TAPESTRY@25: pop star turned vicar Reverend Richard Coles

If you were to play ‘where are they now’ about pop stars from the 1980s - you’d couldn’t do much better than Richard Coles. Back then, he was a member of the British pop duo The Communards, with a #1 hit single. Today he’s a parish priest in England.
Reverend Richard Coles (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

The Reverend Richard Coles first came to fame in the 1980s as part of the British pop duo The Communards with Jimmy Somerville. 

They had a #1 hit with their version of Don't Leave Me This Way.

"One of the things we wanted to do through pop music was to try to redefine, in the public mind, the image of gay people," Coles explained. "Jimmy and I were both openly gay and disinclined to accept the rather narrow caricature which society afforded us at that time. And so it felt like a sort of vindication of that too when we began to be successful.

Coles, often described as Britain's most famous vicar, has also been a broadcaster for many years, appearing on BBC television programs Would I Lie to You? and Celebrity Masterchef. The main character in BBC's comedy Rev was based on Coles. He currently hosts the BBC Radio program Saturday Live. 

Living through the worst years of AIDS, Coles found himself turning to Christianity for spiritual comfort.  

"We were absolutely in the demographic that was most heavily hit by the arrival of HIV/AIDS," Coles said. "So precisely at the moment of our greatest success, we were also confronted with friends, lovers and people dear to us coughing on Monday and dying on Friday… That was a very traumatic experience. And I think it was in that turbulence that I began to look for answers to questions that I couldn't find."

Currently, Coles is the parish priest at St Mary the Virgin, in Finedon, Northamptonshire, England

When he first felt drawn to religion, Coles feared for his sanity.

"The minute I got religious twinges, I did go see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist said to me, 'You need to go see a priest.'"

Coles was reluctant to see a priest, given the hostility many in the LGBTQ community have experienced within the church. But the call was strong.

"It would be a deeply startling experience to friends of mine that I should want to go there," Coles conceded. "But of course, what I was admitting, and recognizing, acknowledging was precisely what I had always perceived, was that in Jesus Christ there was this offer of light and love and healing that was just irresistible, and I just needed it. And that was not something that was even verbal. It's like being hungry. Like being starving."

Tapestry host Mary Hynes spoke to Richard Coles in 2012. At that time, he was living with his partner, Reverend David Coles, who  passed away unexpectedly in 2019.  David Coles was 42. 

This interview with Reverend Richard Coles was originally broadcast in 2012.

Produced by Elizabeth Bowie and Steve McNally. Written by Rosie Fernandez.