Reverend Richard Coles: I lied to Jimmy Somerville about having HIV

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Reverend Richard Coles has made a frank admission about a rift with his former bandmate Jimmy Somerville.

The pair were famously in the 1980s group The Communards, before splitting up after a string of hits in 1988.

Coles, the regular host of BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live programme, began his journey into the priesthood in 1990.

In an interview publicising his new autobiography, ‘Fathomless Riches, the 52-year-old spoke of how fame and excess soured their long friendship, culminating in a devastating row during a European tour.

Coles had fallen ill with shingles. He told The Independent’s Patrick Strudwick: “I went and had a blood test, rejoined the tour and then got in a fight with Jimmy and said, ‘Look, I’m HIV positive’.”

“I lied to get Jimmy off my back,” he said. “But the harder part to admit was that there was a dark glamour to being HIV positive, there was this drama and I was drawn to that.”

Coles continued: “HIV/AIDS played a big role in my need for the Church, and experiencing the extraordinarily devoted, patient care from Christian people during that period.

“But what I’d left out before when talking about this is my own shame. Shame was one of the drivers that brought me to God, because I needed to be forgiven.”

Asked what he needed to be forgiven for, Coles replied: “Oh… selfishness, silliness, wildness, taking shitloads of drugs, being irresponsible. And lying about being HIV positive was a big thing.”

Coles was also a very close friend of Mark Ashton, currently depicted as the lead character in Pride, the film about Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Ashton died from AIDS around 18 months after the end of the miners’ strike in 1987.

“We discovered Mark had died while we were waiting to go on stage for the Spanish Top of the Pops to sing ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’,” Coles said.

“When Mark died, I just could not believe in a universe that made sense of any kind,” he faltered.

“The loss… what would he have become?… what would the world have been like with Mark in it?… Such an inspiring person… I loved him.”

The priest, who is in a civil partnership with Rev David Coles, also spoke of the challenging nature of remaining celibate.

“I can’t pretend it’s always been easy,” he said. “We live a perfectly intimate life, but that degree of intensity is not something we share…”

The sex “wore off”, he said. “But that coincided with some clarity about the Church of England expectation of clergy in same-sex partnerships – to live in a celibate relationship – which I think is nonsensical, but nonetheless…”

Coles added: “There is nothing creditable in the Church of England’s position on gay relationships”.