The Rector of St Anne’s Church in Soho is curious to explore Tudor England, meet the orangutans in Borneo, and loves carols at Westminster Abbey.
Where are you from originally?
Like Lily Savage and Glenda Jackson, I was born in Birkenhead, on the other side of the Mersey from Liverpool. When I was born there it was still in Cheshire and I remember my mother being appalled when it became part of ‘Merseyside’. I think she thought it sounded common, which is probably why I never had a Scouse accent.
And where do you live now?
I’ve lived in Soho for five years now in St Anne’s Church on Dean St – I have an apartment there, I don’t just doss down under the altar in a sleeping bag when the church is shut! I live with my Battersea rescue dog, Betty.
What do you love about London?
There’s always something going on, whether at famous landmarks like Trafalgar Square or in quiet off-the-beaten-track places, and you never know what to expect. London is both an iconic tourist attraction and also a place where diverse people live. The range of artistic and cultural experiences on offer is unrivalled and on a sunny day it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Favourite club/bar/venue in London and why?
The first gay club I went to in London was the old G-A-Y at the Astoria when Sonia, the diminutive Scouse pop princess, who I’d interviewed, invited me. I’d never experienced anything like it and went again the next week. My few clubbing days are a thing of the past and rather than coming home from a club on a Saturday morning with a hangover, I’m much happier sitting in Balans on Old Compton Street having breakfast watching the world and his boyfriend going by.
What is your personal favourite Christmas carol?
I rarely get through ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ without getting choked up – as a Christian I find Christina Rossetti’s words incredibly moving to sing. Although you can’t beat ‘O Come all Ye Faithful’, especially with its last verse, which is only sung after midnight on Christmas Eve. I find that utterly thrilling, especially when I hear it at Westminster Abbey.
What will you be doing on Christmas Day?
We have a service at 11am at St Anne’s on Christmas Day and then when people have gone I will be cooking lunch for myself and two friends, who are staying this year, and as usual I’ll take lunch to a 92 year-old neighbour. The weeks before Christmas are particularly busy at the church, of course – this year we had a special Christmas celebration with the Lord Mayor for the elderly LGBT community alongside the usual run of events with the church, Soho Parish School and the wider community. So it’s not unusual for me to have nodded off before the Queen has finished saying “My husband and I…”
What was the last theatre show you saw, and what did you think of it?
I go to the theatre quite a lot and took a group from St Anne’s to see The Busy World Is Hushed at the Finborough recently. It managed to explore biblical scholarship, family dynamics and a gay love story all in one play, which was impressive in a shoe box of a theatre above a pub in Earls Court. I’m hoping to see Jamie on my birthday (2 Jan – hint, hint!) – a bit of feel-good campery to bring in the new year.
Best gift you’ve ever received and why?
So far this year I’ve been given a beard trimmer and copy of the Qu’ran – obvious presents for a clean-shaven Anglican! The most influential present I’ve received was a Sooty glove puppet when I was four or five that set me on what became my career for over 30 years as a professional puppeteer working on TV shows like Spitting Image, the Muppet movies and over a thousand episodes of kids TV. That proved to be a brilliant gift and, though a bit threadbare, I still have it.
If you could go back in time which year would you choose and why?
I’d love to visit Tudor England, or Renaissance Italy, and see if I could get my head around the incredible culture, art, music and religiosity of that period that sat along the most unspeakable barbarity and cruelty.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Time goes quickly so make the most of each day. Oh, and “just do it- get a dog!”
Where in the world would you like to visit before you die and why?
I’ve been lucky to travel quite a bit, both when I worked in telly and for pleasure – I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro and trekked the Inca trail to Machu Pichu. I’d love to see orangutans in Borneo and see a nighttime shadow puppet show in Java. That would be an amazing two-centre holiday.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
That the boys that bullied me at comprehensive school did it because they couldn’t cope with how much they fancied me.