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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …)