BBC The Big Painting Challenge: Rev Richard Coles’ life – From 80s pop star to priesthood and losing partner to ‘demon’ of alcoholism

The Reverend Richard Coles is one of the two presenters of BBC’s The Big Painting Challenge, alongside Mariella Frostrup.

Richard has become a fixture in the British media on TV and Radio, presenting Saturday Live on Radio 4 and popping up across comedy panel shows including QI and Would I Lie to You?

His fame comes in part through his notoriety in his previous life as an 80s pop star, even landing a UK number one hit.

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He’s also done all of this in addition to being a practising vicar, currently looking after the parish of Finedon in Northamptonshire.

He also dealt with some real tragedy along the way when he lost his partner to the “demon” of alcoholism.

Richard, 59, learned to play the saxophone, clarinet, and keyboard in his youth before moving to London in 1980 and working in theatre.

In 1983 he teamed up with Jimmy Somerville and others to form Bronski Beat, which he played saxophone for.

They were best known for the hit Smalltown Boy and their lyrics which reflected the fact each member was openly gay, often containing political commentary on gay issues.

In 1985 Somerville and Richard left Bronski Beat and formed their own double act, The Communards.

As one half of the Communards, Richard produced three top ten hits, including the best selling UK single of 1986, Don’t Leave Me This Way, which stayed at number one for a whole month.

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Richard along with Jimmy Somerville as The Communards

After his music career ended in 1988 he took up religion and became an ordained Anglican priest in 2005.

Sadly the Reverend was hit by tragedy in 2019 when his partner David Coles died aged just 42.

The couple had met in 2007 before entering into a civil partnership in 2010 and lived together in a celibate relationship.

But David’s tragic death came after a long battle with alcoholism which Richard opened up about in an interview with BBC Radio Northampton.

“An enthusiastic fondness for alcohol when you’re 20 or 25 is one thing, when you’re 35 or 40 it’s another thing and his drinking just got out of control,” he said.

“People used to talk about the ‘demon drink’ which sounds like a rather melodramatic way to describe it, but it is like someone is seized by a demon and when David was at his worst he was really difficult and it was very tough.”

Fortunately Richard found solace in an Alcohol-Anonymous group for those hurt by others alcoholism, he said: “That was a lifesaver, because I just sat with people who were going through the same thing I was going through and that made a huge difference.”

He was also uplifted by “a tsunami of good wishes”, following the news breaking about David’s tragic passing.

If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, read about the first steps to making a change on the NHS website here.

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