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My brother’s killing forced us to flee to Britain, says Bishop of Chelmsford

19 January 2024

Dr Guli Francis Dehqani is a castaway on Desert Island Discs


A PERSIAN hymn composed by Bahram Dehqani-Tafti, the Bishop of Chelmsford’s brother, who was shot dead at the age of 24, is to be played on Radio 4 on Friday as part of Desert Island Discs.

The Bishop, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, chose the track after describing being told of his death while she was at school. She was 13. Her older sister had chosen not to tell her until the facts had become clear.

She ascribed his killing, which prompted her family to move to England, to “the chaos of revolution”. She recalled there being just seven people on one of the last BA flights to leave Iran and the “physical ache” that came with the inability to return.

“We’ve spent a lifetime coming to terms with it, and, in a sense, it was his sacrifice that brought us here,” she said, of her brother’s killing. “He gave us the gift of the chance of a new life in this country. . . It’s a way of honouring his memory and trying to see the good in what is a wicked and evil situation.”

Two weeks before the killing, an assassination attempt was also made on her parents. She still has a pillow case with a “halo” of bullet holes around where her father’s head had been.

Dr Francis-Dehqani was appointed Bishop of Loughbrough in 2017 (News, 14 July 2017). It was “symbolic of pulling something from the boundaries into the middle: this small, tiny Anglican community in the middle of nowhere through me now almost at the heart of the Establishment”, she said.

She is the third Anglican bishop in three generations of her family. Her father, Hassan, who came from a devout Muslim family, was the Bishop in Iran from 1961 to 1990, and her maternal grandfather, the Rt Revd William Thompson, was a predecessor. It had been her paternal grandmother’s last wish that her eldest son be educated by British missionaries — in the end it was the second son, Hassan, who was.

Dr Francis-Dehqani’s other choices for Desert Island Discs included “Morgh-e-Sahar”, an Iranian “anthem for the struggles of freedom” and Sinéad O’Connor’s “Take me to church” (a reminder that “religion and the Church, which should be a place of healing, sadly often causes a lot of hurt as well”).

The cello part of “Bahram’s Melody”, a setting of words by Dr Francis-Dehqani’s father, was performed by her son, Gabriel. “He reminds me a lot of my brother; they would have got on very well,” she said.

The episode of Desert Island Discs, first broadcast on Sunday, is available on BBC Sounds.

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