Eric Clapton Told to Practice

Did the local vicar advise Eric Clapton to practice the guitar before playing it in church?

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Claim:   A vicar visiting at the home of a parishioner notices that the gentleman owns a guitar and asks if he would minding playing for the congregation some day. When the gentleman agrees, the vicar suggests he take a few months to practice up first. Only later does the vicar find out he had been visiting with Eric Clapton.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Reuters, 1994]

Father Dennis Ackroyd of Ewhurst, England, doing his duty as a conscientious vicar, was calling on parishioners when his eye fell on a guitar in “a particularly grand house.” In the course of a friendly chat he asked the owner of the house, a man called Eric, if he would considering playing in the church. Eric agreed and Father Ackroyd told him: “Good! I’ll give you a couple of months to practice.” An embarrassed Father Ackroyd realized later that the man was rock star Eric Clapton, who turned up at the tiny church in the Surrey village to play hymns such as “Amazing Grace” to a thrilled congregation.

Origins:   The story of the “red-faced vicar” and Eric Clapton first appeared in the British press in February 1994 and was quickly picked up by American newspapers as well.

Charming though the story may be, inconsistencies in the details indicate that it may be apocryphal. Although most accounts don’t mention when this encounter supposedly took place, one report from June 1994 stated that had occurred “earlier this year.” If the incident indeed took place during the same year in which it was reported to the press — and was reported accurately — then Father Ackroyd did not know Eric Clapton prior to 1994. However, other press reports that appeared three years earlier (after the sudden death of Clapton’s son Conor in 1991) indicated that Father Ackroyd had in fact already known Eric Clapton for several years prior to 1994:

The Rector of St Peter and St Paul’s in Ewhurst, the Rev Dennis Ackroyd, said he was saddened by the news. “I know [Clapton] very well. He has played in church for our children’s services and would slip into the back of the church from time to time. He is a lovely man,” said Mr Ackroyd. “The little boy came here too. It’s very sad news,” he added.

Even if the discrepancy in time were somehow accounted for (perhaps the vicar waited several years before sharing the anecdote with the press), it is still hard to believe that Father Ackroyd could not have known or recognized Eric Clapton, whenever they met. Clapton was certainly no newcomer to the area; he was born and raised in Ripley, Surrey, and he had

resided in Ewhurst since purchasing a 20-room mansion there in 1969. The notion that Father Ackroyd (even if newly-assigned to the parish) could be completely unaware of Clapton’s presence in Ewhurst — or, that even if he were aware of Clapton’s presence, he failed to make the connection between a guitar-playing fellow named “Eric” living in a mansion and Eric Clapton — is rather far-fetched and fits too neatly into the stereotype of the unworldly cleric.

This tale is an example of the “unrecognized celebrity” genre: a story about an ordinary person who makes an embarrassing request of a celebrity he fails to recognize, either because the celebrity also appears to be unremarkable when removed from his usual milieu (e.g., tourist mistakes casually-dressed film star for gardener), or because he is famous in a field not familiar to the person (e.g., housewife mistakes an NFL or NBA star for a porter at an airport). It also plays on a related stereotype of clerics as isolated and out of touch with popular culture — a feature which may even have helped the legend spread. After all, who would disbelieve a man of the cloth?

Last updated:   6 May 2007


  Sources Sources:

    Bendoris, Matt.   “Clapton Finds God.”

    [Scottish] Daily Record.   18 June 1994   (p. 11).

    Weale, Sally.   “Inquest Set for Clapton’s Son.”

    Press Association.   25 March 1991.

    “Play At Church But Practise First, Vicar Tells Clapton.”

    Press Association.   9 February 1994.

    “Village Vicar Drops Clapton Clanger.”

    Reuters.   9 February 1994.

  Sources Also told in:

    Flynn, Mike.   The Best Book of Bizarre But True Stories Ever.

    London: Carlton, 1999.   ISBN 1-85868-558-3   (p. 197).