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Interview: Lynne Bradley, writer, singer, performance poet

24 July 2015

‘It was as if I was being enveloped in love. My whole body tingled’

The most fun has been performing my poetry and hearing the audience laugh. The most difficult was performing in pantomime just after my boyfriend, Stephen, died. I learned the true meaning of the saying “The show must go on.” The most surprising thing has been being asked to make a CD 30 years after making my last one.


Dad was a successful businessman, funny, loving and generous. Mum was a tower of strength and a help and ever-listening ear, not just to me but to all the neighbours. Dad came from a devout Russian Jewish family, but Mum came from a non-observant German Jewish family. Their first son, Brian, had died at the end of the war at only three months old; so my brother Colin and I were spoilt rotten. Mum’s mum lived with us, after losing everything in a fire.


We were traditional Jews rather than practising Jews. Colin was a rebel, and was always getting into trouble. I always loved animals, and all I ever wanted to be was a ballet dancer.


I trained professionally, but I was dropped by my partner and badly injured; so I started modelling. In those days, women were still allowed to be curvaceous. But then Twiggy came on the scene and the super-thin waif became the desired look. It’s been the fashion ever since, and, sadly, anorexia and bulimia play a large part in achieving the look. It’s unhealthy and unrealistic, and it gives pre-teen girls false conceptions about their bodies.


Yes, we experienced some sexual harassment, but none of the girls I worked with went down that road. It was known as the “casting couch”, and I’m sure that it still goes on in many walks of life, not just modelling. But if you’re with a good model agency, you can have a successful career without compromising your character.


I’m recording this CD Timeless Memories at the moment, and I have, on average three one-woman shows a week. It means I have to write new material all the time, which is great for the little grey cells. I sing the classic songs when I’m entertaining — “I Dreamed a Dream”, “Unforgettable”, “Bye Bye, Blackbird” — then I’m going to do similar songs, but my own versions. I love seeing the audience reaction. They’re expecting the familiar words, and suddenly you shock them.


My father used to parody songs all the time. I grew up thinking it was “I left my heart in Clapham Common.”


I’m also writing a children’s book, The Mouse at the Top of the House. I’m working on a couple of parodies: “Tomorrow”, from Annie, and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”, from My Fair Lady.


My first experience of God was when I was 26. We went with our son to St Albans Cathedral. As I walked through the doors, I experienced a strange sensation, as if I was being enveloped in love. My whole body tingled. It was unsettling and beautiful all at the same time.


At the time I was Jewish. I’m still Jewish. I didn’t become a believer till I was 51-and-a-half. I always believed there was a God, but after boarding school my idea of God was very confused.


When I got on the Piccadilly Line every day, I’d see a huge church spire, and talked to it from the moment I got on. I used to pour my heart out to it. Couldn’t do this in the synagogue. Never told a soul. I already knew that God lived in the house with the spire.


I went to synagogue after I was married. Later, when I was 40, I said: “Jesus Christ!” My musical director said: “Never use that name as a swear word. He may not be your Lord yet, but he is mine. When you cry out, the Lord will answer you. Jesus has tried to get through to you, but your line’s always engaged.” And that’s what the Iranian pastor said, word for word, when I first walked into his church 11 years later.


I never felt totally at home. I always had a feeling of being different, but not understanding why. When I was sitting in the Iranian church, God whispered in my ear: “This is now your family, and now you know why I never let you fit in with your own people.”


The church was for ex-Muslims from Iran, and the pastor was a Jew. After the new pastor who didn’t have much English came, services were held in Parsee. When I re-married, my husband wasn’t very comfortable with this.


I kept on seeing and hearing the word “forty”. I couldn’t understand it. But someone said, God would reveal it to you: it will become obvious. Then someone at church said: “I must tell you: there’s a group doing ‘40 Days of Purpose’ in house groups five minutes from you. Would you like to come with me?” So we now go to Stanmore Baptist Church.


I had two years of being very confused about the Law. The Iranian church was doing the Alpha course, and it came to the Holy Spirit weekend. We drove there (on the sabbath) and I missed lighting the candles. Do I keep the Jewish rules or don’t I? They served gammon steak for dinner, followed by rhubarb and custard. God said: “Does that answer your question?” But I must say I struggled with that for a couple of years.


A lot of the songs we sing have the name “Yahweh”, which, as a Jew, I’d have been forbidden to speak. It’s the one thing I haven’t been set free from. It’s the name God said was too holy to use.


Everything changed. The first thing I noticed was that the words of the Bible began to come alive as I read them. I suddenly understood the reasons for the Laws. They weren’t, as I had thought, to spoil our fun, but for our protection and well-being. I became aware of how my lifestyle was at odds with God’s ways. I realised that my actions had consequences. God became real, close, and personal instead of remote and abstract.


God’s evident love for me required a response, and I wanted to respond by living a life that pleased him. I’d lived under a shadow of guilt and fear for most of my life, and God completely took that away.


I was never good at being patient, but I’ve learnt to trust God, his provision and his timing. It’s difficult for me to see the changes, but I’m told that I am calmer now, and much more reliable.


I always knew that Jesus was the Christian God, but had no real knowledge who my God was until he spoke to me. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. “What have you just done?” he asked. “What is the Passover?” “It’s when God . . . it’s when you led the Israelites out of bondage.” “Did they know where they were going? O ye of little faith, why don’t you put your trust in me like your ancestors did?”


Then I met Helen Shapiro, a Messianic Jew and very famous. She told me how her own musical director was showing her that Jesus was the Messiah, and now my own was. I’m doing a weekend with her soon. God has put the most amazing people my way, because I was so obstinate. But it took 11 years before I would submit to the Lord.


I regret the 11 years, but I wouldn’t be where I am now if it hadn’t been for them. God has opened all the doors he refused before, because now I’m doing things for him.


Because I had cancer, I joined Chai Cancer Care. I used to perform there, and now I go there because I’m a cancer survivor. I’m not allowed to speak about Jesus, but I was performing there recently, and showed them the title of my book [What’s a Nice Jewish Girl like You Doing in a Church Like This?], and they still invited me to come back again. It’s a real breakthrough. God opens doors.


I love being behind the wheel of my car, and driving through the countryside is a real joy. I’m grateful that David bought me a satnav a couple of years ago. Before that, I used to get really lost.


I would love to see the fulfilment of the scripture: “Then all Israel will be saved.”


I love the sound of waves crashing on the seashore. I listen to it on my computer when I’m writing.


I’m happiest being by the sea, being with my friends and family, or performing. And eating chocolate.


I pray most for the salvation of my children. The salvation of my family and friends.


I’d choose to be locked in a church with Jesus — without a doubt.


Lynne Bradley was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

What’s a Nice Jewish Girl Like You Doing in a Church Like This? is published by Instant Apostle.

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