The Top 10: people who were going to be priests

An assortment of characters who resisted the pull of a higher calling

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Friday 07 May 2021 17:19
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<p>William Gladstone, not the Archbishop of Canterbury</p>

William Gladstone, not the Archbishop of Canterbury

This list was suggested by John Peters. In alphabetical order...

1. Tony Abbott, former prime minister of Australia and now a British trade envoy. Briefly trained as a Roman Catholic priest after graduating from Oxford. John Peters’s opening nomination.

2. Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor. Joined the Brothers of Ploermel (Brothers of Christian Instruction) in Jersey at 15, but left at 21 because he wanted to break each of the Ten Commandments in order, he said in his autobiography. Thanks to Angus Ramsay.

3. Alan Bennett, who decided to become a vicar on the grounds that he looked like one. Nominated by Theo Barclay.

4. Tom Cruise went to a Franciscan seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, and aspired briefly to be a priest, according to Andrew Morton’s biography. Nominated by Douglas Millan and Brenda Pilott.

5. Charles Darwin was a neglectful medical student so his father sent him to Christ’s College, Cambridge, as the first step to becoming an Anglican priest. There he preferred hunting and riding. Thanks to Graham Kirby and Allan Holloway.

6. Jack Dee wanted to enter the church but at the interview was told to come back in a few years. Nominated by Conor Downey and Mark Ogilvie.

7. William Gladstone, while at Oxford, was told he was a future Archbishop of Canterbury and became the greatest of Liberal prime ministers; Michael Ramsay, while at Cambridge (where he was briefly Liberal candidate), was told he was a future Liberal prime minister and became Archbishop of Canterbury. Thanks to Sandy Walkington.

8. John McDonnell began training to be a Roman Catholic priest at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, before he “discovered girlfriends” and went into politics instead, ending up as shadow chancellor. Nominated by Patrick Maguire.

9. Shane MacGowan. He “considered the priesthood” at the prompting of relatives as an adolescent. Not sure that counts, but John Peters gets originator’s rights.

10. Joseph Stalin enrolled in an Orthodox seminary in Tiflis at the age of 15, but became a rebel and decided he was an atheist. The third of John Peters’s nominations.

An honourable mention for Lee Rotherham, who nominated President Bartlet, who is not only fictional but only “considered” becoming a priest before meeting Abbey, his future wife, according to episode 7 of series 2 of The West Wing.

Johnny Vegas, who is at least a real person, I think only went to seminary school, which a lot of Americans did, including Martin Scorsese, who was also nominated. Thanks to Conor Downey for pointing out that these are religious schools that don’t actually train clergy.

Next week: Ill-judged breakaways, to mark the sad passing of the European Super League.

Coming soon: Disastrous rebrandings, after Standard Life Aberdeen relaunched itself as abrdn.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk

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