Ex-porn merchant defends his church

REVEREND Michael Bassett insists he was not a 'porn king' in Soho in the Sixties; he prefers 'professional pornographer'. This was before he opened a casino, became involved in counterfeiting money, and later occupied his time as a playboy and gigolo. Then he found God.

He is now running an independent church in London, part of whose message is that wealth and health are godly and good.

This approach appeared to have been taken to an extreme earlier this month when Mr Bassett's Victory Church was named in a High Court case during a dispute about the franchise of six branches of the Body Shop.

The Body Shop was claiming pounds 340,000 from Pauline Rawle, the franchise holder, and demanding the return of its property.

The judge, Sir Peter Pain, ordered Mrs Rawle to hand back control of the shops. He commented: 'She tried to compel her staff to take mystic violence (sic) courses run by the church.

'At one meeting she told staff they had all been sexually abused before they were three years of age, and many of them found this distressing.'

Mr Bassett, 49, says the case cast an unfair slur on his church, which he founded in 1980. He said Mrs Rawle had never been a member of his church and only went to classes organised by it. The church ran a 'domestic' not a 'mystic' violence course.

A well-groomed, sun-tanned Londoner, Mr Bassett - or Dr Bassett (his honorary doctorate is from a Dr McCann's Harvest Bible College in Cornwall) - personifies one of the church's fundamental beliefs: success.

He expresses his views in a quiet, controlled manner, and is surprisingly soft-spoken for a charismatic evangelist.

He believes the image of 'poor Christians' is outdated and that there is nothing in the Bible that condemns wealth. The church runs business and financial workshops. Mr Bassett said: 'People realise today that you have to be able to function economically.'

His business experience began when he sold pornography for five years. He then moved on to gambling, with his own casino, including 'bunny girls' and a private bar. He has been quoted as saying: 'I changed my mistresses as frequently as most men change their socks.'

A failed counterfeiting racket forced him to flee London for Los Angeles. In the United States he became a professional gigolo and gambler. But one night in 1975 he discovered Jesus in a hotel room while watching a TV evangelist.

Shortly afterwards he met his wife, Denise, 37, a Californian, who is now a pastor. The couple live in Hampstead.

Mr Bassett believes his previous lifestyle has made him more suitable, not less, to be a preacher. 'There's not many things I can be shaken about. Whatever they have done, I can usually top them.'

His faith has attracted about 1,000 members, 95 per cent of whom are black. Meetings, which are loud and lively, are held in Hampstead and Wembley.

Another belief at Victory Church is that most illnesses are due to people 'stuffing something and holding something' inside their bodies and minds. With spiritual guidance the church believes it can cure this problem.

Mr Bassett thinks people are 'sick and tired' of traditional churches - 'People want to get a real relationship with God.'

(Photograph omitted)

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