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Maggy Whitehouse, comic and vicar: “Let’s say The Truth is in Finchley”

“I was at the end of my rope with Christianity…”

Yesterday’s blog was a chat with Maggy Whitehouse, stand-up comedian and freelance vicar/priest.

It was intended to be about her comedy, but strayed into religion… Here it continues…


JOHN: So, at home, you have an Isis and Mary altar? Isis the Egyptian god, not the Islamic fundamentalists.

MAGGY: Yes, Isis and Mary represent the Great Mother, because it’s all one Great Mother and one Great Father. The idea is she stuck her husband’s body back together after he was all carved up and she managed to conceive a child from it.

I studied New Testament Greek and really got into it and then I met a Jewish guy and he was at the end of his rope with Judaism and I was at the end of my rope with Christianity and my teacher of healing sent us off to this guy in London who was teaching Kabbalah, which is Jewish mysticism. So I started studying that.

JOHN: The Madonna stuff?

MAGGY: No. There are two sorts of Kabbalah. Hers is based in the 16th century and takes the theory that, when God created the Universe, he made a mistake. 

Mine is based in Biblical times, which is that, when God created the Universe, it was all perfect and we screwed up. Well, not even that, because Jews don’t believe in Original Sin, so how could Jesus?

Independent Maggy marries a Sikh man & a Christian woman

Anyway, there I was, doing this New Age stuff, doing funerals and my now-husband’s best friend was murdered in London and he and I were members of the same Kabbalah group. He asked me to do the funeral for Jon and my (Christian) bishop was in the congregation and phoned me up the following week and said: “OK, God told me we need you and you need us.”

I told him: “You must be out of your mind.”

But he was a guy after my own mind who was saying: Christianity has lost EVERYTHING. It’s all meant to be about love, inclusivity, kindness, simplicity. So I decided I would train. And I did.

JOHN: The Old Testament and the New Testament appear to me to have totally different gods. The Old Testament teaches “an eye for an eye”… The New Testament teaches “turn the other cheek”.

MAGGY: One thing is we only have one Hebrew testament. There used to be dozens and dozens and dozens of versions of it. But they pulled it all together into one after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. So we don’t know what the original text was.

We DO know that there are an awful lot of edits. And also, in ancient days, they read the text on four levels: the literal, the allegorical, the metaphysical and the mystical. If you take the texts out of the literal sense, they’re all about the psychological development of the soul. 

JOHN: You don’t sound especially Christian to me; just generically religious.

MAGGY: I am a very passionate follower of the teachings of Jesus… But he never once asked us to worship him. He said: “Follow me.”

JOHN: Buddha tried that. It didn’t work. I am not a god. I am not a religion. Do NOT worship me. But now loads of people clearly worship him as an idol.

“90% of people can’t be arsed to go to Finchley”

MAGGY: Of course it doesn’t work. The thing about faith is… If you like the look of it, you’ve got to go on the journey, go through all these Road to Damascus moments.

Let’s say The Truth is in Finchley. If you are a proper seeker, you travel to Finchley. But 90% of people can’t be arsed to go to Finchley, so they will find somebody who HAS been to Finchley and worship them. And, if they can’t find someone who has been to Finchley, they will worship the signpost… And that is what religion is.

I was Church of England, but now I am an Independent. We have been associated with part of the liberal Catholic Church, but I am actually ‘an independent’.

JOHN: If you don’t follow the rules of a specific recognised branch of Christianity, surely you are a heretic?

MAGGY: Of COURSE I am a heretic. The Methodists in West Devon use me – I’ve got two services this Sunday – 11.00am and 6.30pm – which is very decent of them. They heard me on BBC Radio Devon: I did a year there as a presenter. But my local rector, who runs the Anglican area can’t use me, because he would get lynched. 

JOHN: Not literally.

MAGGY: Not literally.

JOHN: So you are only really recognised as a proper person by the Methodists?

MAGGY: I’m not really recognised by them, because I can’t do communion for them. I just showed up, lay on my face on the floor in my white robe and got my hands and brow anointed.

