Richard Keith Robert Coles FRSA FKC (born 26 March 1962)[1] is an English writer, radio presenter and Church of England priest. He first came to prominence as the multi-instrumentalist who partnered Jimmy Somerville in the 1980s band the Communards. They achieved three UK top ten hits, including the No. 1 record and best-selling single of 1986, a dance version of "Don't Leave Me This Way".

Richard Coles
Coles in 2014
Richard Keith Robert Coles

(1962-03-26) 26 March 1962 (age 62)
Northampton, England
PartnerDavid Oldham (d. 2019)
ChurchChurch of England
Congregations served
Offices held
WebsiteOfficial website

Coles frequently appears on radio and television as well as in newspapers and, from March 2011 until March 2023, was the co-host of BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live programme.[2] He is a regular contributor to QI, Would I Lie to You? and Have I Got News for You.[3] He is an author, the chancellor of the University of Northampton, a former honorary chaplain to the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, and a patron of social housing project Greatwell Homes in Wellingborough.

Early life edit

Coles was born in Northampton, England. His grandfather was a prosperous shoe manufacturer. The company failed under Coles's father, because of the increasing popularity of cheaper foreign imports, and the family lost much of their wealth.

He was educated at the independent Wellingborough School (where he was a choirboy),[4] and at the South Warwickshire College of Further Education (Department of Drama & the Liberal Arts) in Stratford-upon-Avon. He later attended King's College London, where he studied theology from 1990.[4] Coles was awarded an MA by research from the University of Leeds in 2005 for work on the Greek text of the Epistle to the Ephesians.[5]

Musical career edit

Coles learned to play the saxophone, clarinet and keyboards and moved to London in 1980, where he played in theatre.[4] In 1983, he appeared with Jimmy Somerville in the Lesbian and Gay Youth Video Project film Framed Youth: The Revenge of the Teenage Perverts,[6] which won the Grierson Award.[7] Coles joined Bronski Beat (initially on saxophone) in 1983.[citation needed]

Somerville left Bronski Beat and in 1985 he and Coles formed the Communards,[8][4] who were together for just over three years and had three UK top 10 hits, including the biggest-selling single of 1986, a version of "Don't Leave Me This Way", which was at number one for four weeks.[9] The band split in 1988 and Somerville went solo.

Post-music career and church ministry edit

The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon, Northamptonshire

Coles provided narration for the Style Council's film JerUSAlem in 1987[10] and also started a career as a writer, particularly with the Times Literary Supplement and the Catholic Herald. He took up religion in his late twenties, after "the best of times, the worst of times", pop success and the deaths of friends as a result of HIV.[11] From 1991 to 1994 he studied for a BA in theology at King's College London. While at university, Coles became a Roman Catholic and remained so for the next ten years before returning to Anglicanism in 2001.[12]

Coles was selected for training for the priesthood in the Church of England and began his training at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, West Yorkshire, in 2003, before being ordained in 2005.[13][4] After ordination, he was a curate at St Botolph's Church in Boston, Lincolnshire and then at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge in London.[14][1] He has been chaplain of the Royal Academy of Music, played Dr Frank N Furter in a local concert and conducted an atheist funeral for Mo Mowlam in 2005.[4][15][16]

Coles was an inspiration for the character of Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander) in BBC Two sitcom Rev. and was also an advisor to the show.[17] Coles mentions in his book Fathomless Riches that he is also the inspiration for the character "Tom" in the Bridget Jones novels.[18] In January 2011, Coles was appointed as the vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon in the Diocese of Peterborough.[19]

Coles speaking at Greenbelt Festival, 2012

Since 2011, Coles has been on the board of Wellingborough Homes, a social enterprise providing housing and community support for the Borough of Wellingborough and, after its name change to Greatwell Homes, became its Patron.[20] In 2012, Coles was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Northampton and also became a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2016, he was awarded an honorary DLitt by the University of Warwick. In 2019 he was appointed Honorary Chaplain to the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers.[21][22]

In July 2017, Coles was elected a Fellow of King's College London and separately as Chancellor of the University of Northampton.

