Life

Saturday Q&A: Black Santa Stephen Forde's 'very own Radio 3' is Belfast Cathedral

The Very Reverend Stephen Forde (58) is Dean of St Anne's Cathedral and each year morphs into Black Santa to raise money for charities in Northern Ireland

The Very Reverend Stephen Forde in his Black Santa garb outside St Anne's Cathedral. Picture by Elaine Hill Photography
Jane Hardy

How do you unwind at the weekend?

The weekend is my busiest time so Monday is my weekend. That's when I am in the Mournes and Newcastle walking or biking. I love reading too and also enjoy photography. As Dean, I enjoy music too. (I very much like Faure's Requiem). When I was at school, I was taught by Donald Leggatt, a man who would have known Benjamin Britten. I remember singing the War Requiem on the day Britten died.

What do you recall most about weekends growing up?

I grew up in Rathfrisland in the shadow of the Mournes. My father was a clergyman too. As an eight or nine-year-old I cycled up a very steep hill – couldn't do it now – to go to Graham's, the famous ice cream shop. Their vanilla ice cream was incredible, made the real way. At school I ran cross country and did the Ulsters.

Friday night or Saturday night?

Friday night as it's the night I would relax as I've finished in St Anne's after evensong, when we had it, at around 6.30. The constraint of lockdown has been a huge challenge with people not able to say goodbye to loved ones or attend funerals. We now have a website, Recollected Lives, which allows people to post their memories and grieve properly.

Do you have a must-listen radio show?

I tend to listen to Radio 4 and tune in to the news first thing on Sunday to check the world's still there. I get to hear the music in the cathedral, which is my very own Radio 3, twice over.

Must-watch TV weekend show or box set?

I watch the news, on the BBC. By the way, I was on The Great British Menu on BBC2 this week; did you see it? I was on as Black Santa for the fish course with the Northern Irish chef from Deane's who was a finalist. And I like Casualty.

Favourite eatery – or is it a takeaway?

My wife's a very good cook but we sometimes enjoy an Indian carry-out. I'd choose chicken tikka masala.

Is Sunday special?

Yes, it is. I think being in the cathedral always makes Sunday special. There's the music and liturgy. As a society, we find it easy to forget about faith. But in exceptional circumstances, like now, we realise we've been too busy and need something more substantial in the situation we're in. I usually write my sermon on Saturday morning when I am at home and there's peace and quiet but I watch what's happening in the world to address that. Faced with a blank page, it's sometimes tough but I think about what I want to say to people who may have come for help and I pray beforehand. Now I think about God's refusal to abandon us. The Bible text that sums this up could be psalm 121, 'I lift up my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help...'

How do you feel on Sunday night about Monday morning?

My weekend is on Monday, so good.

:: You can contribute to the Black Santa campaign for local charities online via belfastblacksanta.org

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