In my last blog I had some fun at the expense of the Celebrity Clerics, Richard Coles and Kate Bottley. On reflection, I perhaps did the Reverend Coles a disservice by linking him to the odious Bottley. The latter is a simple, porcine soul of little brain, best left snout deep in the trough of media celebrity. But the former is a different kind of animal entirely. It is instructive to compare him to the physicist, Brian Cox, whose life has some interesting parallels (and whose name makes possible the pun in my title which I hope will become clear as we progress). Both Coles and Cox had some success as pop musicians in their youth; both turned away to pursue more serious interests; and both have returned later in life to another form of celebrity. Brian Cox is a scientist first and last; his flirtation with pop did not distract (for long at least) from this central concern of his life, and his current celebrity is based on a personal drive to explain his scientific field to the rest of us. Whatever one thinks of him as a populariser of science I have no doubts about his real achievements, his sincerity, and the cultural importance of what he does on radio and television. His Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 with Robin Ince is a textbook case on doing it well. Coles on the other hand seems never to have known what his central concern should be – except himself. He left music and got religion but it took him a long time to work out which particular version of Christianity suited him best; notably, he flirted with Catholicism for a decade or so before settling on good old Anglican compromise. Perhaps this is attributable to another facet of his life that I failed to mention last time: apparently, he is homosexual and lives with another homosexual priest in a ‘celibate relationship’. A Celebrity Celibate Cleric no less.
But what exactly does this mean? I feel entitled to speculate on the subject because in my view, anyone who pokes their snout into the trough of media celebrity, tacitly offers themselves up for whatever intrusive enquiry people like me feel like poking around in. So, does it mean, for example, that in the Coles household there is no physical contact at all? Or perhaps a little surreptitious handholding goes on? Perhaps a brief peck on the cheek before going off to comfort the sick? Or – please bear with me, I know the mental pictures get difficult – perhaps we can imagine the two celibates snuggled up together on the sofa, cups of cocoa in hand, watching Eastenders together rather as we have become accustomed to seeing the Rev. Bottley and her curiously silent husband do. Or maybe, just maybe, snuggling leads to more on occasion? A little fondling perhaps? And then what? A reluctant disengagement? A joint prayer for strength to resist temptation? Or a quick dash to separate toilets for fevered but discrete wanks while vainly trying to imagine a naked Mother Teresa? Surely a bit of mutual masturbation is out of the question isn’t it? Presumably, the minimum we can assume is that buggery itself is off the agenda. But who determines the boundaries and where do you draw the line? On this as on so many issues, the Bible is less than specific, so perhaps this is the reason for Coles’ attraction to Popery – where the Lord fears to tread, the Pontiff is ready with infallible instruction. Of all the absurdities that Christianity foists on its adherents, this surely must be one of the most ridiculous. Not that I care at all about Cole’s sexual gratification – I just fail to see why we should be inflicted with this humbug paraded across our screens.