Coles retired as vicar of Finedon on Low Sunday 2022. Looking back on his time as a "half-time vicar", he said: ""How do you do all the things you do?" I am frequently asked, and the answer is by neglecting important things and disappointing people. I was once called in the middle of the night to attend a parishioner's deathbed and I could not because I was in Glasgow doing Celebrity Antiques Road Trip. I found someone to cover, but it should have been me." He explained: "I will still be a priest, I will always be a priest, and I will minister where I am able. Next month I am going to my first conference of prison chaplains and I hope I can make myself useful as a volunteer with inmates in the criminal justice system."[23]

In April 2022, Coles announced that he retired from parish duties due to the Church of England allegedly increasingly excluding gay couples, and what he described as its "conservative, punchy and fundamentalist" direction.[24]

Writing edit

On 1 November 2012 (All Saints' Day), Darton, Longman and Todd published Coles's book, Lives of the Improbable Saints, illustrated by Ted Harrison, a précis of the life stories of nearly 200 lesser-known saints. The following year volume two, Legends of the Improbable Saints, was published.

In 2014, the first volume of his memoirs, Fathomless Riches, was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. In 2016 a follow-up volume, Bringing in the Sheaves, was published.

In June 2022, Coles's debut mystery novel Murder Before Evensong was released. It is intended to be first in a series about Canon Daniel Clement.[25] The sequel, A Death In The Parish, was published on 8th June 2023.[26] The first book has been optioned for a television adaptation, with Coles serving as an executive producer.[27][28]

In 2023, Coles signed a deal with W&N to write three more Canon Clement books. The first of these, Murder at the Monastery is due for release in June 2025.[29][28]

Broadcasting and media career edit

Coles still works as a broadcaster, which he describes as "just showing off",[30] including Nightwaves on Radio 3, which he formerly presented, and Newsnight Review on BBC Two. He has appeared on the Radio 4 panel game show Heresy twice; first in May 2008 and then in May 2010.[31] Coles has appeared seven times as a guest on the topical television news quiz Have I Got News for You, in 1994, May 2009, May 2013, April 2016, June 2017, April 2020 and May 2021. He presented a special edition of Songs of Praise in January 2010.[1] He was a guest on the Children in Need special of the BBC quiz Only Connect in November of the same year. In 2011, he presented a four-part Radio 3 series called Out in the World: A Global Gay History.

He regularly guest-hosted the Radio 4 programme Saturday Live, while the regular host Fi Glover was on maternity leave from 2008 to 2009. Coles replaced Glover permanently in 2011. On 1 September 2011, he presented a short piece on his home town and parish of Finedon for the Radio 4 programme You and Yours. In December 2012, December 2013 and November 2014, Coles appeared as a guest on the BBC comedy quiz show QI. In January 2014, he won the BBC's Celebrity Mastermind, with his specialist subject being the Mapp and Lucia novels of E. F. Benson.

Coles featured as the subject of Fern Britton Meets... on BBC1 in December 2014. Since 2014 he has appeared regularly in the "Pause for Thought" slot on Radio 2's The Chris Evans Breakfast Show, for which he won a Jerusalem Award in 2014.[32]

In July 2016, Coles appeared on the BBC cooking series Celebrity Masterchef, finishing in fifth place. In December 2021, he once again appeared on the programme, this time winning the edition.[33] In February 2017, he co-presented The Big Painting Challenge with Mariella Frostrup on BBC1. From September 2017, Coles was a contestant in the 15th series of BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. He was paired with professional dancer Dianne Buswell. They were the second couple to be eliminated after scoring 14 points for their Paso Doble to the theme from Flash Gordon – at the time, the lowest scoring Paso Doble in the history of the show.[34]

