Special measures have had to be brought in at the Reverend Chris Lee’s West London church.
During Sunday Worship, there is now a welcome committee stationed by the large oak doors, ready to meet and greet visiting fans of ‘Rev Chris’ — of whom there are many, from all around the world — and ask them to please respect God’s sacred space.
And while Rev Chris is happy to pose in the street, pub, or pretty much anywhere else — ‘I get stopped all the time and it’s usually: ‘Oh my goodness, are you Rev Chris? Oooh, can I have a selfie, please?’ — his fans are politely requested not to ask for selfies with their cassocked hero in the church.
And especially not during funerals — as one particularly tenacious fan did.
The Rev Chris (pictured) is the hottest thing in the Church of England right now. He has more than 117,000 Instagram followers
Meanwhile, in the big messy rectory next door, his wife Jenny jumps into action whenever an over-appreciative fan sends him a ‘nudie’ cyber selfie.
‘I always tell her and she’s very quick to block them,’ he says. ‘Anything inappropriate, I don’t respond. I don’t engage. But mostly the reaction has been a lot of positivity.’
The Rev Chris is the hottest thing in the Church of England right now. Not just in terms of his fame — he has more than 117,000 Instagram followers (far more than the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England put together), is a massive hit on YouTube channels Jolly and Korean Englishman and, each week, gets more than a million hits on social media.
He is a massive hit on YouTube channels Jolly and Korean Englishman and, each week, gets more than a million hits on social media
But also — and apologies, Jenny, if I overstep the mark — for his dashing, dark good looks, beautiful cheekbones, lovely dark eyes and artfully stubbly chin, today set off beautifully by his purple and gold festive robes.
All of which has, of course, led to comparisons with the ‘Hot Priest’ played by Andrew Scott in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s multi award-winning Fleabag, who set pulses racing with his rather unpriestly good looks.
Rev Chris’s big draw is his ’60-second sermons’, short selfie videos in which he gives his thoughts on everything from ‘dealing with disappointment’ to ‘self-esteem’, delivered on the hoof, as he strides down the road, perches in the pub with a pint or lounges on a deckchair in his garden. He posts them every day, sometimes twice a day.
They are kind, thoughtful, relevant, deeply religious and lapped up all over the world. ‘They’re just thoughts as I walk down the street — not big in-depth theological discussions on something,’ he says. ‘I think that’s maybe the appeal.’
One, called ‘Wow creation is beautiful’, was filmed topless on a beach in Greece and got some fans into a quite a lather.
‘Am I the only one getting kind of nervous about his toplessness here?’ wrote one. ‘Btw [by the way] I dig that facial hair.’
‘Haha, you’re only saying what most women are thinking!’ replied another.
Chris and Jenny on their wedding day. It is Jenny, he says, who keeps him grounded when love- struck followers from all over the world bombard him with messages of ‘I love you’
But Chris, whose audience is mostly women aged between 18 and 25, insists it’s all about the message, not the delivery or, for that matter, the ‘hot’ delivery boy. ‘People are hungry and thirsty for more depth because there is a lot of insecurity and superficiality in the world,’ he says.
‘One guy said to me: ‘Amidst the bums and boobs, I come to you to feel loved and find a sense of peace!’ ‘
So while most people point at themselves on Instagram — look at me, see me, look at my amazing cheekbones — he says he tries to focus on his followers, albeit with a rare glimpse of hairless, naked chest.
(For the record, today, in the flesh, and despite being up since 4am with his 10-month-old daughter, he looks pretty tasty.)
‘I try to invade it with a message of positivity, hope and love and tell them: ‘You’re loved. You’re precious. You’re of vital importance’,’ he says firmly.’
Even before he started his social media campaign five years ago, Chris was never the most likely vicar. He is fit, handsome, sporty and incredibly charismatic.
He was in a boyband called Switch at private school (‘We thought we were so cool with everyone chanting, ‘Switch, Switch, Switch’), a university rock band called Sound (which attracted rather less screaming), is a Cambridge hockey Blue and a superb cricketer.
He captains the London Diocese first XI and opens the bowling when the Archbishop of Canterbury’s team take on Pope Francis’s first XI on the ‘rubbish’ Astroturf pitch used by the Vatican team.
He also listens to everything from Stormzy to what he calls ‘worship music’, plays the guitar, drinks in the local pub and takes turns changing his daughter’s nappies.
As if all that wasn’t enough, he has an identical twin brother Charles, a Major in the Royal Horse Artillery, who trained alongside Prince Harry at Sandhurst.
His appearance led to comparisons with the ‘Hot Priest’ (pictured) played by Andrew Scott in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s multi award-winning Fleabag, who set pulses racing with his rather unpriestly good looks
‘Oh my goodness, am I seeing double,’ said one online follower, when Charles started popping up alongside Chris in YouTube videos.
‘He’s hotter than the hot priest in Fleabag, and even better, there’s two of him!’
Naturally, he has watched Fleabag and loved the second series starring Andrew Scott, who he found ‘brilliant, engaging and fun’.
‘He is a good-looking and approachable priest — I don’t mind being compared to that,’ he says. ‘But anything other than that is going a bit far.’
Because there were a couple of things he found disappointingly unpriestly. For starters, all that swearing — ‘In the scriptures it says the mouth utters what bubbles up from the heart. I don’t know many priests who swear too much,’ he says.