JOHN: Ooh! A white robe. Sounds kinda Druidy.

MAGGY: I COULD be Druidy. The wonderful thing is, if you do this mysticism, this direct experience of what you perceive to be the divine, you can converse with anyone of any faith and none – And that’s what it’s about.

Maggy’s first book – about a different type of journey

JOHN: You have written seventeen books, mostly about religion and spirituality.

MAGGY: I’m writing a new book at the moment: Kabbalah and Healing. I have to deliver it to the publisher by the end of September; published the beginning of next year.

JOHN: I suppose we should mention you doing stand-up comedy as, supposedly, that is the bloody reason why we are sitting here chatting in the first place. How did you get into comedy?

MAGGY: I do spiritual workshops and events and things like that to make a living. People kept saying to me: “You’re very funny; you should do comedy.”

There was a comedy course in Birmingham half a mile from me that cost £50. I went along and I was the oldest person by 35 years. At the end, there was a showcase and, a week later, I was asked to back Hal Cruttenden on an Edinburgh Fringe preview at Kings Heath in Birmingham.

I started doing unpaid gigs after that. But then I moved to Devon. Six months later, I got cancer – non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That was a massive Road to Damascus healing journey too.

JOHN: Edinburgh Fringe?

MAGGY: I did one Edinburgh run in 2014 when I had only been performing comedy for 18 months and I had the cancer at the time. I went to Edinburgh as a bucket list thing. I had to rest all day, do my hour at night, then go back and rest. So I didn’t really get the Edinburgh experience at all.

JOHN: Will you go again?

MAGGY: At the moment, I am trying to get together four priests including me to go to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 – There’s Ravi Holy, a rector in Canterbury; Kate Bruce, who’s chaplain to the RAF at Brize Norton; and Mark Townsend, who’s an ex-Anglican but still a vicar who is a magician.

Maggy performed at the Monkey Business comedy club in London earlier this month

JOHN: So where else do you go from here? Another Road to Damascus?

MAGGY: I have no idea where I go from here. I basically thought: I will give the comedy five years and see what happens. That is almost up now.

I don’t know where I’m going.

I am writing the book; I am doing spiritual workshops; I am pottering along quite happily in comedy.

And I am happy.

I am incredibly happy. 

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The Maggy Whitehouse Experiences – the stand-up comic who is also a vicar

Maggie says: “Most of the congregation are sheep… Literally”

Maggy Whitehouse bills herself as a “Maverick priest, comedian and author who believes in an All-Inclusive Loving Beingness that also kicks ass.”

 So, obviously, I wanted to talk to her.

So, obviously, we did – at Paddington station – when she was in London.

So we were, obviously, supposed to be talking about comedy but we ended up, obviously, talking about religion…

…and, no, she is not related to Mary Whitehouse…


JOHN: I tend to ramble when I chat to people..

MAGGY: I love rambling. Going off in different directions. Most of the congregation are sheep.

JOHN: Be careful what you get quoted saying!

MAGGY: No. Literally. I sometimes go out and practise a sermon at night, when I’m putting the chickens to bed. I will be in the paddock sermonising out loud and I will turn round and 30 pairs of sheep eyes are staring at me, from the field behind.

JOHN: You live a rural life on Dartmoor. Are you from there?

MAGGY: No. Harborne in Birmingham.

JOHN: And you were a producer for Carlton TV.

MAGGY: I did a couple of documentaries on China in the 1980s, because my dad was a railway expert and used to write books about steam engines. He founded the Birmingham Railway Museum. He went in to China in 1976 – as soon as it opened up – with my brother. After three or four years, my brother decided to get married. My father had no-one else to travel with, so he took me to China.

Suzi Quatro, Vince Hill and Caesarian scar sightings

I was already working as a radio presenter with Radio WM in Birmingham, then I moved over to BBC TV – Pebble Mill at One – as a producer. I joined them three months before they closed. Then I moved to Carlton TV and a terrible lunchtime show called Gas Street. It had Suzi Quatro and Vince Hill as presenters. That was a marriage made in Hell. Suzi was great fun: she used to show us her Caesarian scar and things like that.

