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'I have no problem drawing attention to myself'
Rev Kate Bottley, the straight-talking Nottinghamshire vicar who’s one of the stars of BAFTA-winning reality television show Gogglebox, hopes her appearance on prime-time television will show that members of the clergy are just like the rest of us - they sit on the sofa in slippers, sip tea and shout at the TV. The 40-year-old mum of two tells us how she came to faith, her rise to fame and why she supports the work of Mothers’ Union
WHEN DID YOU START GOING TO CHURCH AND WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO GO?
I wasn’t brought up going to church and none of my family went but there was this good-looking lad at school - the vicar’s son - who went to church, so I thought that was as good a reason as any to go along. That lad is now my husband, Graham. We’ve been married 17 years.
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH WHEN YOU GOT THERE?
Like all good 13 or 14 year olds, I had lots of questions and I wanted to argue and what was great about being in a good church and a good youth group is that they allowed me the space to do that; to find out what I really believed, which was brilliant.
YOUR FAMILY WASN’T CHRISTIAN, SO HOW DID YOUR PARENTS REACT? WERE THEY SUPPORTIVE?
My dad would drop me off at the Sunday evening service on the way to the working men’s club for a game of snooker with my uncle. At first, my mum was really worried I’d joined a cult – I had to reassure her that it was only the Church of England! Very slowly, my family became more accepting. They started saying grace at the table at Christmas and little things like that. Now, both my parents go to church. Mum is a regular and has been confirmed.
YOU WEREN’T ALWAYS A VICAR. WHAT DID YOU DO FIRST?
I was a secondary school Religious Education teacher. I cut my teeth in the comprehensives on the council estates of Sheffield and I absolutely loved it. I never thought I’d do anything else.
SO WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO GO INTO MINISTRY?
The vicar asked me out for a curry one night - be very careful when the vicar invites you for a curry! I’d agreed to be church warden that year, so I thought it was something to do with that. We were sat in the car and it was all very weird, a bit like a first date. Then he came out with it - he said, ‘I think you should become a vicar’. I spoke to my husband about it. It was all a bit terrifying. Graham is the son of a vicar so he understood the implications - that nothing would ever be the same again. I promised myself I’d just see how far I got with it, that I’d start praying about it and see what God had to say and I ended up with a dog collar!
I UNDERSTAND GOGGLEBOX WASN’T YOUR FIRST FORAY INTO THE PUBLIC EYE?
I’ve always done bits and bobs for telly and radio, ever since I was little. I was a shy child so my parents very wisely sent me to theatre school. My dad worked in a brick factory and my mum was a school cleaner and there I was, performing Shakespeare at the age of 11. It was quite a formative thing to do. I do like being the centre of attention and I can be a massive show off. Most clergy are introverts, but I have no problem drawing attention to myself if I can then draw attention to Jesus. I remember when DIY SOS came to the village where I was a vicar and I went down with a massive basketful of ice lollies. ‘Can we get the camera?’ they asked. ‘Oh, must you?’ I said. I shamelessly admit it’s a big part of what I love to do. I once dressed up as a giant Christingle and got onto BBC Look North.
BEFORE YOU APPEARED ON GOGGLEBOX, YOU WERE ALREADY A YOUTUBE SENSATION. A VIDEO OF YOU LEADING A FLASH MOB AT A WEDDING IN YOUR CHURCH NOW HAS MORE THAN SIX MILLION HITS. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
I think it’s really important to say yes to brides and grooms because I hope that when they hear the vicar saying yes and the church saying yes, they hear God saying yes. If we say no to what they want, they’ll think their lives and the holiness of the church are incompatible. It’s all about making faith more possible. Part of my calling is to help people see that just because you’re a Christian and believe in God, it doesn’t mean you have to water yourself down or be less authentically you. Sometimes we expect everyone to conform so that every Christian looks the same, sounds the same, thinks the same and does the same. It’s my job to say faith is possible for you – that it’s possible to be a relatively normal person and have a faith, and I use the word “normal” very loosely when I refer to myself!
SO HOW DID YOU END UP ON GOGGLEBOX?
It wasn’t done without thought. Yes, I’m a show off and there was an element of wanting to be on the telly, but actually it’s much bigger than that. We only ever see pretend vicars on telly - like The Vicar Of Dibley or Rev - and if we see a real vicar they’re on something worthy, like a BBC Radio 4 documentary or something about Richard III. We don’t see vicars on reality TV or on things most people actually watch. Gogglebox is our biggest TV show. It’s on people’s tellies at prime time on Friday night on Channel 4. I sit there in my dog collar next to my husband with a pot of tea shouting at the telly like everyone else does. I want to show that Christians are normal people - we swear and lose our temper too. We’re not different - we’re just forgiven.
YOU’RE THE VICAR OF THREE CHURCHES AND THE CHAPLAIN OF A FURTHER EDUCATION COLLEGE. HOW DOES YOUR CONGREGATION FEEL ABOUT YOUR FAME?
My congregation is very patient and loving. They’re wonderful people. A few of them were shocked – they weren’t quite sure what had hit them. But they soon worked out I love what I do, believe I’m called by God to do it and I’m quite a capable pair of hands, despite my big mouth and bravado. And if there’s a film crew in my house and one of my congregation gets ill, I hope they’d know where I’d be.
YOU’RE A MEMBER OF MOTHERS’ UNION? WHY DID YOU JOIN?
One of the reasons I signed up is because I’d just become a mum and it seemed like a sensible thing to do. I’d also just become a church warden in Sheffield and I found it really difficult to get anything done but when I signed up, I found a ready band of people willing to support me. But I also joined because of the work they do in Africa supporting families through the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It was the early noughties and this was something I felt really strongly about. Sometimes people wrongly think Mothers’ Union is all about tea and cakes, drafty church halls and people over 85 but it’s not like that at all. It does some amazing things in the developing world and makes a massive difference. I wanted to be part of that.
YOU’RE A BIG SUPPORTER OF WOMEN BISHOPS AND YOU’VE SAID YOU’D LIKE TO MARRY GAY PEOPLE IN YOUR CHURCH. DO YOU THINK THAT WILL HAPPEN?
I’m not sure. What’s important to say is that I’ll follow the teachings of the Church of England and my bishop, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to move with a changing culture. I do believe in equal marriage. We used to think slavery was okay and we used the Bible to justify that. We do change our minds all the time and I think we can be part of a changing culture.
FINALLY, WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME, IF YOU GET ANY?
I like to run. I don’t run far and I don’t run fast but it’s something I took up a year ago and it’s been fantastic for me. I love watching telly too - I think there can be a bit of snobbery about wanting to sit on your bum and watch TV. I also like films, cooking, food, real ale and stand-up comedy. When it comes to holidays, I like lying on my sun lounger drinking gin and tonic, but Graham likes walking and mountain climbing, so one year we do my kind of holiday and the next year we do his. We went canoeing in the Dordogne last year. There wasn’t much opportunity for lying around on sun loungers there!
Watch Gary and Tracy Richardson’s flash mob wedding on June 15, 2013 : www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMrvcORsDLI