Comedian and radio presenter Frank Skinner’s set at the Greenbelt Christian arts festival this weekend was delayed by what one festival-goer described as “storms of biblical proportions.” But the practising Catholic admitted he had turned down numerous requests to appear because he was “frightened” by the Christian nature of the festival, which is now in its 39th year.
Skinner was due to be interviewed in a Big Top in the middle of Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire at 5.30pm on Saturday night; but it was delayed by around 30 minutes because of torrential rain and thunderstorms that had plagued the site all day. Electricity generators supplying power to the big top failed and stewards had to close around a quarter of the venue because of flooding. The main access route to the Big Top, including a plastic walk-way crossing the historic racecourse, had been turned to a quagmire and newly formed rivers were forming across the site all through Saturday.
When he eventually got underway he had to break off after around 10 minutes when an audience member fainted near the stage. He summoned first aid and, when the lady came round, he told the crowd: “the most English thing that has ever happened to me has just happened. She’s got up and said: ‘I’m sorry'”.
He told the crowd that he had been fearful of coming to Greenbelt as he found the idea of a church festival strange, even though he was a Christian himself; but had found himself enjoying the experience. Commenting on the number of closed bookies located around the Cheltenhem Racecourse site, he joked: “You have succeeded in turning a den of thieves into My Father’s House. If Jesus were here he would be pulling up the tables” in a reference to the Gospel story of Jesus turning the money-changers out of the temple
He told the audience that his son, Buzz, was being raised as a Catholic, but that it would be okay if he later decided to become an Anglican. “Every family has a black sheep,” he joked.
Asked for his views on atheism, he said “some of my best friends are atheists” before adding that most people who call themselves atheists hadn’t given God much thought. “Serious atheists spend time considering things. Our problem isn’t with atheists but with indifference.
“There are people who say they have no time for religion and then fill their homes with Fung Shui. Salmon Rushie says everybody has a god-shaped hole. I think most people fill it up with astrology and all sorts of other things.”
Asked whether he believed in angels, he said: “If you believe in God all bets are off. If you believe in God, why can’t you believe in angels?”