JOHN: You met loads of famous people.

MAGGY: Yes. This was back in the politically incorrect days. I met Rolf Harris and he was disgusting.

JOHN: He had a reputation, back then, as a groper.

MAGGY: He used to push himself up against you and put his hands behind you and go “Woo-wugh-wugh-woo-wugh-wugh” like his wobbly board thing. Fortunately I was too old for Jimmy Savile. I just knew he was vile; he made my skin crawl.

JOHN: Steam engines got you into TV…

MAGGY: Yes. My dad got a commission to write a book on steam engines in China but they wanted a real coffee table book – not just all about the engines; more about travel. I had been travelling with him for six years by then – we went out every summer – so I wrote the book and he took the pictures.

Then I did two TV documentaries on steam engines in China and got lots of marriage proposals but Tiananmen Square happened and all future travel in China went out the window. And I had also met my first husband, Henry. He was a sound recordist. We got married and he was diagnosed with terminal cancer six months later – two months after Tiananmen Square – and by February the following year he was dead. So I lost husband and career within a year, which was a bit…

JOHN: Was this when you had a Road to Damascus and decided to become a vicar?

MAGGY: No. But I lost my faith then, really. I had been an armchair Christian. I just showed up at church occasionally at Christmas.

My husband Henry had been an atheist and, on his deathbed, the Catholic hospital chaplain said: “I’m sorry, my dear, but, if he’s an atheist who does not believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, then he cannot go to heaven.”

THAT was a Road to Damascus moment, because I just thought: But that is wrong! Henry was a better person than I. He was kinder than I. He was far less of a trollop than I had ever been. I just thought: No! No! And I could not get a funeral for him that would reflect a little bit of faith. 

It had to be Church of England or Humanist back then and my family and his family would not go for Humanist so, basically, I walked up the aisle behind my young husband’s coffin hearing him damned to Hell. And I was thinking: This isn’t right! This isn’t right!

Most people might go into Atheism from that, but I went crazy and went into New Age – Buddhism and chakras and healing and that sort of thing.

JOHN: Kabbalah?

MAGGY: That came later.

JOHN: Did the New Age stuff help you?

MAGGY: Yes, because I learned about all sorts of alternative things and Healing was very interesting at this point.

Maggy’s business card (NOTE: Terms & conditions apply)

After a few years, I realised I was still FURIOUS with Christianity. The whole idea that, if you didn’t believe in Jesus, you didn’t go to heaven. And all the power and corruption which everybody alerts me to and I know about… But I realised what I had done was I had stuck all this in a nasty heap in the corner, put a nice pink blanket over it and covered it in tea lights and crystals and I was pretending it didn’t exist. I realised I was going to have to deal with it.

I also started having the opportunity to do funerals for people.

JOHN: You were a multi-faith funeral giver?

MAGGY: Sort of. A sort of self-taught one. I found a guy in London who taught me.

JOHN: Funerals? What needs teaching?

MAGGY: You have to be taught what not to say and how to deal with dead bodies and bereaved people. You are quite often going to be there when they are dying. I ended up being a hospice chaplain.

So I started putting myself around as a funeral person in London, where the work was. And I went to university to learn New Testament Greek because I thought: If I can read the New Testament in Greek, I might actually understand what this guy Jesus was on about and not have to rely on other people’s translations.

However, it turns out there are 32,000 versions of the New Testament in Greek.

JOHN: Not literally 32,000…

MAGGY: Yes, literally. Most of them are fragments. Only about 500 are full ones. But they are quite dramatically different.

JOHN: Are they all translated from the Aramaic or something?

MAGGY: No, they’re just different ways they wrote it down because, in those days, if somebody had written down one of the Gospels and wanted to copy it out, they would read it out loud and people would copy it down and they would make mistakes. 

