STEPPING out on the stage of a prime-time television talent show in a clerical collar, the Vicar of High Spen and Rowlands Gill, the Revd John Barron, pictured, expected a degree of surprise from the audience.
“There was a bit of a ripple of noise, of ‘Oh, my goodness. It’s a vicar,’” he recalled this week.
The four judges in his blind audition on The Voice, broadcast on BBC 1 on Saturday night, were similarly taken aback, on turning in their chairs, to match the voice to a face. “It’s a priest!” exclaimed Paloma Faith. “Are we going to hell?”
Mr Barron — who offered some reassurance to Ms Faith — was “delighted” by the audience’s reaction. Within the first few bars of his performance, there was applause and whooping, and by the end he was facing a standing ovation.
Although he was not chosen by the judges to progress in the show, by the end of his song all four were holding hands and swaying in time. Ms Faith described him as “fabulous”; Ricky Wilson said that he had a “very handsome voice”. Boy George also had words of encouragement, and said that “Singing is good for your soul”. At the request of Will.i.am, nervous that they were “in spiritual trouble”, Mr Barron agreed to pray for the judges.
It had not, strictly speaking, been Mr Barron’s decision to apply to the show. It was his wife, Val, who had submitted an application after repeated suggestions from their children. With the Bishop of Durham’s support, he had attended an invitation to audition.
It “made sense” to wear his dog collar, he said. While reluctant to be “grandiose”, he said it was an opportunity to witness to church, and to Jesus. “The picture that I had was of Paul pointing to that Altar of the Unknown God, and I think, whenever we do this sort of stuff . . . it’s about presence in the culture that we are called to be church.”
Mr Barron has sung since his childhood. Before his conversion in his late twenties, he performed in several amateur productions, in-cluding the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar, in a church in Stevenage. He continues to perform at fund-raising events, and this week will sing at an elderly-care group to raise money for the Gateshead foodbank.
After reflecting that there are “lots of songs it’s difficult to sing with a dog collar on”, he settled on “This Is the Moment”, from the musical Jekyll and Hyde, for The Voice.