Katherine Macalister gets under Rev Richard Coles' dog collar to talk rock, Rev and sneaking pots into the vicarage

It’s been a terribly boring morning,” the Rev Richard Coles tells me, “only improved by a very nice slice of cake.”

Sat in the vicarage where he lives in a celibate relationship with his civil partner the Rev David Oldham, surrounded by their dogs, as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

But that would be to vastly underestimate the former Communards popstar, who co-presents Radio 4’s Saturday Live, is a regular contributor to the Chris Evans Breakfast Show, and a keen ceramics collector. In short, the 53 year-old has enough material to keep him in sermons for a lifetime.

Neither is his life as a Church of England priest without excitement; legend has it that the TV series Rev, starring Tom Hollander, is based on none other than Rev Coles himself.

Is that true? “Well I do know Tom quite well and I was an adviser on the show, but there were lots of others as well...” he tails off.

“I spent quite a lot of time with Tom teaching him the tricks of the trade in the run-up to the series and then realised afterwards that he had actually just been observing my peculiar habits and captured them rather well. He’s a terrific actor.”

Priest to the stars, The Rev has carved himself an admirable niche both in and out of the media since being ordained 10 years ago.

“I understand the media and broadcasting and know how it works. I don’t think about the fact that I’m talking to 10 million people.

“I just like the format and really enjoy it, probably because I’m nosy like lots of parish priests,” he laughs. Indeed, the Rev’s Pause For Thought slot on Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show won a Jerusalem Award last year.

Yet despite his broad CV, The Rev was still stunned to be asked to talk at The Ashmolean about his pottery collection in the build up to The Oxford Ceramics Fair at St Edward’s this weekend.

“I only accepted on the proviso that I know nothing about pots so I shall come along and pontificate, which comes rather naturally to me,” he laughs. “And if I am unqualified to be talking about this I will make up for it in enthusiasm, because there is something so utterly complete about a beautiful pot.”

So where did this pottery obsession originate? “I always loved art but am as surprised as anyone to find myself as a collector of ceramics. But if I have a surplus that’s what I buy, pots.

“It has got to the stage now where I’m not allowed to buy any more because the house is full up, so my collection is very haphazard and I have to negotiate every new piece with David.

“It’s terribly Victorian and I have to be very clever to get them through the vicarage door. I can make a powerful case,” he chuckles.

Presumably his love of art encapsulates music as well? “I grew up with music. I was a choirboy in Wellingborough and a sucker for music even then, albeit in the context of faith.

A big leap though from choirboy to the charts? “I always knew it was a good idea to hitch my wagon to Jimmy Somerville’s, He just had something about him, so it wasn’t a surprise when everyone else became so fascinated with him so quickly. The problem was that we didn’t have time to acclimatise to The Communards fame. It was like winning the lottery and it wasn’t until afterwards that I could look back and get a grip on what had actually happened.” 

The Communards achieved three Top Ten hits, including the Number 1 Don’t Leave Me This Way. The years 1980-1990 with The Communards were pretty fruity and not entirely fun. It’s a part of my life from which I feel discombobulated. I can scarcely remember my 15 minutes of fame.”

All good preparation for being a priest then? “Yes, funny clothes, funny hours. The breath of experience is good pastorally, that ability to understand people from all walks of life.”

And now? “I can barely recognise my own songs but I do love a bit of X Factor on a Saturday night. I know it’s completely manufactured but the idea of people getting on stage and having no idea how good they are is a good one.”

Despite his pop career, was becoming a priest always the plan then? “In retrospect there was always a vicar struggling to get out, but I’ve never had any sense of a plan as such.

“I didn’t want to be a potter though. I let other people do that. There are a lot of potters out there scraping a living for very little reward. It is not a walk in the park.”

Many would say the same about being a vicar. “Well sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. You never know who’s coming to the door or the phone and you have to deal with that and prioritise accordingly.

“But I was ordained 10 years ago and I think I’m doing all right. My congregation is very tolerant and patient and I’m in it for the long haul. I have been in Peterborough for over four years now and we have become part of each others lives. It’s just what I do.

“As for the sermons, some come easily, and then I have slow days when you have to watch them come into focus and get sharper.” Having won the BBC’s Celebrity Mastermind quiz in 2014, these are presumably rare.

Suddenly the dog starts barking and he says apologetically: “That’s someone at the door.” Rev Coles the media star is gone and Rev Coles the vicar is in the room. The transformation is complete.

Where and when
Oxford Ceramics Fair 
Oct 24-25 
St Edward’s School, Woodstock Road