Spiritualist actor makes TV history

William RoacheCongratulations to William Roache, the actor who has starred in Britain’s longest-running television drama – Coronation Street – since the very first episode. Tonight, he is on our screens just as he has been throughout the past 50 years, playing the part of Ken Barlow, except that for the golden anniversary edition he and his colleagues will be acting live – just as they did when the soap opera was first televised.

What makes Roache special, as far as I am concerned, is that off screen he is a dedicated Spiritualist who readily talks to the media about his interests and beliefs. Not in the sensational, superficial, headline-grabbing way that some celebrities do, but in a very matter-of-fact way.

Even the title of his 2007 autobiography, Soul On The Street, put the emphasis on the spiritual aspects of his life. In it he praises mediums and tells of his strong belief in an after-life, and in a memorable passage he says, “Death can be likened to walking out of a smoke-filled room into the fresh air”.

Soul On The Street coverWe leave this world, he explains, to return to the spirit realms – “our real home” – adding, “When someone dies, there’s no need to worry about them. They’ve gone home. They’ve finished their toil, their time at school. They’re being released – early maybe because they have done a good job.”

It’s a philosophy that has helped him cope with the loss of his daughter, Edwina, who died in 1984 aged just 18 months, and just a year ago his second wife, Sara, died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition. “I miss her,” he told Daily Telegraph writer Vicki Power, “but I know she’s fine and I also know that whatever’s happened is meant to be.”

The writer continued: “Roache’s belief system, which he talks about with great fervour and unselfconsciousness, involves concepts of reincarnation, raising one’s consciousness and ‘personal evolvement’, as he puts it.

“‘It’s not about beliefs, it’s about knowing,’ he says firmly, but concedes that most people will find it odd. ‘People think you’re a bit nutty. I don’t mind that. I’m not out to preach, convert or impress anybody. But when people come and ask me, I’m ready with an answer.’ He says his Spiritualism makes him kinder, healthier and happier and, when you meet him, it’s hard to argue.”

Roache has given talks on his Spiritualist beliefs at the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain in London, the Arthur Findlay College in Essex, and at the centenary celebration of Foleshill Spiritualist Church, Coventry.

Now 78 years old, but looking much younger, William Roache has entertained Britain for half a century in his role as Ken Barlow, the longest-serving actor in the world’s longest-running soap opera (not a term he likes, incidentally).

His fictional character has been married four times, widowed twice, divorced once, fathered four children and adopted his third wife’s daughter. He has been a teacher, a newspaper editor, a communist activist and a supermarket worker. He has also had 27 girlfriends, including Joanna Lumley and Stephanie Beacham. Not bad for someone who is often described as “boring” compared with some of the TV serial’s more colourful characters.

William Roache, MBE, has every right to be proud of his remarkable acting achievement, but I suspect he may be even prouder of the fact that, as a result of being in the public eye, he has been able to open many minds to the greater spiritual realities that lie beyond ITV1’s Coronation Street.

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