JOHN: I remember reading or hearing somewhere that, in the original language, there is no definite or indefinite article. 

MAGGY: That’s right.

JOHN: So the phrase ‘Son of God’ does not necessarily mean THE Son of God, it can equally mean A Son of God. And we are all Sons (or Daughters) of God.

MAGGY: Yes. We are all children of God… and Christ is not Jesus’ surname… The Christ exists independently of Jesus.

JOHN: In the original, no-one was saying he was The Christ. They were saying he was a Son of God: he was a good man. The Moslems believe in Jesus as a prophet, don’t they?

MAGGY: Yes. In fact, he is mentioned in the Koran more than Mohammed is.

A sphere representing the Left Eye of God – inside the Cao Dai Tây Ninh Holy See in Vietnam.  (Photograph by Ernie Lo)

JOHN: The Cao Dai religion in Vietnam reveres Confucius, Jesus and Victor Hugo… I think because the French civil servant who created the religion rather liked the works of Victor Hugo.

MAGGY: Well, you should see my altar at home. It has Isis, Mary & Joseph and…

JOHN: Isis as opposed to ISIS

MAGGY: Yes. One of my friends Christened his daughter Isis eight years ago. It is a problem now…

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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Comic Becky Fury on what ISIS/ISIL’s beheader Jihadi John was really like

Becky was talking just off Brick Lane last night

After yesterday’s blog with Chris Dangerfield was posted, Becky Fury – winner of at least one genuine Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award – asked if she could give a response.

So I met her last night in London’s East End, just off Brick Lane.

“What made you want to respond to the blog?” I asked her.

“I basically,” she told me, “wanted to do some self promotion…”

“Oh God,” I said.

“…and I had some ideas about politics,” Becky continued.

“Good grief,” I said. “You didn’t want to have a go at Chris Dangerfield for perceived Islamophobia?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s no use at all,” I told her. “You just wanted a chat.”

“Yes,” she laughed. “I just wanted to be validated. Do you want me to talk about Islamic Fundamentalism?”

“It’d be something,” I told her.

“My friend actually taught Jihadi John,” Becky said. “He was basically a kid in remedial maths at school.”

“And he went to my college,” I told her. “The University of Westminster… Well, it was The Polytechnic in my day.”

“When he was at school,” said Becky, “he was a kid that nobody liked. He had B.O. and bad breath. He was basically a disenfranchised kid and this idea of running off to become an Islamic Fundamentalist was obviously quite attractive. Then he got turned into this character in tabloid newspaper mythology. But he was basically just a kid from remedial maths who didn’t get on with anyone.”

“This character in tabloid newspaper mythology”

“Well,” I said, “beheading people certainly works as a bid for attention.”

“He was basically pissed-off,” said Becky. “Maybe if they had had better pastoral care in his local London borough he wouldn’t have done that. And then there were all those girls running off to find this hunky Jihadi John in Syria and, when they get there, they just find that it’s Muhammad, the smelly kid from remedial maths and they think: Well, we might as well have just stayed in Tower Hamlets and met him and our mums wouldn’t have been quite so pissed-off.

“Obviously, you don’t want to encourage any type of religious fundamentalism. You can pick on one as being worse but, if you do pick on one as being worse, you make it worse and it turns it into something that becomes more dangerous because you have given people something to join in with. After they started trying to ban the burkha, lots more Moslem women started wearing burkhas because they were told they should not be allowed to do it. That’s what happens when you try to put a lid on things.”

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Comedian Christian Talbot is sh*te at being Irish + news of an ISIS fundraiser

Christian Talbot at Soho Theatre yesterday

Christian Talbot was drinking Coke at Soho Theatre yesterday

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Christian Talbot was in London yesterday so, before his flight home to Belfast, I had a chat with him.

I thought: There will be a blog in there somewhere.

Maybe I was wrong.

Maybe I was right.

Christian won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award last year with his 12-year-old daughter Kate because of her excellently cunning flyering for his show. I can’t be bothered to repeat the story. This year, Kate is appearing on stage herself.