On 18 December 2017, Coles was a guest panellist on the Christmas special of the eleventh series of BBC1 comedy quiz Would I Lie to You?, hosted by Rob Brydon. Coles was captain of a team from the University of Leeds who were series champions on the BBC's Christmas 2019 University Challenge.[35][36] In December 2020 Coles was featured in the BBC series Winter Walks, walking from Sutton Bank to Rievaulx Abbey.[37] He said, "At the centre of what we do in order to be who we are, we need silence, we need retreat, we need contemplation."[38]

Coles appeared in a January 2021 episode of the BBC Four series Britain's Lost Masterpieces, discussing the story of the Magi in the gospels, in relation to a portrayal of Balthazar by Joos van Cleve.[39]

In August 2022, Coles appeared in the Channel 4 documentary Good Grief with Reverend Richard Coles, discovering some of the different ways people deal with bereavement.[40]

From 7 to 11 November 2022 Coles guest hosted Channel 4's game show Countdown as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations.

On 22 March 2023, The Guardian reported that Coles was disappointed to be leaving the BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live programme following that week's edition, due to the programme's relocation to Cardiff.[41]

Personal life edit

Coles is gay. The first person to whom Coles came out was his mother, in 1978, when he was 16. He played her Tom Robinson's "Glad to Be Gay" four times, before she said "Darling, are you trying to tell me something?"[42] Coles has spoken about the "mental crisis" that he suffered following his coming out, which ultimately led to him attempting suicide and being diagnosed with clinical depression.[43]

Coles suffers from tinnitus in his right ear, the result of his performing loud pop music, which he described in 2020 as sounding "like something from the National Grid kind of powering through your ear ... can be very frustrating."[37]

In 2007, Coles began a relationship with David Oldham, who was also an Anglican priest.[44][45] In 2010, the couple entered into a civil partnership (which the Church of England has allowed clergy to do since 2005[46]), with David taking Richard's surname.[47] Coles asserted at the time that the relationship was celibate,[44] but later said that this had not been true, but he had to promise celibacy in order to maintain his job as a vicar.[48] David Coles died in December 2019,[49] with Coles later stating that his death was linked to alcoholism.[50] Coles said he had received hate mail saying that his partner is in hell.[51]

In June 2023 Coles revealed that he was in a relationship with actor Richard Cant.[52]

Coles's older brother, Andy, a former Metropolitan Police officer, was elected in 2015 as a Conservative councillor in Peterborough and was appointed deputy Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016. Following a reference to his earlier career as an undercover police officer in Coles's 2014 autobiography, he resigned as deputy commissioner over allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a political activist.[53][54] The relationship was part of a wider UK undercover policing relationships scandal in this period.[53]

Coles is a member of the Labour Party.[55] He is also a member of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), having become enthusiastic about GAA sports through watching the 2020 TV series Normal People. Family ties led to Coles selecting Cork, Ireland as his county and St Finbarr's as his club. The club responded by sending him a membership card.[56]

Coles moved to Friston, East Sussex in May 2022 to be closer to his friend and former manager Lorna Gradden. He said "I'll be living in a charming 18th-century cottage with a bow window that looms over the street affording a privileged view of my neighbours' comings and goings, as the scent of lavender floats across the village green."[57][58]

Legal issues edit

In 1991, Coles sued accountants Coombes Wales Quinnell who allegedly had refused to hand over financial records until £30,000 fees were paid.[59]

Works edit

Discography edit

Bibliography edit

Non-fiction edit

  • Lives of the Improbable Saints (illustrated by Ted Harrison, Darton, Longman & Todd, 2012, ISBN 978-0232529555)
  • Legends of the Improbable Saints (illustrated by Ted Harrison, Darton, Longman & Todd, 2013, ISBN 978-0232530025)
  • Fathomless Riches: Or How I Went From Pop to Pulpit (W&N, 2014, ISBN 978-0297870302)
  • Bringing in the Sheaves: Wheat and Chaff from My Years as a Priest (W&N, 2016, ISBN 978-0297609889)
  • The Madness of Grief: A Memoir of Love and Loss (W&N, 2021)

