Richard Coles

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Richard Coles

Rev Richard Coles (15364254977).jpg
Coles in 2014
Born (1962-03-26) 26 March 1962 (age 59)[1]
EducationWellingborough School
South Warwickshire College of Further Education
King's College London
University of Leeds
College of the Resurrection, Mirfield
Spouse(s)David Coles (né Oldham) (d. 2019)
ReligionChristianity (Anglican)
ChurchChurch of England
Congregations served
St Botolph's Church, Boston, Lincolnshire
St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge
St Mary the Virgin, Finedon
Offices held
Chaplain of the Royal Academy of Music. Chancellor of the University of Northampton since 2017.

Richard Keith Robert Coles FRSA FKC (born 26 March 1962)[1] is an English musician, journalist and Church of England parish priest. Now vicar of Finedon in Northamptonshire, he was formerly the multi-instrumentalist who partnered Jimmy Somerville in the 1980s band the Communards. They achieved three top ten hits, including the No. 1 record and best-selling single of 1986, a dance version of "Don't Leave Me This Way".

Coles frequently appears on radio and television as well as in newspapers and, in March 2011, became the regular 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, Chancellor of the University of Northampton, Honorary Chaplain to the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, and a patron of social housing project Greatwell Homes in Wellingborough.

Personal 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] He 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]

Coles is gay. The first person Coles came out to 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?"[6] 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.[7]

Coles lived with his partner, David Coles (né Oldham), in a celibate relationship[8][9] until the latter’s death in December 2019.[10] Following the death, Coles says he had received hate mail claiming that his partner is in hell.[11] The Church of England has allowed priests to enter a civil partnership since 2005[12] and Richard and David entered into one in 2010.[13]

His older brother, Andy, a former Metropolitan Police officer, was elected in 2015 as a Conservative councillor in Peterborough and appointed deputy Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016. After a mention in Richard's 2014 autobiography,[14] he was accused of having deceived a 19-year-old political activist into a sexual relationship while he was a 32-year-old undercover police officer in the 1990s[15] and resigned as deputy commissioner on 15 May 2017.[16]

Coles is a member of the Labour Party.[17] He is also a member of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), having been converted through watching the 2020 TV series Normal People. Family ties led to him selecting Cork, Ireland as his county and St Finbarr's as his club. The club responded by sending him a membership card.[18]

Musical career[edit]

Coles had 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,[19] which won the Grierson Award.[20] Coles joined Bronski Beat (initially on saxophone) in 1983.[citation needed]

In 1984, Somerville left Bronski Beat and he and Coles formed the Communards,[citation needed][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. They 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[21] and also started a career as a writer and journalist, 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.[22] 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.[23]

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.[24][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.[25][1] 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.[4][26][27]

Coles was an inspiration for the character of Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander) in BBC Two sitcom Rev. and was an adviser to the show.[28] Coles mentions in his book Fathomless Riches that he is the inspiration for the character "Tom" in the Bridget Jones novels.[citation needed] In January 2011, Coles was appointed as the vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon in the Diocese of Peterborough.[29]

Coles speaking at Greenbelt Festival, 2012

On 1 November 2012 (All Saints' Day), Darton, Longman and Todd published Coles' 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, followed. 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.[30] 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 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.[31][32] 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 July 2017, Coles was elected a Fellow of King's College London and separately as Chancellor of the University of Northampton.

Broadcasting and media appearances[edit]

Coles still works as a broadcaster, which he describes as "just showing off",[33] 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, then in May 2010.[34] Coles has appeared five times as a guest on the topical television news quiz Have I Got News for You, in 1994, May 2009, May 2013, April 2016 and June 2017. 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.[35]

In July 2016, Coles appeared on the BBC cooking series Celebrity Masterchef, finishing in fifth place. 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 Pasodoble to Flash Gordon - at the time, the lowest scoring Pasodoble in the history of the show.[36]

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.[37][38] In December 2020 Coles was featured in the BBC series Winter Walks, walking from Sutton Bank to Rievaulx Abbey. [39] 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."[40]

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.[41]





  • 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)


  • Waters of Salvation (W&N, 2021)



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


  1. ^ a b c d 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. 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. ^ "NMP Live Meets The Reverend Richard Coles | Exclusive Interview". Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Strudwick, Patrick (13 October 2014). "Richard Coles: My journey from pop star to celibate vicar". The Independent. London.
  9. ^ Craig, Olga (3 April 2011). "Rev Richard Coles: from pop star to pulpit". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "'Your partner is in hell', Richard Coles told". 19 December 2019.
  12. ^ "Gay cleric's 'wedding' to partner". 1 August 2006. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  13. ^ "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.
  14. ^ Evans, Rob (15 May 2017). "Cambridgeshire deputy police commissioner resigns over spy claims". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  15. ^ Evans, Rob (12 May 2017). "Cambridgeshire deputy police commissioner facing calls to resign over spy allegations". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  16. ^ "Statement from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner". Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  17. ^ Richard Coles [@RevRichardColes] (13 December 2019). "Hello @jessphillips! Thanks to you, I did this today" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  18. ^ "Britain's most famous vicar is GAA's newest member after watching Normal People". Hogan Stand. 20 May 2020. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  19. ^ "Jimmy Somerville – Biography". Archived from the original on 1 August 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  20. ^ "Framed Youth Revenge of the Teenage Perverts (1983)". BFI: Film & TV Database. Archived from the original on 21 May 2009. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  21. ^ "Reverend Richard Coles". JLA. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Henley, Jon (22 September 2011). "Rev Richard Coles: 'I'm the go-to gay'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  24. ^ "Church Times – More Petertide ordinations". Church Times. London. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  25. ^ "Christmas for Richard". BBC. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  26. ^ "Richard Coles on the best musical motifs of all time". The Guardian. London. 22 July 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  27. ^ Morgan, Christopher; Delmar-Morgan, Alex (20 August 2006). "Holy downshifters swell vicars' ranks". The Times. London. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  28. ^ Mirror news (28 June 2010). "More BBC vicar? Popstar Reverend Richard Coles inspires sitcom". Daily Mirror. London.
  29. ^ Gyle, Rev. Alan (11 January 2011). "Fr Richard to move to New Parish" (PDF).
  30. ^ "Revd Richard Coles".
  31. ^ "Rev".
  32. ^ Laughland, Dr Andrew (19 September 2019). "Was it a "shoe" in?".
  33. ^ Stanford, Peter (10 January 2010). "Revved up: Richard Coles, a very modern vicar". The Independent. London. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  34. ^ "BBC Radio 4: Heresy". BBC. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  35. ^ "TBI Media :: Pause for Thought Wins at the 2014 Jerusalem Awards". Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ "University Challenge – Christmas 2019: 1. Leeds University v Clare College, Cambridge". BBC iPlayer. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  38. ^ Bethell, Karen (6 January 2020). "We won! Cromer scientist in top University Challenge team". Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  39. ^ "Winter Walks". 15 December 2021. Retrieved 9 January 2021..
  40. ^ "Yorkshire's top winter walks to be revealed in new BBC Four TV showcase". Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  41. ^ "Britain's Lost Masterpieces - Series 5: 1. Brighton" – via

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