Coming out as atheist – Billy Connolly, Juliet Stevenson and Peter O’Toole

The Scottish comedian Billy Connolly revealed that he was an atheist in an interview with the Independent about his role in the new X Files movie. He said "I was brought up a Catholic. I have several relatives and pals at school who became Catholic priests – aye – I have a cousin who is a nun and another cousin who is a missionary priest in Pakistan." He pauses and smiles. "And I am an atheist."

The actress Juliet Stevenson was on the ITV1 Sunday programme last week, reading the poems of Philip Larkin. She revealed that she, like him, was an atheist. She read his poem Church Going and when asked whether she thought Larkin was actually seeking belief she said no, he was seeking some kind of spiritual experience that did not involve God or belief in the supernatural – just as she did when she went into churches.

Peter O’Toole stars as Pope Paul III in the new series of The Tudors on BBC2 next week (Friday 1 August, 9pm). When explaining to Radio Times why he took the role, O’Toole says: “Pope Paul III was the biggest thief in the history of the church. The guy skinned ’em!” O’Toole revealed that he had been an altar boy from the age of 15 but now was “a retired Christian.”

25 July 2008