Podcast
Culture
S&U interviews
4 min read

My conversation with... Paul Kingsnorth

Re-enchanting... Nature. Belle TIndall reflects on an infectious conversation with Paul Kingsnorth, the celebrated author, poet and environmentalist. Finding him a particularly enjoyable guide through the daunting landscapes of belief, environmentalism and AI.
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What would you get if you were to combine a weighty appreciation for the beauty and power of nature with an unexpected conversion to Orthodox Christianity, topped off with an unwavering aversion to smartphones?  

Well, you would get something resembling a Paul Kingsnorth.  

Paul is an award-winning poet and a best-selling author of both fiction (including the Buckmaster Trilogy: Wake, Beast and Alexandria) and non-fiction (including Real England, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and his ongoing Sub-Stack series: Abbey of Misrule). He is, and always has been, an advocate for treating the natural world as if it were far more than a machine to be used or a resource to be obtained. Such behaviour is, according to Paul, nothing short of sacrilegious. As well as an enchantment with what he can see and sense in the natural world, he also has a long-standing fascination with all things mystical. He is, much to my own delight, somewhat of a real-life Gandalf the Gray. If it were not for his London accent, he could easily belong in the pages of Tolkien’s literary world.  

And just one final thing to note about Paul Kingsnorth, since 2021 he has been horrified to find himself a Christian.  

‘…in the end I just thought oh, maybe I’m a Christian. Damn.’ 

Well, actually, that’s unfair of me to say. It’s obvious when talking to Paul that the horror quickly dissolved, and wonder and awe became its swift replacements. But nevertheless, initially he could have rivalled C.S Lewis for the title of ‘the most reluctant convert in all of England.’ As tempted as I am, Paul tells his own story so powerfully (both in his writing and in our conversation for the Re-Enchanting Podcast), that I shan’t even attempt to tell it for him here.  

But what I will say, is that we need people like Paul: the eccentrics, the contemplatives, the fearful, the awe-filled, the critics, the mystics. They're essential. 

The actress Jennifer Coolidge, in her Golden Globes acceptance speech for her (unforgettable) performance in the show White Lotus, paid tribute to its creator, Mike White. It was an oddly insightful tribute. She said,

‘if you don’t know about Mike White, this is what you should know – he’s worried about the world. He’s worried about people. He’s worried about friends that aren’t doing well. He’s worried about animals…’

and she continued gushing in this vein while the camera panned to Mike weeping in the audience.  

As I was recording this particular episode of Re-Enchanting and listening to Paul talk, Jennifer’s speech kept playing in my mind. After approximately one hour in his company, I can’t claim to know Paul Kingsnorth well, but what I do know of him makes me want to pay a similar tribute:

‘if you don’t know about Paul Kingsnorth, this is what you should know – he’s worried about the world…’

And, just as Jennifer Coolidge seemed to be towards Mike White, I found myself profoundly thankful that he is.  

There was nothing nonchalant about our conversation with Paul, deep fascination seems to be his signature disposition towards most things, and perhaps therein lies the source of so much worry. When one is deeply fascinated or emotionally invested, assured of meaning, or perhaps even continually in awe of something; how can worry for its welfare not also be present? To worry about something is to care, it is to render it worthy of your worry, and Paul seems to render us all worthy of his. Why? Well, in his words, because

‘if God is an artist, which I think he is, then nature is his artwork. And we’re a part of it too, incidentally. We’re natural too.’

Therefore, the fact that we seem to have lost sight of this, and subsequently fractured our relationships with each other, with the natural world, and with God, is a crisis of the most spiritual proportions. And Paul cares. 

I feel it is at this point that I must offer a disclaimer: my conversation with Paul Kingsnorth was a delight. It was, to borrow a familiar phrase, re-enchanting and I enjoyed it to no end.  

While it is true that he leads us into some weighty topics (the terrors of AI, the disaster of being so divorced from the natural world, the problems woven into the very make-up of our society), he is a particularly enjoyable guide through what can be daunting landscapes. He may have an eye for detecting doom, but he seems to do so with a personable lightness. Like I say, he’s Gandalf, just without the staff.  

