Friday, 13 March 2020

The Last Adieu

This book outsells all others I have written by at least one hundredfold; yet I refuse to be defined by it. Half a century ago on Friday 13th March seems permanently etched onto the nation's psyche, and to some degree the sensational nature of that historic occasion will have obvious and lasting public appeal. It marked, of course, my television debut, and events later that night at Highgate Cemetery.

A more meaningful and pivotal Friday 13th for me would occur three years later in April at Easter. This was my first ascent of Parliament Hill. It was attended by a crowd of hundreds, not unlike the crowd spontaneously triggered by my television transmission on 13 March 1970. I was not expecting such a vast number to assemble all over the hill on Hampstead Heath on Good Friday 1973, but it was nevertheless a pleasing sight. Before a makeshift altar with candles on a bench at the very top, I inaugurated the founding of Ordo Sancti Graal. Tapers, incense and food were handed out. This began a pilgrimage, concentrating on London and its environs over the Easter period, and eventually spreading further afield. A lay order of twelve was instituted from those who attended and followed.

There came a second ascent of Parliament Hill in 1984 which, while attracting a good few people, plus a radio station wanting to cover the occasion live, had also come to the attention of the self-proclaimed (since the age of eleven) atheist Leader of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone who ordered my arrest due to an obscure piece of legislation that forbade the utterance of religious words after dusk. I was thus arrested at nine minutes before nine o'clock, taken to Hampstead Police Station under police escort, and made to feel comfortable by all concerned. When I prepared to leave without charge some time later, after a cup of tea and a pleasant chat with the Chief Superintendent, the officers all lined up to shake my hand. The date was Friday the 13th of July. It was a full moon.

A third ascent of Parliament Hill occurred on Good Friday 1993 in a heavy downfall of rain and the odd rumble of thunder. We were soaked to the skin in our white robes, but spiritually vibrant. Bemused onlookers caught sight of us, as we made the procession for the final time up the rain-soaked hill, having begun this final pilgrimage in Hertfordshire on foot. My mother had slipped into God's safekeeping months earlier. I decided to depart from London, which I did the following year.

On the forty-first anniversary of a headline on 27 February 1970 that would catapult me into the limelight for an uncomfortably long period of time, I agreed to give my final television interview at home. It was recorded using three cameras for a Canadian production company. The edited film was first broadcast on 1 April 2011. Thereafter it was repeated in many countries throughout the world.

On Friday the 13th of December 2013, a statement containing a plea for privacy was published by me on social media where it was widely viewed, and occasionally paraphrased. I reiterate it with mild adjustment because seven years later some of the time periods would not make sense for 2020.

I find today's world, particularly the cyber-world, all too frenetic and reactive. This jars with my own desire for creative contemplation instead of the tumult I see around me which being a public figure only serves to exacerbate. This reflective approach to everyday existence is at odds with being under public scrutiny, somewhere I have found myself for the past half a century. What most brought me to public attention were the television and radio programmes I regularly appeared on, and also the books and documentary films associated with topics which hold the public imagination in thrall. It is for that reason I have not submitted a book for publication since the beginning of the 21st century. Likewise, I scaled back my broadcasts in the media to a point where I no longer make them. I ceased giving interviews to the print media decades ago and only then in quality magazines. Moreover, it is quite some time since I declared I am no longer prepared to provide interviews on matters relating to Highgate et al. What there was to say has been said many times over. I found myself answering the same questions over and over again; questions which invariably are already answered in my published accounts. One of the problems, I quickly came to realise many years ago, is that interviewers, regardless of the subject, simply do not know the right questions, and the questions are every bit as important as the answers. Another problem in the new century has been one of trust. Seldom have I encountered an interviewer in recent years who keeps his or her word. Consequently, any condition I might have set for providing a contribution was frequently and almost inevitably compromised. Without trust and a sense of honour there is nothing. I cannot interact in that way and would rather stay silent than witness yet another contract broken. I am still having to regularly turn down television and radio interview requests, along with a plethora of other invitations to partake in projects that would maintain a perception of me remaining on the public stage, which, I accept, is exactly what I have been for most of my life. What made me so, however, is very much in the past. The memoir I began to write some time back will not now see the light of day. This is for the best if I wish my privacy to be respected. The concomitants of being a public figure have slowly eroded over the last couple of decades to a point where I stand on the threshold of finally achieving meaningful privacy. Hence, I have now stepped over that threshold and become a private individual. This will not affect my episcopal duties, sacerdotal ministry, art and music etc, but involvement in secular preoccupations and the expression of views on same in the public hemisphere is now at an end.    

†Se├ín Manchester

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