‘I learned from Coco the Clown’: Shoreditch Church vicar Paul Turp shares memories before retirement

PUBLISHED: 15:32 29 March 2017 | UPDATED: 15:47 29 March 2017

Rev Paul Turp at St Leonard’s Church Shoreditch

Rev Paul Turp at St Leonard’s Church Shoreditch


Rev Paul Turp will retire next year after three decades’ service at St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch. He tells Emma Bartholomew his story

Rev Paul Turp at St Leonard’s Church ShoreditchRev Paul Turp at St Leonard’s Church Shoreditch

Rev Paul Turp credits Coco the Clown with teaching him about the connection a person can have with an audience – and to this day uses some of his techniques in St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch.

Rev Turp wasn’t long out of boarding school and had got a job selling tickets and cleaning up at Bertram Mills Circus in Olympia.

“I watched the way Coco manipulated the audience of thousands,” he said. “He would look at them and wave his fingers and they would fall off the seats laughing.

“I am one person with a congregation. It’s about the way you stand. The way your body moves. It’s even at times the angle of your head that makes sense with the words you are speaking. It’s subtle and gentle – that’s why people can relate to you so easily.”

Rev Paul Turp at St Leonard’s Church ShoreditchRev Paul Turp at St Leonard’s Church Shoreditch

But he added: “You aren’t doing a performance – you are just being there.”

Now 68, Paul was born in the Whittington in 1948 and went to Drayton Park Primary in Islington. “Our playgrounds were the bomb sites, because we weren’t scared of adventure and in those days we could travel all over London,” he said.

“By the time I was eight I had a railway ticket and would go to museums on my own.”

He earned a scholarship to boarding school in Sussex, and found it “freaky” to go to the countryside.

Later, returning to London, he became a finance analyst, before joining the Church of England in 1976, “much to my surprise”.

He and his wife April, who have been married for 45 years, had just had their second child.

“There are times in your life you follow your heart and not your head,” he said. “It was the biggest thing for me to walk

out of being a finance analyst with a young family to go on the dole – and just expect the Church of England was going to take me and ordain me.

“I was completely bonkers, but they did.”

He spent four years at a church in Southall and then thought: “I’ve got to get a job”.

“I said to the Good Lord: ‘Will you find me a grotty, run-down pit of an inner city church and I will give it everything I’ve got?’ Here I am 35 years later having rebuilt this church.

“My job as a priest is to take people off the street and give them the opportunity to encounter something that is divine without dumping a lot of manmade dogma on their heads.”

Retiring next year “will make me feel desperate”, he says.

“I’m 11 years younger than the Pope and he’s doing alright. I’m younger than the president of the USA, but the Church of England is such that we all have to go when we are 70.”

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