Beeching’s God-fearing lyrics are sung by millions in America’s Bible Belt. Here, the singer and religious commentator discusses her sexuality for the first time and reflects on the political ramifications of coming out as a lesbian
There is no quicker, more effective way to destroy someone than to isolate them. Guards at Guantanamo Bay know this. Psychiatrists know this. Vicky Beeching, 35, British star of the American Christian rock scene, one of the most successful artists in US mega-churches and now one of the most sought-after religious commentators in Britain, knows this too.
There is also no better way to destroy a group of people than to ensure they do the job for you. And so, as Beeching’s story pours out on a hot afternoon – a story of psychological torture, life-threatening illness and unimaginable loneliness, imposed all around from a supposedly Godly environment – one question fills the air: if shrinks, brutes and fascists know how best to devastate a person, does the Church of England? Or do they know not what they do?
We meet twice. On the first occasion, Beeching, normally enlivening Radio 4’s Thought for the Day or any number of Sunday morning TV discussion programmes, sits opposite me in a café in Soho. She pushes a piece of paper in my direction. It is a précis she has written of her background: of growing up in a conservative Christian household in Kent, first in the Pentecostal Church then in the evangelical branch of the Church of England, of going to Oxford to study theology, of the EMI recording contract that sent her to Nashville 12 years ago and launched a successful singer-songwriting career… and then a line that jars and jolts. I turn the piece of paper over and look up to see her smiling nervously.
“I’m gay,” she says, confirming what is written. She has never said this publicly before – a handful of people in her private life know. She has only just told one her closest friends, Katherine, and Katherine’s father, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The enormity of the political ramifications of this disclosure scarcely have a second to sink in – a theologian who spends holy days with the Archbishop, whose God-fearing lyrics are sung by millions in America’s Bible Belt, coming out as a lesbian – before I begin to reflect on the implications for her personally.
She will be liberated. She may well, through her commentating work, become a key figure in the liberalisation of Anglicanism. And she will be crucified. Boycotts of her music are already in place since Beeching decided to speak up for same-sex marriage over a year ago. Hatred has been flung at her online ever since: “You’ve been deceived by the devil,” is a typical, charming comment.
Then, as we begin to talk over these implications, she slides her fringe to one side to reveal a wide, white scar running down the length of her forehead. It is also concealed by make-up. Beeching knows how to cover things up. A week later, she arrives at my flat in east London to tell the story of the scar. It is the story of her life.
As a little girl, Vicky Beeching soon became aware of the attitudes towards homosexuality surrounding her. She learnt of them in Sunday school. “It was in children’s picture books about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – hailstones of fire raining down on these cities known for the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality. It was viewed as a terrible evil, the cause of the floods. I don’t think that my parents brought it up – it was just a given.”
At 12, her feelings towards other girls at school began to deepen. “Realising that I was attracted to them was a horrible feeling,” she says, looking down. “I was so embarrassed and ashamed. It became more and more of a struggle because I couldn’t tell anyone.” As adolescence emerged, with school and Church services several times a week, alienation set in.
“I increasingly began to feel like I was living behind an invisible wall. The inner secrecy of holding that inside was divorcing me from reality – I was living in my own head. Anybody I was in a friendship with, or anything I was doing in the church, was accompanied by an internal mantra: ‘What if they knew?’ It felt like all of my relationships were built on this ice that would break if I stepped out on to it.”
Beeching is cross-legged on a sofa in my living-room, deportment impeccable, done up in a tailored jacket, made up with absolute precision. Her face has a divine, ethereal, bone- structure-to-die-for beauty, like Sharon Stone suppressing her basic instincts. All of this, however, looks different, harrowed, when Beeching describes the attempts to cure her lesbianism. She went to a Catholic priest at 13: a confession to absolve the innate.
“When I said that I had feelings for the same sex he prayed the prayer of absolution, for me to be forgiven. And that was it.” Afterwards, her feelings remained, which “only increased the sense of shame. I felt there was something really wrong with me, that maybe I was so sinful and awful I couldn’t be healed.”
She reached her first breaking point that year. One night alone in her bedroom, still just 13 years old, the schism between feelings and beliefs overcame her.
“I felt like it was ripping me in half. I knew I couldn’t carry on. I was trying to align the loving God I knew and believed in with this horrendous reality of what was going on inside me,” she says. “I remember kneeling down and absolutely sobbing into the carpet. I said to God, ‘You have to either take my life or take this attraction away because I cannot do both.'” Her eyes glisten for the first time.
By 16, the isolation, fear and shame were escalating. Her mother, who is very musical, had taught her to play the piano and guitar, and Beeching was already writing worship songs and performing them at services in front of hundreds. “It was my one outlet.” Her first song, called “Search Me O God”, contains, tellingly, the line: “Find any way in me that does not reflect Your purity.”
That summer, at a Christian youth camp in the English countryside, Beeching became subject to an altogether more extreme way to make her sexuality “pure”: an exorcism.
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