subjects.
He refuses to condemn the over commercialisation of Christmas because he can still see the humanity at its core.
“As a churchman you’re expected to disapprove of Christmas being commercial – I’m not at all actually. I’m delighted that people enjoy it and it means something to them. And part of it is of course commercial but actually within that there’s still this sense of festival and we meet together in the dark and cold winter and make merry, have some fun together, reaffirm our relationships, draw together as a community and family. I think it’s fantastic and to be celebrated.”
As for his own Christmas Day, after delivering all the services he will finally hang up his dog collar to spend time with the man he loves, David, himself a priest by trade, who often holds the fort and provides pastoral care when Richard is away.
“We try to shut up shop by 5 o’clock, then we get into our pyjamas and watch the Sound of Music,” says the vicar, laughing at himself in the image he has just conjured up.