Sally Phillips was the giggling receptionist
in BBC2's 'I'm Alan Partridge' and one of the comedy team in the
irreverent 'Smack the Pony' on Channel 4. One of the few Christians
in comedy, it was discovering that Satanists exist that frightened
her into faith.
Jesus isn't just a religious figure out of the distant past. Some
people have had encounters with Jesus which have changed their lives
and in this section they tell their stories.
Sally Phillips was talking to Andrew Rumsey.
This interview first appeared in Third
I became a Christian on July 17,
1996 at 3 in the morning in Hammersmith shopping centre. I had tried
to become a Christian at school, but been put off by someone coming
in to talk to the Christian Union and explaining that God had sent
them a pastel green Volvo estate car. I went to Oxford and got increasingly
anti-Christian. I felt I'd been targeted people were leaving
Bibles outside my door. By the time I left, I was incredibly irreligious.
I did an hour of blasphemy at the Edinburgh festival in 1992, a show
called Jesus II: 'He's back from the dead, he's cross, he's everywhere
and he wants your soul.' We had a picture of Jesus on the front holding
a machine gun. We attracted loads of vicars: they got up some kind
of movement. That probably started the process.
I was very happy with my anti-Christian stance, I felt all Christians
wore bad clothes, didn't think things through and were very smug.
But I felt uncomfortable being blasphemous in front of vicars, so
there was some remnant of decency in me.
Then four years later, I started researching a sitcom about witches.
I read 'objective' studies of witchcraft by people who call themselves
things like 'Arcon Dara'. My belief in the natural world became slightly
I started seeing evidence that I believed: when people cast spells
things happened, and when Buddhists chanted things happened you wouldn't
expect. So that was a bit worrying. And more so to discover that Satanists
appeared to exist. I thought that was all rubbish, but I was uncomfortable
with the idea that some people are actively supporting the other side.
Even if it was all rubbish, it would be nice if there were people
supporting the right side as well, just in case.
Then I started getting very bad nightmares. Working in comedy, a very
unChristian environment, it was impossible to tell someone that I
was going through a religious trauma. I wasn't sleeping, or if I was,
dreaming that Satan was found and free. I'd wake up and feel an incredible
evil in the room. After a couple of months of saying the Lord's Prayer,
I'd be walking along the street singing, 'Breathe on me breath of
God' and standing outside bookshops wondering how embarrassing
it would be to go in and buy a Bible.
At which point I ended up on a sitcom festival in London. Unusually
there were two Christians there. One was an actor trying out comedy,
the other was a stand-up trying out acting. Since then I've worked
with only one other Christian, so it gives you an idea how few there
I got caught in a pincer attack between these two one a Sierra
Leonian evangelical, the other very Anglican and not prepared to give
me many answers. In fact, the very English one said 'You're only interested
in Jesus because you haven't got a boyfriend.' That was the rudest
thing anyone had said to me in years, but it worked.
The Sierra Leonian guy prayed for me at 3 in the morning in Hammersmith
shopping centre, and that seems to have done the trick too. Then Milton
Jones, the stand-up, rang and said 'There's a church near you, why
don't you try it?' so I said, 'Right if God is real, I'll go there
and meet somebody similar to me, and if not it's obviously just a
hiccup in a space-time continuum.' But something very peculiar happened.
I walked in and instantly met someone with exactly the same background
as me. She was a Christian and we're still best mates.
Things have definitely changed. It's easiest to tell with the writing.
Before I became a Christian it was quite unhealthy full of
things I was angry and hurt about. In a black depression I would sit
down and write a poem called 'Misery is Liquid' then put it in a character's
mouth on the radio because it was so poor. There'd be people laughing
at my real emotions, which is psychologically quite bad for you.
Since I've become a Christian I've become much more clownish
doing simple characters who are slightly in trouble all the time,
but mean well. That's how I experience my Christian walk. All comedy
explores human weakness, but perhaps my characters tend to know their
weaknesses. Comedy unites people. It dispels fear, which is interesting
for a Christian. There are things you might not want to dispel fear
or discomfort about, though, like promiscuity, say. There are boundaries.
Yes, Christians are discriminated against. At the beginning it was
awful. I had people shouting at me basically because they were very
frightened frightened that you judge them, and frightened that
it's true. But recently I've really sensed a change in climate
perhaps because I'm more confident in my own faith and denying Jesus
It would be disastrous for me not to belong to a church, because I'm
so isolated anyway. It's broadened my outlook enormously. You can
see that celebrity is a repulsive and useless thing. It's like having
a spare salad bowl; since you've got it you may as well use it for
the church bring-and-buy. But sometimes it's a bit exhausting, especially
because you're obviously very vulnerable as a new Christian. I'm massively