A new start after 60: I became a priest at 63 – after 44 years as a soldier and a teacher

Newly installed in a Northumberland vicarage, Diana Johnson first felt her calling decades ago. But the church had to wait until she had raised her family – and transitioned

At 66, Diana Johnson has just embarked on her third career. She has moved to a different part of the country and become a priest with her own parish. The “thread” that brought her to this point runs right back to her teens and in Johnson’s mind, it blazes scarlet or purple, garish and unflinching. “Whatever bright colour you can think of. That’s my faith,” she says, speaking from the vicarage at St James’s Church Riding Mill, an Anglican parish in Northumberland. It is only recently that she has also come to see a second thread running through her life – gender dysphoria. For more than five decades, she identified as male.

When Johnson was growing up in London, her family “weren’t very religious”, by which she means they were “on the edge of a church” rather than in the thick of one, and didn’t say grace or bedtime prayers. But by the age of 16, when she won a scholarship to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, she began to sense a greater intentionality in her own beliefs. “It was a conscious thing. The question was, where was this leading?”

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