Mass appeal! Can three Catholic priests beat Guns N’ Roses to the top of the album charts?

They're celibate, saintly and say they are not in it for the money - but thanks to their vocal talent, a band of brothers is set for superstardom.

As the name may suggest, The Priests are real-life, understated clergymen from Ireland, and yet they have created an unprecedented clamour around their debut album.

Within 24 hours of its release, The Priests' album had sold a staggering 29,000 copies, and it's heading for a top position in the charts this weekend in a battle against American rock band Guns N' Roses, The Killers and last year's X-Factor runner-up, Rhydian Roberts.


Holy trilogy: Fr David Delargy, left, Fr Martin O'Hagan and Fr Eugene O'Hagan sold 29,000 copies of their album in only 24 hours

A spectacular 32 countries, including the U.S., Australia and Brazil agreed to release the trio's album without having heard a single note, startling record industry executives as much as the Roman Catholic priests themselves.

Father Eugene O'Hagan, 48, his brother Martin, 45, and their old school friend David Delargy, 44, who all hold parishes in the Northern Ireland diocese of Down and Connor, sealed their £1 million contract with music company Sony BMG by the steps of London's Westminster Cathedral.

Westminster Cathedral

Praying for a No1 hit: The Priests sealed their contract with Sony at London's Westminster Cathedral

Their first album, which includes spiritually inspired tracks, as well as great classical arias and songs, is produced by Mike Hedges, whose work includes best-selling albums by U2 and Manic Street Preachers.

Now the full-time clergymen will have to juggle a jet-set lifestyle after they become household names with the release of their album.

Yet The Priests see no conflict between their real jobs and that of joining the fickle world of showbusiness. 'We see this as an opportunity from God,' explains Father Eugene, who adds they will be seen wearing their clerical clothing at all times.

'Music is an extension of our mission - not the other way around. We're not in it for the money and will give the money made from the music to charities. Nor will our parishes be neglected.

'This is not - and we are not - a gimmick. We are the real McCoy. We will remain first and foremost priests working in the heart of communities. Weddings, funerals and helping parishioners will always come first.

'We have no stand-ins for when we are away, so we insisted on a special exemption in our contract which allows us to break off from promotional duties to deal with parish work such as taking Mass.'

Indeed, Father David was unable to be present at our interview because he had to fly home to conduct a funeral service. It won't be an easy ride in the future either, because Ireland is stretched for clergy, with numbers expected to fall by two-thirds within 20 years.

Mike Hedges

Top management: The Priests' producer Mike Hedges has worked with U2, seen here at the Dublin International Film Festival earlier this year

'Our work in the parish is vital to us and we have to be there for our parishioners,' explains Father Martin. 'But we hope that the tunes on our album will uplift people spiritually and that they will speak to all people.'

While the album covers popular classics such as Benedictus, Panis Angelicus and Be Thou My Vision, The Priests are serious about singing, and have sung since they came together 35 years ago in a Belfast boarding school where they were nicknamed Holy, Holy, Holy. Today they have been dubbed Father Ted: The Musical as well as Priestlife.

Before returning to Ireland to tend to parishioners and carry out official duties at church services, the trio completed their seminary training at the Gregorian University in Rome, where their distinctive mix of voices - two tenors, Father Eugene and Father Martin, and light baritone Father David -meant they were picked to perform the sacred liturgy for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

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As a sign of the Vatican's endorsement of the project, choral accompaniments have been recorded in St Peter's Basilica. The Priests also sang at a spectacular concert last month at Ireland's historic Armagh Cathedral, whose setting remains a reminder of The Troubles through which The Priests and their generation have lived, in particular Father David who had three churches fire-bombed.

With their background for commanding an audience, coupled with their no-nonsense approach to stardom, The Priests are unlikely to lose their integrity. 'Singing is very much what we do. This is bringing it to a wider audience, although we're not out to evangelise. We are singing sacred music, continuing what we have always been doing,' explains Father Eugene.

Are their tastes Catholic? 'Yes, but Father David's first ever purchase was Blondie's Parallel Lines,' laughs Father Martin. 'I also enjoy a bit of jazz and very relaxing music.'

The reaction to The Priests music has already been outstanding, with their Armagh Cathedral concert broadcasting in the U.S. on Saturday, an ITV documentary to be aired next month and a write-up in Time Magazine saying: 'They sing like angels: their powerful voices blend effortlessly to create harmonies rich with emotion.'

Last year The Priests were heard singing by an Irish pop musician, who asked them to make a demo tape, which he took to Sony BMG.

Nick Raphael, managing director of Epic Records, part of Sony BMG, negotiated the signing. 'Their voices are incredible. I said: "I think we've found three pop stars", ' he says.

'They're going to be global superstars. The reaction has been amazing because the quality of their singing is quite scary.

'They have the potential to become one of the world's biggest musical acts, because what they do is so compelling and is of historical relevance.'

The Priests' self-titled album is out now on Epic. The Priests will be shown on December 21 on ITV1 at 11pm.

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