“She’s been plaguing me,” said Christian, “for the last few weeks saying: I want to do stand-up. If we go to the Edinburgh Fringe, can I do a spot?

“So she’s going to be in a one-off children’s gig at the Freestival. I was also in touch with Comedy 4 Kids, who are running a gig at Assembly and Kate’s been offered a spot on one of their shows. And Bob Slayer has offered her a gig on his double-decker bus.”

“Has he got a name for the double-decker bus yet?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. I told him to call it The Folly.”

“I suggested Desmond,” I said. “How’s your wife?”

Kate Talbot (right) with mum Gayle: future comedians both?

Kate Talbot (right) with mum Gayle: future comedians both?

“Oh, Gayle’s doing a comedy course at the moment,” said Christian. “So she might be doing a gig in Edinburgh too.

“She says I’m hellbent on embarrassing myself by getting better comedians from the family on stage.”

“Didn’t she used to be a boxer?” I asked.

“She did used to work in a box factory,” conceded Christian.

“Does she not,” I asked, “realise there’s no money in comedy?”

“She just wanted to do it for a bit of fun, because she likes the writing. I don’t know that she will ever do a gig. She’s telling me she won’t. But then there’s Edinburgh in August.”

“Why,” I asked, “is she doing a comedy course but then says she’s not going to perform a gig?”

“She’s just awkward. Stubborn. That’s my wife. She’s contrary.”

“From County Contrary?” I asked.

“I’d like her to do a gig,” said Christian, ignoring me. “I think she’d be very good.”

“What is your show called?” I asked.

Christian Talbot ponders the title of his Ediburgh Fringe show

Christian Talbot ponders his Edinburgh Fringe show title

Christian Talbot is Shite at Being Irish. I’m really bad at being Irish. I can’t speak Irish and all Irish traditional music sounds the same to me It’s all Diddly-diddly-aye. I also don’t ‘get’ Gaelic Football and hurling.”

“Oh,” I said, “hurling is great. It’s beautiful! I used to make TV trailers for it when I worked in Dublin. Hurling in slow motion is like ballet – but interesting. I’m amazed people don’t get their heads sliced off. Gaelic Football’s graceful too. They were made for television slomos”

“A bit violent: all of them,” said Christian.

“Wildly dangerous,” I agreed. “But, in slow motion, graceful…”

“Like one of those martial arts films,” said Christian.

“Hurling and Gaelic Football,” I said enthusiastically, “are much more exciting than soccer and don’t let’s even mention cricket, the world’s most boring game.”

“I just never got into them,” said Christian, who was born and brought up in Dublin. “My dad wasn’t particularly Irish; he always watched the BBC, so I always liked Monty Python and I’ve never been a mad drinker.”

“Heard of any stunts for Edinburgh?” I asked.

“Well,” said Christian, “I see Bec Hill is renting out space on her body. If you give her clothes – like a teeshirt with an ad for your show on – she’ll wear them. She’ll wear a different set of clothes every day during her show: clothes that other people have given her to publicise their show during her show.

“And, it’s not for Edinburgh, but did you hear about Sean Hegarty over in Northern Ireland? He had a competition on his Facebook page for people to name his show in Belfast and he said whatever got the most likes would be the title… They picked ISIS Fundraiser, so now he has to go through with it under that title. Someone told me there were threats made against the venue.”

Sean Hegarty faces up to his publicity stunt

Sean Hegarty faces up to reaction

Christian told me that yesterday so, obviously, this morning I got in touch with Sean Hegarty.

“Yeah,” he told me. “The show’s going ahead on April 13th with that title, unfortunately. All press is good press, though, and I’m using it to my advantage. I’ve got in contact with the isis charity in England who support young people against sexual exploitation. So I’m hoping to do a collection for them at the end of my show. I’ve also been in contact with the police who are completely behind me and understand the predicament I’m in.”

I feel we may hear more of this.

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