Fiction edit

Canon Clement Mysteries

  • Murder Before Evensong (W&N, 2022)
  • A Death in the Parish (W&N, June 2023)
  • Murder at the Monastery (W&N, due June 2024)

Honours edit

Scholastic edit

Chancellor, visitor, governor and fellowships edit

Location Date School Position
England 2017 – University of Northampton Chancellor
England July 2017 – King's College London Fellow (FKC)
England Royal Academy of Music Chaplain

Honorary degrees edit

Location Date School Degree Gave Commencement Address
England 2012 University of Northampton Doctorate
England 2016 University of Warwick Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)

Memberships and fellowships edit

Country Date Organisation Position
United Kingdom 2012 – Royal Society of Arts Fellow (FRSA)
United Kingdom 2019 – Worshipful Company of Leathersellers Honorary Chaplain

References edit

  1. ^ a b c Coles, Richard (6 December 2009). "My week: Richard Coles". The Observer. London. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  2. ^ "Changes to BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live" (Press release). BBC s. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  3. ^ "An Evening with Rev. Richard Coles". St Ives Cornwall. Archived from the original on 28 March 2020. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Newsnight Review – Richard Coles". BBC News. 6 March 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  5. ^ Richard Coles (2005). Fathomless riches? : the United Bible Societies' Greek text of the Epistle to the Ephesians (MA thesis). University of Leeds.
  6. ^ "Jimmy Somerville – Biography". Archived from the original on 1 August 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  7. ^ "Framed Youth Revenge of the Teenage Perverts (1983)". BFI: Film & TV Database. Archived from the original on 21 May 2009. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  8. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 293. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  9. ^ Pelley, Rich (10 January 2022). "'No Jacket Required would be the soundtrack of hell': the Rev Richard Coles's honest playlist". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 February 2022.
  10. ^ "Reverend Richard Coles". JLA. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  11. ^ Coles, Richard (6 March 1994). "Real Life: In the end, a certain grace: Richard Coles, a pop musician, decided that he could be a Christian, despite its 'untrendiness'. Then a friend's death tested his faith". The Independent. London. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  12. ^ Henley, Jon (22 September 2011). "Rev Richard Coles: 'I'm the go-to gay'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  13. ^ "Church Times – More Petertide ordinations". Church Times. London. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  14. ^ "Christmas for Richard". BBC. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  15. ^ "Richard Coles on the best musical motifs of all time". The Guardian. London. 22 July 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  16. ^ Morgan, Christopher; Delmar-Morgan, Alex (20 August 2006). "Holy downshifters swell vicars' ranks". The Times. London. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  17. ^ Mirror news (28 June 2010). "More BBC vicar? Popstar Reverend Richard Coles inspires sitcom". Daily Mirror. London.
  18. ^ McCaffrey, Julie (18 December 2020). "Bridget Jones's Diary secrets you may not know - from rumoured feud to real diary". Daily Mirror. London.
  19. ^ Gyle, Rev. Alan (11 January 2011). "Fr Richard to move to New Parish" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 March 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  20. ^ "Revd Richard Coles".
  21. ^ "Rev". Archived from the original on 2 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  22. ^ Laughland, Dr Andrew (19 September 2019). "Was it a "shoe" in?".
  23. ^ Coles, Richard (17 April 2022). "The Rev Richard Coles on retirement and what comes next". The Times. London. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  24. ^ Swerling, Gabriella (17 April 2022). "Rev Richard Coles: Church of England increasingly 'excluding' gay couples". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 17 April 2022.
  25. ^ MURDER BEFORE EVENSONG. Hachette. 2022. ISBN 9781474612630. Retrieved 28 July 2022 – via
  26. ^ A DEATH IN THE PARISH. Hachette. 2023. ISBN 9781474612630. Retrieved 12 May 2023 – via
