How Church flashmob sparked media career for Yorkshire former Gogglebox star Reverend Kate Bottley

Revered Kate Bottley. Photo by John Mannell.
Revered Kate Bottley. Photo by John Mannell.

Yorkshire-born former Gogglebox star Reverend Kate Bottley is set to visit her former university for a talk on her journey from ‘Trinity to Telly’. Laura Drysdale reports.

“I only went for a snog and ended up with a dog collar.” It is a line Kate Bottley often uses when she describes why she went to Church - and, as she delivers it with a chuckle during our phone chat, it is hard not to smile at her refreshing openness and friendly demeanour.

The Reverend, arguably the most famous priest in the country, did not grow up in a Church-going family. It was only in her teenage years that she started attending after an invite from a school friend - and, with a crush on the vicar’s son, she was certainly persuaded.

It was many years later before the clerical collar became a feature of her wardrobe but it is not the only thing that stemmed from her attendance.

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That vicar’s son - Graham Bottley - has been her husband since 1998 and the pair are parents to now teenage children Ruby and Arthur. For two-and-a-half-years the couple were a staple on Channel 4 show Gogglebox, two of Britain’s armchair critics, sharing their views on the nation’s TV programmes from their sofa in north Nottinghamshire.

Whilst the county has been their home for several years, Sheffielder Kate is proud of her Yorkshire roots - and, she says, despite having little memory of living in the city themselves, her children will answer ‘Sheffield’ if asked where they are from.

Next month, the star will be returning to the region where it all began for a talk at her former university, Leeds Trinity.

Her career since graduating more than 20 years ago will be the focus of God and the Gogglebox: From Trinity to Telly, which takes place on November 7.

“A lot of it has happened by chance and circumstances, but also by hard work as well,” says the 43-year-old, a great believer in taking risks. Her life motto stems from a Bible verse. “I want to have a life in all its fullness and I want to squeeze every drop out of it,” she says.

Kate grew up in and around the Walkley area of Sheffield, and after her schooling years, in 1993 went on to study theology and secondary education at Leeds Trinity with a view to becoming a teacher. For several years, that was exactly what she did, as an RE teacher at Ecclesfield School and later as head of RE at Yewlands, both in Sheffield.

In 2006, having resigned from her teaching post and with a two-year-old and four-and-a-half year-old, she started theological college at St John’s in Nottingham.

Enough people had suggested she join the priesthood - and Kate felt her calling. Though, “I never thought for one second anyone would take me seriously,” she tells me. “I expected any second for someone to turn around and say ‘don’t be so silly’.”

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She was ordained in 2008, and after a period she likens to an apprenticeship in Church - she was given a parish of her own and looked after three churches in Nottinghamshire, as well as being chaplain in a further education college.

Her breakthrough into television was sparked by a viral video in 2013, when a couple marrying at her church wanted to add a unique touch to their special day. “We decided between us, they say it was my idea, to do a flashmob at the wedding,” Kate says. “Everybody Dance Now comes on - and I start dancing, and they start dancing, and the whole congregation starts dancing.”

The newlyweds uploaded a video of the stunt to Youtube the following week, attracting 10,000 hits overnight. It has now amassed nearly nine million views, and led to her being approached by the BAFTA and NTA winning series Gogglebox.

“My husband was a huge fan of the show,” she says. “The reason I wanted to have a go at it, apart from being a dreadful show off, was because I wanted to show that just because someone believes in God and wears a collar for a living doesn’t mean that they aren’t a ‘normal’ person.”

From February 2014 to August 2016 she was a regular to many TV screens, sat on her sofa, often using her husband as a footrest and with a cuppa in hand. “It was a wonderful, wonderful thing to be part of. It does rather take over your life but we loved having the film crews and getting to know people.”

Not one to shy away from the attention it has triggered, Kate has enjoyed being stopped in the supermarket for a chat.

“When you are a vicar, you get used to people staring at you, so it wasn’t that strange (being recognised). When you wear a collar for a living, when you walk around town, people do stop to talk to you whether you are on TV or not. If I was shy, I wouldn’t have done Gogglebox. I love it when people want to talk to me.”

Dubbed the nation’s vicar - “I am not sure about that, but I like to think people recognise me for the work I’m doing” - she aims to use her prominence to help others, pointing people in the direction of their local clergy, standing as a “proud ally” of the LGBT community and spreading a message that we are all loved.

“Love is at the heart of what we do. That golden rule of love your neighbour as yourself is so important.”

“I refuse to believe it is a dog-eat-dog world,” she adds, “and that people aren’t good at heart. I think most people want to the best not just for themselves but for those around them.”

It is certainly true of her family and friends, who have stood by her side throughout. Her lifelong friends from the Leeds Trinity rugby team two decades ago are amongst her staunch allies, whilst her husband and children have offered support, even through leaps of faith.

One of the biggest, two years ago, was her decision to take a break from full-time ministry to focus on full-time media, with no contract in place - a decision that meant leaving the vicarage, and family home.

“What was going through my head was ‘this is crazy’. But just like my call and vocation to be a priest in the first place when people were saying ‘don’t you think you should?’, it felt like this was a natural thing to do next. “It felt like that was the way things were going, that it was what God was calling me to do.” It was like “jumping off the edge into the complete unknown” though. “It needed to work in order to pay the mortgage, but also it needed to work from a mental health and wellness point of view.”

It was a risk that paid off - she currently presents Good Morning Sunday on BBC Radio 2 alongside Jason Mohammad, has written for various newspapers and magazines including the Radio Times and The Guardian and has made guest appearances on shows such as Celebrity MasterChef and 8 Out of 10 Cats. Songs of Praise, The One Show and BBC documentaries are among other presenting work she has to her name. And between all this, she continues to take church services and officiate at weddings and funerals.

“I have certainly got some material for my eulogy,” she says. With that, it is hard to argue.

Talk

Kate’s talk will take place on Wednesday, November 7.

The session, for which doors open at 6pm, costs £10 to attend. The ticket includes entry to the talk, a drink on arrival, buffet dinner and a question and answer. The ‘Trinity Talk’ is being delivered as part of Leeds Trinity University’s Journalism and Media Week, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and is taking place from November 5 to 8.

Professor Margaret House, Vice-Chancellor said: “Kate has had a very interesting and varied career and we are looking forward to hearing more about her life after graduating from Leeds Trinity more than 20 years ago.” To book, or find out more about the full programme of events, visit www.leedstrinity.ac.uk/events/journalism-media-week-2018