The Billy Ray? Project
In 2006, in a backyard in Melbourne, the son of an Anglo-Catholic Church of Australia monk taught me how to play God of Thunder on the double bass. Several months before that, in a Surbiton kitchen, the son of an Anglican vicar taught me how to make a raspberry soufflé. And then earlier still, in a basement flat in Brighton, the son of a lay preacher from the United Reform Church taught me how to channel my guardian angel. But actually, The Billy Ray? Project started way back in 1994 when the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction was released.
The song Son of a Preacher Man has been covered by many artists from Aretha Franklin to Mel Brown to Dolly Parton, but to me the song will always be synonymous with Dusty Springfield. That and ironing 13 shirts a day in the bowels of a South West London theatre listening to Pulp Fiction over and over on my Walkman. Because that’s when the idea of Billy Ray began to take hold. I became fascinated with this character written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins (the grandson of two preacher men). Billy Ray was charming, naughty, fond of the outdoors, what was not to like? And once I’d become aware of him, that’s when the real sons of preacher men kept popping up. They were everywhere – at work, on the telly, in Parliament. And that’s when I started wondering what it was they could teach me. And after a while I started asking.
To date I have interviewed, taken the photo of, and been taught by 27 Billy Rays in England, Australia and New Zealand. I have further contacts for sons of preacher men in Canada, USA, Israel, Tanzania, Bhutan and Dubai, and the project is open to Billy Rays of all faiths and of all ages.
So if you want to know how to put a plank on a boat, or how to calculate the square root of any number without using a calculator, or how to do a Haka, I’m your gal. You can read all about it on my blog. Just click The Billy Ray? Project category in the footer and read what’s been, then sign up to get new posts to find out what’s next.
Now try and get the song out of your head. Go on. Try.
It’ll never happen.
For a more in depth version of the above, I wrote a piece for my Creative and Life Writing Masters at Goldsmiths, you can find it here.
Click on each image to find out what they taught me…