Hims: Ancient and Modern

scan0005I was given this book for Christmas. I think that I might not have bought it for myself, but this would have been a big mistake.

This is a frank and free autobiography by The Reverend Richard Coles covering his very colourful, different and free-wheeling life. Best known now for his broadcasting, especially Saturday Live on Radio 4, where his contributions are both funny and perspicacious, he does seem to have a feel for the business of communication. Which is just as well, since he had now been ordained and one of his duties is, in that role, to communicate the Good News.

Older people will remember his glory days as a member of the band – The Communards, they were number one in the charts more than once with some very strong (almost) protest songs. Their first big success might have been a cover version of Don’t Leave Me This Way on their first album, their single (what an old fashioned concept) You are my World made it into the twenties, but it was not until the second album was pressed that Don’t Leave Me This Way suddenly hit Number One in the UK charts.

A few other people, a select few but an important coterie, are the gay community who were treated and housed at The London Lighthouse. This was a tremendously important hospice developed by Christopher Spence and Andrew Henderson for the treatment and care specifically of people with HIV Aids. The Communards were significant funders of this endeavour. They did fund-raising concerts and were supportive, why? Because they were themselves gay and it was among their own circle that friends and close acquaintances were dying. It is hard perhaps, in lots of ways, to remember before the advent of retro-viral drugs that HIV positive was a death sentence. Any one at all who knew gay men at that time were constantly aware that this scourge was terrible, the endings un-deviating: death in a most horrible and gruelling way, Richard Coles himself, being part of the gay world lost countless friends and frankly admits his own personal reaction.

This is a brave and outstandingly interesting book, for it charts a journey (as it says in the sub-title) from Pop to Pulpit. Having left the pop world, Richard drifted doing various jobs for the BBC including a stint on Night Waves but more and more recognised that there was something huge missing. His description of the moment when the chains of sadness and loneliness fell away is momentous and recognisably human. Wavering between the Tiber and the Thames, The Reverend Father flirted with Roman Catholicism, where he was guided by none less that Monsignor Gilbey, but he crossed back and is now an Anglican Priest, he trained at Mirfield and now lives near the start of his journey in Northamptonshire.

For the fans of The Communards and Saturday Live this is the book of your idol; for the gay community this is your Bible; for the lost, lonely and depressed this is your guidebook. For the rest – this is a really rewarding read, well written and racy, uplifting and moving.

Fathomless Riches indeed! Go on – you know you want to read it.

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