  27. ^ Brown, Lauren (24 June 2022). "Reverend Richard Coles' Murder Before Evensong optioned for TV". The Bookseller. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  28. ^ a b Lewis, Tim (16 March 2024). "The Rev Richard Coles: 'I think my CV looks like the work of a fantasist: Interview". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 March 2024.
  29. ^ Brown, Lauren (2 October 2023). "W&N buys three more Canon Clement mysteries by Reverend Richard Coles". The Bookseller. Retrieved 25 January 2024.
  30. ^ Stanford, Peter (10 January 2010). "Revved up: Richard Coles, a very modern vicar". The Independent. London. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  31. ^ "BBC Radio 4: Heresy". BBC. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  32. ^ "TBI Media :: Pause for Thought Wins at the 2014 Jerusalem Awards". Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  33. ^ "BBC iPlayer – Celebrity MasterChef – Christmas Cook-Off 2021: Episode 2".
  34. ^ Hawkes, Rebecca (8 October 2017). "Strictly Come Dancing 2017 Movie Week results: Rev Richard Coles sent home after dance-off with Simon Rimmer". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  35. ^ "University Challenge – Christmas 2019: 1. Leeds University v Clare College, Cambridge". BBC iPlayer. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  36. ^ Bethell, Karen (6 January 2020). "We won! Cromer scientist in top University Challenge team". Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  37. ^ a b "Winter Walks". 15 December 2021. Retrieved 9 January 2021..
  38. ^ "Yorkshire's top winter walks to be revealed in new BBC Four TV showcase". 4 January 2021. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  39. ^ "Britain's Lost Masterpieces – Series 5: 1. Brighton" – via
  40. ^ "Good Grief with Reverend Richard Coles". Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  41. ^ Duggins, Alexi (22 March 2023). "'It just feels a bit sad': the Rev Richard Coles disappointed at 'rushed' BBC Radio 4 exit". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  42. ^ "NMP Live Meets The Reverend Richard Coles - Exclusive Interview". Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  43. ^ Godfrey, Chris (9 March 2020). "'My life is not over. But it feels like it is sometimes': the Rev Richard Coles on losing his partner". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  44. ^ a b Strudwick, Patrick (13 October 2014). "Richard Coles: My journey from pop star to celibate vicar". The Independent. London.
  45. ^ Craig, Olga (3 April 2011). "Rev Richard Coles: from pop star to pulpit". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  46. ^ "Gay cleric's 'wedding' to partner". 1 August 2006. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  47. ^ "Coles, Rev. Richard Keith Robert, (born 26 March 1962), Vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon, since 2011". Who's Who 2021. Oxford University Press. 1 December 2020. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  48. ^ "HARDtalk - Reverend Richard Coles: Living with grief - BBC Sounds".
  49. ^ Coles, Richard [@revrichardcoles] (17 December 2019). "I'm very sorry to say that @RevDavidColes has died. He had been ill for a while. Thanks to the brilliant teams who looked after him at @KettGeneral. Funeral details to follow. "The Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended"" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  50. ^ Kelleher, Patrick (1 April 2021). "Reverend Richard Coles confirms late partner died of alcoholism: 'It's like he was seized by a demon'". Pink News.
  51. ^ "'Your partner is in hell', Richard Coles told". BBC News. 19 December 2019.
  52. ^ "Reverend Richard Coles opens up about finding new love three years after tragic death of husband". Pink News. 1 June 2023.
  53. ^ a b Evans, Rob (12 May 2017). "Cambridgeshire deputy police commissioner facing calls to resign over spy allegations". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  54. ^ "Statement from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner". Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  55. ^ Richard Coles [@RevRichardColes] (13 December 2019). "Hello @jessphillips! Thanks to you, I did this today" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  56. ^ "Britain's most famous vicar is GAA's newest member after watching Normal People". Hogan Stand. 20 May 2020. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  57. ^ Donnelly, Luke; Fox, Thomas (3 May 2022). "TV vicar Richard Coles delighted with welcome to new Sussex home". sussexlive. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  58. ^ "'Best in the world' – celebrity vicar praises local bus route after move to Sussex". The Argus. 6 May 2022.
  59. ^ Midem News – Newsfile

External links edit