BBC Radio 2 presenter Janey Lee Grace talks to Catherine Francis about her Christian journey, and how she hopes to make church less threatening for non-believers.
Janey Lee Grace is a familiar voice to Radio 2 listeners. As well as co-presenting Steve Wright In The Afternoon, she has her own early-morning show. But she also wears many other hats – singer/songwriter, author, and mother of four – and much of her energy and inspiration comes from her Christian faith.
“My family weren’t Christians,” recalls Janey, “but the kid over the road told me that at Sunday school, you got to sing and they gave you sweets! So at the age of five, I took myself to Sunday school – and stayed because it was fun. At 13, after hearing an old-fashioned hellfire and damnation sermon, I prayed my conversion prayer out of terror – never a good place to start! However, as a result, I was taken along to youth events where I met other Christian young people.
“Over time, I realised being a Christian isn’t something you’re ‘saddled with’, it’s about living life in all its fullness – and I made a proper decision to live as a Christian. But if I hadn’t found a happening Christian youth scene, I think I’d have gone off the rails as quickly as I got on them!”
As an adult, Janey’s faith went through a low patch. Her career as a backing singer for Wham! and Boy George meant she was often on tour, so it was hard to get to church or meet other Christians. But she maintained an interest in the Christian music scene and, when she decided to pursue a career in radio, she was offered a job on the Greater London Radio gospel show.
“It had never crossed my mind to do religious broadcasting,” Janey recalls. “I believe it was God’s way of holding onto me. Researching and interviewing incredibly inspirational Christians helped me through a time when I was disillusioned with Christianity. I think God often uses the things you’re passionate about to hold onto you, meeting you where you are.”
Janey renewed her Christian commitment in her 30s. She and her husband Simon, a composer, now attend an Anglican church in north London, along with their four children – Sonny (6), Buddy (6), Rocky (2), and Lulu, six months.
“I’m very comfortable in my faith these days,” she says. “It underpins everything in my life. But I’m no longer determined to convert everyone I meet! I recognise that everyone’s journey is different and it’s all in God’s time.”
As a believer in the public eye, Janey is often called upon to give a Christian perspective. “On Steve Wright In The Afternoon, the other presenters often ask me for the Christian point of view on various issues,” says Janey. “I used to find it very stressful to be put on the spot live on air! Now I’m more relaxed about it, and I’m not afraid to say: ‘Actually, I don’t know all the answers’.”
Janey’s first book, Imperfectly Natural Woman, has just been published. “It’s a guide to holistic health and living,” she explains. “I know some Christians believe these issues are suspect and a bit ‘new age’. But I don’t read anywhere in the Bible that you shouldn’t care about the environment or your health. I also mention my faith in the book – I couldn’t advocate a holistic approach and not include something that’s such a huge part of who I am.”
Janey still enjoys singing. Her second album, Lulu-land, has just been released. And she’s keen to hear from churches that would like to book her ‘low-level outreach event’, An Evening With Janey Lee Grace.
“Many people never set foot in church, and genuinely believe Christians are barking mad,” says Janey. “These events are designed to dispel a bit of that myth. It’s a totally non-threatening environment – the audience can expect to hear me singing some great songs and chatting about my career; watch some fun clips of my backing-singer days, complete with hilarious 1980s hairstyles – and I share a little about my faith, too. Churches often include a meal. It’s a really nice evening – and it gives people an opportunity to see that Christians are fairly normal!”
Hear Janey on Radio 2 (88-91FM), weekdays at 2-5pm, and Saturdays 3-6am.
To buy albums or book An Evening With Janey Lee Grace, visit www.imperfectlynaturalwoman.com
Imperfectly Natural Woman is published by Crown House Publishing, priced £12.99.
Catherine Francis is a journalist based in London
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