Richard Coles is an English musician, journalist and Church of England priest. He is known for having been the multi-instrumentalist who partnered Jimmy Somerville in the 1980s band The Communards, which achieved three Top Ten hits, including the Number 1 record and best-selling single of 1986, a club/dance version of “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. He also appears frequently on radio and television as well as in newspapers. In March 2011 he became the regular host of BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live programme.
He provided narration for the Style Council’s film JerUSAlem in 1987 and also started a career as a writer and journalist, particularly with the Times Literary Supplement and the Catholic Herald. He came to the Christian faith 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. From 1991 to 1994 he studied for a BA in theology at King’s College London. While at university, he became a Roman Catholic and remained so for the next ten years before returning to Anglicanism in 2001. Richard was selected for training for 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. After ordination he was a curate at St Botolph’s Church in Boston, Lincolnshire and then at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge in London. He has been chaplain of the Royal Academy of Music and has also played Dr Frank N Furter in a local concert and conducted an atheist funeral for Mo Mowlam in 2005.
He was an inspiration for the character of Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander) in the BBC Two sitcom Rev and was an adviser to the show. In January 2011, Richard was appointed as the parish priest of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon in the Diocese of Peterborough.
On 1 November 2012 (All Saints Day), Darton, Longman and Todd published Coles’ book Lives of the Improbable Saints, illustrated by Ted Harrison, a precis of the life stories of nearly 200 lesser-known saints. The following year volume two, Legends of the Improbable Saints, followed. From 2011 Coles has been on the board of Wellingborough Homes, a social enterprise providing housing and community support for the borough of Wellingborough. In 2012 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Northampton and also became a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
In 2014 the first volume of his memoir, ‘Fathomless Riches’, was published to wide acclaim by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Broadcasting and media appearances
Richard still does broadcasting work, which he describes as “just showing off”, including Nightwaves on BBC Radio 3, which he formerly presented, and Newsnight Review on BBC Two. On 15 May 2008 he was on the BBC Radio 4 panel game show Heresy and he has appeared three times as a guest on the topical BBC Television news quiz Have I Got News for You, first in 1994, then in May 2009 and most recently in May 2013. He presented a special edition of Songs of Praise on 10 January 2010. He was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 comedy Heresy in May 2010 and a Children in Need special of the BBC Four quiz Only Connect in November of the same year. Having regularly guest-hosted the Radio 4 programme Saturday Live, while 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. On 14 December 2012, 6 December 2013 and 7 November 2014, he appeared as a guest on the BBC comedy quiz show QI. On 12 January 2014, he won the BBC’s Celebrity Mastermind quiz. His specialist subject was the Mapp and Lucia novels of E. F. Benson.
He featured also as the subject of Fern Britton Meets… on BBC1 in December 2014 and on Sky Arts ‘In Confidence’ with Laurie Taylor (2012). Since 2014 he has appeared regularly on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio Two in the “Pause For Thought” slot and for this won a Jerusalem Award in 2014.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.
Some reviews of Richard Coles
Chartered Institute of Housing
He asked for a brief on the event ahead of time and the type of audience present so that he was able to tailor his talk and make it more interesting for the audience. He was very approachable and was happy for people to speak to him and have their photos taken with him. He was an absolute pleasure to deal with.
Church Stretton Arts Festival
Superb, not only was he an excellent and very amusing raconteur who spoke with no notes but also a real inspiration to our community, appealing to everyone in spite of prejudices. He came across as a person dedicated to helping people with his great common sense and humour.
Chartered Institute of Housing
Excellent, he was very engaging and was able to relate to the sector well.