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Mayo, who had hosted the show since 1988, started the feature in the autumn of 1990 partly due to the rising interest in his own Christian faith, and it caught on very quickly. Listeners would write in to "Father Mayo" and confess to their sins and each morning at 8:35 am Mayo would broadcast one to the nation over Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni’s Adagio for Organ and Strings in G minor.
The "confessions" were often humorous and sometimes a little lacking in taste or scruple. At the peak of the feature, Mayo received more than one hundred confessions a week. Some were sincere confessions with no sense of light-heartedness and Mayo discounted any which admitted to crime, adultery, overt cruelty or other more serious activities.
Infamous confessions included:
- The family who put some herbs into a Christmas pudding which had been sent to them by relatives in Australia, only to discover later they were a late uncle's ashes (based on an urban myth)
- The man who, desperate to urinate on a train with no lavatory, decided to do so out of a window, only to inadvertently spray numerous people waiting on a platform which suddenly appeared
- The man who, tired of his flatmate's complaining about food wastage, cooked a pie for him before replacing the meat with raw cat food
- The woman who, annoyed with her boyfriend's lateness in coming home for his evening meal, spread chili con carne all over his sports car
- The man who found some negatives of his brother's wife in the nude and had them developed before sending them to an adult magazine's Readers' Wives section
After completing each confession, Mayo would ask his crew - consisting of weather and travel presenter Dianne Oxberry, newsreader Rod McKenzie and the day's "special guest producer" played by the show's own producer Ric Blaxill - whether they would "forgive" the confessor or not. After a while, it became clear that Oxberry was less forgiving than the others.
Some confessions prompted complaints from listeners, especially any involving living creatures, even if there wasn't a hint of cruelty in the confession.
The feature was a huge success. Word spread internationally and a story made the front page of the Wall Street Journal, with Mayo often being asked if he was trying to challenge the power and principles of various religions.
Confessions spawned a successful spin-off book and, later, a BBC TV series which was lukewarmly received in comparison to the radio feature and was criticised by the Broadcasting Standards Council.
Mayo brought back Confessions for short runs on his morning (9 am – 12 noon) programme which ran from 1994 to 2001.
Since January 2010 Mayo has relaunched Confessions on his BBC Radio 2 drive-time show (Mondays to Thursdays), with travel reporter Bobbie Pryor, sports reporter Matt Williams, plus resident chef Nigel Barden (Thursdays only). Matt and Nigel both left in May 2018 when the show was re-launched with new co-presenter Jo Whiley.