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Norwich vicar - from flash job, sex and drugs, to faith.

PUBLISHED: 06:00 04 July 2011

Rev Nicholas Vesey at St Luke's Church on Aylsham road, Norwich.

Rev Nicholas Vesey at St Luke's Church on Aylsham road, Norwich.

Archant © 2011; 01603 772434

A search for enlightenment took Nicholas Vesey from sex, drugs and eastern gurus, through a flash job and encounters on the fringes of celebdom, to a Norwich vicarage. ROWAN MANTELL reports.

He had a high-flying job with Saatchi and Saatchi and a sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle.

He met top politicians, worked alongside Jenni Murray and Kate Adie at the BBC, set up a business which earned him fast cars and an office abroad, and seemed destined for a high-earning, high-living success.

Then he became a priest.

Today the Rev Nicholas Vesey is vicar of St Luke’s and St Augustine’s in Norwich.

It is the culmination of a search for the meaning of life which took him from being a bullied schoolboy, through jobs in advertising and business with all the trappings of city wealth.

But even as he was luxuriating in financial success, Nicholas was sure there was something more to life. Eventually he discovered it, not on the trip to the Himalayas he took alongside a member of the English aristocracy, not in his desperate search for love through a series of one-night-stands, not in business or politics - although he did find his comments becoming official party policy overnight - but in a friend’s front room.

“It was the experience that moved me on from thinking that I was an individual, living my own separate life, to realising that I was part of something bigger,” said Nicholas.

He calls it “enlightenment” and compares it to moving from living in two dimensions to realising that there are three, or to experiencing the outside world after living entirely inside and only hearing the vaguest of rumours about a world outdoors.

It changed his life.

“I was working in advertising at the time, so a few days later I walked into Saatchi and Saatchi and resigned. They thought I was mad. I probably was. Tim Bell asked to see me. ‘It has taken you three years to get this job. We have just won the General Election and Mrs Thatcher is in power, do you really want to throw it all away for some whim? You’ll regret it.’

“In the end I did walk, and to this day I have never regretted it. I have never had the same experience again, but every day I see echoes of it in the way that life works.”

“I would try and pretend that this had never happened, but I would get an hour into the day and think, ‘This is ridiculous!’ Once you have discovered America you can’t undiscover it. You know it’s there.”

Nicholas had attended church as a young child so it made sense to him to continue his search through the Christian faith.

“I remember saying to a friend of mine that I was getting this awful feeling that I was becoming a Christian!” he said.

“And if you are seeking enlightenment, then why not find it in the Christian tradition, because people have been finding it there for centuries?”

Back in London he gradually realised that his future lay as a priest.

As a curate in Tunbridge Wells he met his wife.

“It took me four years to persuade her to marry me!” he said.

He admits he was a difficult proposition.

“I was bullied at school and I cried so much that I decided I was going to stop crying and stop feeling anything. My main concern was surviving. Just getting through each day or week. I had to learn how to work out what was going to happen and how to keep myself out of trouble. I wasn’t going to feel anything any more.

“It’s only through the kindness of my wife that I learnt to feel again.”

Nicholas is 56 and feared he had left it too late for family life but today he and his wife Heather have a seven-year-old son and five-year-daughter.

He has been in Norwich for 10 years and, for the past eight, run a course called “developing consciousness” for people seeking to explore their own path to enlightenment through the Christian faith.

It has more than 1,000 members and frequently attracts big-name speakers.

“People would say to me ‘Is there any written material?’ and it struck me I had all the material for a book. “It seemed a good way of articulating the ideas that I was trying to get over. Then I realised that the big difference was that I wasn’t there. It was just a whole lot of dry stuff.”

So he added in anecdotes from his life.

Now the book, also called Developing Consciousness, is a cross between memoirs and a self-help book.

“It opens up some of the secrets that are hidden in all the great religions and it’s aimed at people who wouldn’t normally go anywhere near the church,” he said.

There are frank admissions of smoking dope in Amsterdam and the overwhelming yearning for love which pulled him into one-night stands at parties and love-less encounters in massage parlours.

“It was pain management. I felt better, having been with a woman.”

Will his congregation be shocked?

“When you reveal personal things it’s always a bit of a risk,” he said. “But my congregation are a pretty forgiving lot and that’s the nature of Christianity.”

“When you talk about enlightenment people make it incredibly complicated. There are eastern religions where you have got to meditate for 10 years.

“When I entered the church I suddenly realised that there was an alternative course, and 2,000 years of wisdom, covering the material and the spiritual world.”

Nicholas meditates every weekday morning. And alongside the Christian books and symbols in this vicar’s study are a few eastern touches, a string of elephants, cymbals, a special meditation kneeler.

The man who once wrote advertising slogans for big brands, and sought love in sex and drugs, today shares the love of God with his parishioners and daily steps into “outside” he once only guessed at.

<blob> For more details of the Rev Nicholoas Vesey’s work visit www.developingconsciousness.net

<blob>People come from all over the country to events organised by the group. The next is on July 16 when Dave Tomlinson will be at St Luke’s Church, Aylsham Road, Norwich with a workshop called “Re-enchanting Christianity.”

<blob>The book, Developing Consciousness, will be published in July but can be ordered now via the website.

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