The BBC have appointed Clare Balding, a non religious lesbian, to replace the Christian Aled Jones as the host of its Radio 2 religious programme, Good Morning Sunday. Clare Balding is a vocal supporter of gay marriage, and has expressed her hopes of ‘marrying’ former BBC announcer, Alice Arnold. The BBC made the announcement through the Radio Times:
‘Olympic and Paralympic presenter Clare Balding has been announced as the new host of Radio 2’s weekly faith programme Good Morning Sunday. The show – currently presented by Daybreak’s Aled Jones – is broadcast every Sunday morning and features guests, topical discussion of ethical and religious issues and spiritual music. 41-year-old Balding – who was recently hailed by critics and viewers for her consummate broadcasting during London 2012 – will take over from Jones when he departs in January.’
‘Controller of BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music, Bob Shennan, added: “Clare is a much-loved, top quality live broadcaster who thrives on engaging with people from all walks of life. I’m sure she will be a big hit on the show as we continue to embrace the rich mix of faith and spirituality that Good Morning Sunday listeners know and love.’
Even The Tablet seem surprised by this appointment:
‘Balding is an unlikely choice, given that she does not appear to have made much of her faith or religious background in the past. She is best known for her coverage of sport – particularly horse racing – and the swimming at last summer’s London Olympic Games. Jones, on the other hand, has spoken openly of his Christian faith.’
Clare Balding has given a preview to The Gaurdian of the content she plans to introduce to radio 2′s Good Morning Sunday:
She’s about to start presenting Good Morning Sunday as well, a topical faith and religion programme on Radio 2, which she takes over from Aled Jones later this month. The established format sounds a bit staid until Balding starts discussing it. She declares an interest in “everything!”, and gives pagans as an example. Also cults, leylines, Mormons, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Muslims, Hindus. During a 10-minute discussion of the programme’s potential content, she moves from the Osmond family to ancient Greece, Germaine Greer’s views on Justin Bieber, a walk she once took with a druid, everyday saints, the startling nature of 3D cinema, a depressing country song about a mastectomy, a neuroscientist’s near-death experience, and shows me a picture of her dog, Archie, a Tibetan terrier.
She was confirmed in the Church of England while at school, but doesn’t really consider herself a part of any organised religion now. “I think I can be spiritual, and I can feel that I want to live well, I want to do things that I’m proud of, and I think that’s important. Now, do I need a church to tell me that? Actually, no, I don’t … It makes me sound really worthy,” – she adopts a muppety voice – “‘I want to be a really good person,’ but actually I want to think about the decisions I make, and make the right ones.”
We go back to religion, and she says she was surprised when the laity voted against allowing women bishops last year. “I don’t understand the fear. I don’t understand why women can’t be part of organised religion.” When I ask her about gay marriage and the church, she moves swiftly to the C of E decision that gay men in civil partnerships can become bishops – but only if they don’t have sex. The Reverend Richard Coles, who is in a celibate relationship, is due to appear on her show, “an openly gay man who is also a reverend, very publicly, who really believes in the job that he does and obviously has a very strong faith. Why should he be marginalised? It’s the same thing as it is for women. What’s the fear? Prejudice is based on fear and ignorance. What disappoints me is the focus on sex, because you never ask a straight couple what they do in bed. That is not the point. The point is a commitment to each other, a love for each other, a trust in each other, a supporting of each other.”
Balding has been in a relationship with Arnold , a broadcaster and journalist, for more than a decade, and they became civil partners in 2006. She thinks to be truly equal, marriage and civil partnership should be available to straight and gay couples. “Why not say, here’s your choice, you can either be civilly partnered, which is a bit of a mouthful – we can come up with something sexier, hopefully – or you can be married; which would you rather? Then it’s up to everybody. To me, that’s equality. The defenders of the institution of marriage who say [gay marriage] is the most dangerous thing that has ever happened to marriage … well, I think probably divorce was. And given that the Church of England started because the king wanted to get divorced, it’s an odd position to take. My point is that if you want to live in a world where people are kind and generous and look after each other, you want to encourage more people to commit to each other on a level basis.” She says it’s important to have a relationship recognised publicly, “and that is not about it being in the papers,” she qualifies quickly. “It’s about being able to say, this is my civil partner.”
Protect the Pope comment: It isn’t a co-incidence that BBC have appointed a prominent lesbian proponent of gay marriage just as David Cameron’s government is about to publish its same sex marriage legislation. Her interview in The Guardian with its rag bag of New Age fluff reveals how uninformed and unsuited she is to present one of the rare slots allocated by the BBC to religious broadcasting. It’s not hard to imagine that the BBC will next be announcing that Stephen Fry is to front Songs of Praise.