 It also helps that alongside a diagnosis, he so enthusiastically offers up what he believes to be a cure,  

‘The more you have to answer these questions: what is a human? What is nature? What is the world? The more people will be ready for actual, serious, Christianity again. Full-strength Christianity. Not the weak version, the real thing. And I think that’s starting to happen, I can feel it.’  

Paul’s episode of Re-Enchanting is well worth an hour of your time, his infectious fascination with all things nature is worth infinitely more.  

Column
Character
Culture
Economics
4 min read

This revolting rich list is a freak show

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle?

George is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and an Anglican priest.

A collage of famous, rich, people such as King Charles, Elton John and others.
The Sunday Times.

General elections are no longer a clear choice between socialism and capitalism, but we should still be as offended by the privilege of the few over the poverty of many. That’s only natural, whether we’re informed by envy, a secular sense of fairness or a religious faith.

The yawning chasm between rich and poor in the UK is offensive. When PM Rishi Sunak was drenched in his vale of tears this week outside Number 10, as he announced the general election, he was seeking a mandate to preside over this inequality, in which he so richly participates.

He stood there exactly three days after he and his wife waved from the pages of the Sunday Times Rich List, based on the newspaper’s “conservative estimates of the minimum wealth of Britain’s 350 richest people.”

The Sunaks stood at 245th on the list with a measly £651m. Just 20 years ago, when I was in business, that figure would have put them near the top. Some of my business contemporaries had even made the Rich List with just a few tens of millions.

Not anymore. Mere multimillionaires barely make the cut. The ever-widening gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us means that the top 165 of last Sunday’s list of 300 are now billionaires, compared with just 20 a quarter of a century ago, while the “bottom” of today’s heap struggle by as half-billionaires. 

It does make you wonder what the Sunday Times is doing with this revolting annual survey. It has become such an anachronism since it started in the Eighties, when greed was good and we worshipped Croesus impersonators.  

Every year, we’re invited to press our noses up against their plate-glass window and drool at a world that’s as alien as a pharaoh’s to the slaves building their pyramid. What do they want from us for this display of greed? Envy?   

Times (even on Sunday) have changed and the Rich List satirises itself. Look at the ads that support it. There’s one for a 122-metre yacht that can be chartered for three million euros a week. A few pages later there’s one for a Swiss clinic “for the treatment of mental health and issues of substance and behavioural dependency”. Could these ads be related?  

So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

The Rich List is just for the British mega-rich. So no room here for Meta-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg or space-wingnut Elon Musk. But it’s nice to see at the top of the list, with just a couple of hundred million over the £37bn-mark, the Hinduja family, whose leading lights so publicly acquired British passports some years ago, with or without government help.  

And here’s Lakshmi Mittal (No. 8 with £15bn), who was recently accused of profiting from both sides of the Ukraine conflict, after a part-owned Indian company bought nearly £2.4bn of Russian oil since the start of the war. Which newspaper revealed this? Step forward the Sunday Times.  

And there’s vacuum magnate Sir James Dyson (No. 5 with £21bn) who backed Brexit and then moved his global HQ to Singapore. That’s the beauty of being so rich; you can escape the consequences of your own actions. 

Most of the list is what similarly might be called colourful. These cannot, by virtue of their economic separation, be normal people. So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. 

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle? Sure. there is no virtue in poverty. But nor should there be a prosperity gospel, which holds that the righteous are financially rewarded, other than in the outer reaches of an American charismatic movement. 

Among the things that make us go “hmm” in this report is the attitude to life. Phones 4u founder John Caudwell (No. 109, £1.5bn) says “If I stopped I’d probably be desperately unhappy.” Hmm. New entrant to the list Graham King (No. 221=, £750m) made his fortune from public money contracts for accommodation for asylum seekers that inspectors have described as “decrepit” and is currently the subject of charges under the Housing Act 2004. Hmm. 

Cursed are the rich, for they shall lose touch with reality. That’s not a heretical rewrite of the Sermon on the Mount, with its “Blessed are...” Beatitudes. There are actually four lesser known woes in the Gospel of Luke: 

 “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” 

These woes aren’t about revenge. But they do speak to the consequences of extreme wealth – such as profiteering from desperately vulnerable people or working so hard you can’t think properly. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. Today, the Sunday Times should be as ashamed of idolising it as those it lionises for making so much of it.