Fame isn’t something most vicars have to contend with, but Reverend Kate Bottley isn’t most vicars.
The ex-Googlebox star gained thousands of fans across the country during her stint on the Channel 4 show. Unfortunately, she also gained the attention of body-shaming internet trolls. Then, when she lost weight, she received unwanted comments about that too.
‘I still have days when I hate my body,’ Kate tells me over Zoom. ‘I’ve always hated it. It sounds a bit strong for a vicar, doesn’t it? Someone who should be at peace with herself and not be concerned with such superficial things as the body and how she looks. But I still find that I am focussed on a voice that tells me I’m not good enough. Too round, too fat, too short.’
Ordained as a priest in North Nottinghamshire in 2008, but originally from Sheffield, Kate only started going to church because she fancied the local vicar’s son. (They are now married – her husband Graham was her loyal companion on the Gogglebox sofa.)
Her celebrity career started when she was officiating a wedding and took part in a dancing wedding flash mob. The video went viral with more than seven million hits on YouTube, and she was approached by Channel 4’s Gogglebox to join the show.
She now presents BBC Radio 2’s weekly show, Good Morning Sunday, with Jason Mohammed, is a frequent guest contributor on The Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show and a regular presenter on Songs of Praise.
After the famous wedding video, Kate didn’t received any media training and was not prepared for the attention, when the flash mob went viral. ‘A lot of people were positive but I also got trolled. I still do. I get shouted at a lot by people – online and in person,’ she says.
‘People want to cheerfully tell me how they think I look prettier in real life, or fatter on telly, or how I’m annoying, or too Northern, or shorter than they thought. There is a general assumption that people wouldn’t dream of saying the nasty stuff they say online to someone face to face, but I’m afraid to say that simply isn’t true.
‘I’ve found there are many people who are just as willing to tell me they hate me up close and personal as they are when they are safely behind their keyboard. Once a man in a Tesco car park called me The whore of Babylon.’
How does she respond to this abuse? ‘In that instance, I phoned my telly vicar mate Richard Coles, who once I’d stopped crying enough to tell him what had happened said: ‘Tesco, darling, you poor thing, get to a Waitrose immediately’.’
Kate’s here today to talk about her new book Have A Little Faith: Life Lessons on Love, Death and How Lasagne Always Helps (Penguin Life, £14.99) Part memoir, part self-help book, Kate shares her wisdom with chapters on success, love, strength, conflict, confidence, loneliness, grief and forgiveness.
‘I exercise my forgiveness a lot on social media. It’s reminding myself the that beneath the most bitter, twisted, horrible, evil, nasty troll, there is a baby that was loved,’ she says.
‘You have to imagine them as a vulnerable, innocent child. They might have been beaten up at school at the age of six and maybe that’s what’s made them how they are. It’s remembering that the humanity behind people as much as I possibly can.’
But what about compassion for herself, when she’s criticising herself for her weight?
‘Despite the fact that I go around saying I hate my body, I am also simultaneously completely grateful for my body and all the things it lets me do,’ she says. ‘I’m a big fan of allowing ourselves to feel seemingly contradictory things at the same time – love and anger, capable but struggling, proud but anxious – you get the idea.’
She explains how a spiritual friend will sit and meditate with her and do what she calls a ‘gratitude body scan.’
‘We both lie there on the floor in her living room, and we go from the very top of our heads (including hair) down to our toes via every muscle, limb and organ in between, and think about how grateful we are to have them, and what they allow us to do.’
But Kate still struggles to accept her body. ‘I have mixed feelings about my body, like everyone does. I’m human. Being religious, being a Christian who believes I am a created being with a godly purpose, doesn’t mean I am above the pressures of vanity and appearance, gluttony is after all considered one of the ‘deadly sins’ in the Christian tradition, but what can I say?
‘One hobnob is never enough and if there isn’t cheese in heaven I’ll go to the other place, I think!’
Rev Kate Bottley on….
Faith is not a VIP area, it’s an open house, where everyone can come in, help themselves to as much or as little as they need, share a plate with their neighbour or with a stranger, and feel the simple joy in believing that things are going to be OK, in having a little faith. Faith brings comfort, by fostering connection with a community and giving a sense of shared purpose but also by helping us to focus on the idea of something bigger than just ourselves and our own problems.
Being religious I do think the idea that you have to be somehow officially religious to go to church is a bizarre notion. You wouldn’t go to a French lesson if you already spoke French, or to the supermarket if you had a house full of food. Maybe you’ll find faith if you come, maybe you won’t, but you’ll probably find a support network and not be so lonely anymore. Sometimes belonging to something doesn’t mean believing every bit of it.
Love is the ultimate divine attribute, the essence of what I understand God to be. It’s a raging fire of strength that is impossible to quantify and contain. The idea that I am loved by the author of love itself, is the foundation of my faith and my reason for everything. (But when Graham eats crisps I still want to squeeze his head!)
Have A Little Faith: Life Lessons on Love, Death and How Lasagne Always Helps by (Penguin Life, £14.99) by Rev Kate Bottley is out now.
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