In 2010, I decided to launch my own PR company. Everyone thought I’d lost my mind, going out on my own as we came out of a recession, but something was happening in the world of London restaurants, and I wanted to be part of it. Before long I had been introduced to an up-and-coming chef called Nuno Mendes – then running something called a “supper club” in Dalston – and a cult sensation named Yotam Ottolenghi, who had decided to open a restaurant in Soho and thought he just might need a publicist…
Right as Gemma Bell and Company was taking off, Ben developed a taste for the high Anglican tradition, “bells and smells”, as it’s affectionately known. In time, he felt called to get ordained as a priest and I thought to myself, “How are we going to pull this one off?”
Of course, you can’t simply decide to become a vicar. There was a long process of “discernment”, multiple interviews and assessments, followed by years studying in Cambridge. As much as I loved the church, it felt like a massive undertaking. But the more I reflected, the more sense it made. When, finally, in 2019, he was appointed vicar of St Anne’s Hoxton, a neighbourhood we knew and loved, I was overjoyed.
On our first Sunday in the parish, some of the older ladies said that they hoped I would be “helping with the tea and coffee”. I laughed and said I would, but I also wanted to do a lot more than that. Church meetings are held around our dining room table, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day mean drinks and nibbles at the vicarage for the whole congregation after the service. A knock at the door might mean someone looking for a sandwich, help with their electricity metre key, or a ladder to get into their flat after they’ve locked themselves out. And my household chores now include polishing the glass doors that lead into the church.
Doing all of this is a balancing act. In the morning, I can be tasting the latest menu at Angela Hartnett’s Michelin-starred Murano, and at night be delivering Christmas cards to parishioners. At the moment, I’m preoccupied with Fortnum & Mason’s plans for a Coronation tea, while worrying whether an 84-year-old parishioner can manage the steps in her home anymore.
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Despite appearances, there is less of a gulf between my work and home lives than you might believe. The roles are symbiotic. Both are about making people feel welcome, valued and nourished. And while there is no competing with the cocktails at 45 Jermyn St or the wine list at Muse by Tom Aikens, there’s also nothing quite like the joy of a church get-together.
I feel lucky to be part of the St Anne’s family. It’s a world-spanning, intergenerational, open and inclusive community, one that is traditional yet down-to-earth, reverent but unfussy, joyful, messy and welcoming. Being one of the congregation enriches my life, shapes me as a person and – alongside my job – has helped me develop a philosophy that I truly believe: that with hospitality at the core of our lives, we will forever encounter moments of grace, hope and joy.