Even less believable was the sex. ‘I didn’t recognise that. It just wouldn’t happen,’ he says firmly. (Thankfully for Jenny, Chris is a Church of England rather than a Catholic priest, so can be married to her, rather than God.)
Chris and Charles were born in Dublin on Christmas Day, 1983. ‘Being a twin born on Christmas Day is a bit of thin birthday,’ he laughs. ‘But I did always quite like saying I was born on the same day as Jesus.’
While both were fairly wild and naughty — girls, booze, parties and making silly mistakes — Chris says he was always the ‘really crazy’ one.
Things started unravelling for him at Kingston University, where he studied a business management degree. (Charles was at Oxford Brookes University.) ‘I lived a bit of a crazy, rebellious life: women, soft drugs, getting drunk,’ he says.
At the end of this degree, he got a sales job, a home and a mortgage.
‘I had everything in front of me but I didn’t want it,’ he says. ‘I was in a dark place and I didn’t know who I was or where I was going.’
In the event, a friend suggested he jack it all in and help out on a mission. Chris ‘ejected’ from his life on the spot and moved to East Africa, deep in the Tanzanian bush.
For three years, he lived among the Maasai in a community with no running water and no roads, and taught English using an English-Swahili bible as his main teaching aide.
It was there that he found God.
‘I felt his love and was called into his ministry,’ he says simply. When he was sure, he braced himself for the call home to announce to his family (on speaker phone) that he was thinking of training as a priest. His mum had been expecting it.
‘She said: ‘Ah yes, that makes sense!’,’ and then explained that, after giving birth, she went down to the local chapel and prayed.
‘Lord,’ she said. ‘Because you’ve given me the gift of twins on Christmas Day, I think you probably have a purpose for at least one of them.’
Apparently she was pleased it was Chris, because he’d been a bit of a worry.
So that was that. After two years of theological study by distance learning, he was ordained as Deacon in the Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro — aged 24, he was one of the very youngest Church of England ministers.
At first he thought he’d stay in Africa for ever. But soon, he ‘felt the Lord calling him back to the UK’.
So he completed his training at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and met Jenny (who was studying theology but is now a theatre writer and director) and fell in love. In 2015, after a couple of years learning the ropes at Holy Trinity Brompton, he was persuaded by the Bishop to tackle St Saviour’s in Acton, West London.
‘It had a congregation of just 12; it hadn’t had a vicar for two years and it was struggling, so I knew it was going to be tough,’ he says.
(Today, despite never promoting his own church online, the congregation regularly tops 100, with a thriving children’s ministry, a new Young Franciscans Order that he set up with 15 members and a lot of new faces each week who track him down via his Instagram feed.)
It was after joining St Saviour’s that he first dipped his toe into social media. He started popping up in his dog collar on his brother-in-law’s YouTube channel, Jolly, and was an instant hit. ‘Basically, I just became quite popular,’ he says.
‘I realised I had this opportunity to speak about life and love and the gospel in people’s lives so I started the 60-second sermons. People liked me in my collar. They liked me talking about my faith. I was approachable and articulate.’
And er, also rather easy on the eye? ‘No, no no! People follow me because of my content. Not because of anything to do with my looks,’ he still insists.
Oh come on, Rev Chris! Do you think you would really have a million hits a week if you looked like most other vicars? Finally, he goes a bit pink and admits, ‘Well . . . I suppose looks don’t hurt — though there are certainly better-looking people on the internet if you wanted to find something hot to look at.’
But he insists that, while people may come initially because of the novelty of a young, engaging, good-looking priest, the key thing is that they stay.
And they do. He has a staggeringly high loyalty rate.
Most of his followers — who come from all over the world, but particularly Korea, the U.S. and Australia — thank him for reconnecting them to their faith, or helping them through dark times and showing them the way.
‘There is a lot of mental health [issues] in young people — and I get a lot of messages from people telling me I’ve helped them through their struggles,’ he says.
But there are still plenty who just adore him and, frankly, I’m not surprised. I can’t remember the last time I met a nicer, kinder, harder working or more genuine chap.
It is Jenny, he says, who keeps him grounded when love- struck followers from all over the world bombard him with messages of ‘I love you’, ‘You’re hot’ and ‘You’re gorgeous’.
She also keeps his feet on terra firma as his followers shoot up, the fan mail, presents and cards pile up — he replies to at least 50 direct messages a day — his pews fill with fans ‘on pilgrimage’, and the offers fly in from shows such as Radio 2’s Pause for Thought, and Good Morning Britain (watch out for him on Christmas Eve).
‘I am by no means perfect — I still get it wrong. I sin, I stumble, I fall,’ he says.
‘And any time I get big-headed, I’ll come home and change nappies and deal with a vomiting, pooing baby that wakes us up really early. I’m kept very humbled by my family.’
So if Jenny catches him preening and sucking in his cheeks, she’ll give him what for. And he insists she would never let him post anything she calls ‘a pretentious self-indulgent selfie’.
Goodness only knows how that topless beach shot in Greece slipped through the net. But it was certainly welcomed with open arms by his extremely appreciative and ever-expanding flock.
- Visit his Instagram account at Revchris7#60secondsermon