It was four or five weeks into the 2002 Pop Idol — the first series of the original 21st century TV talent show — when all the contestants were gathered together and the question was asked, “Who would you like to go on a date with?”
Will Young — whose sexuality he had kept hidden from the show — sat there and wondered what to say. He got round the problem with the brilliant answer, “I would like to go and have tea with the Queen”.
It was only after Young won the show and was catapulted to pop stardom that he came out — a landmark moment in recent gay history. Young has never looked back.
The hits have kept coming, he’s had success in acting, he’s made TV documentaries, he’s campaigned against homophobic bullying, he’s been prominent in charity work, he’s had a South Bank Show made about him.
Now, 15 years on from Pop Idol, he has embarked on a new venture, a podcast called Homo Sapiens that he fronts with the film director Chris Sweeney, and it was during their conversation in the first edition that he told that excellent Pop Idol story.
The conversation was a nice mix of the serious and the knockabout, which is the feel of the whole show, and Young and Sweeney are clearly on to something. The idea, they say, is for Homo Sapiens to be an LGBTQ+ version of Woman’s Hour, and if that isn’t a gap in the market I don’t know what is.
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Each edition — the first one is out this week, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality — includes an interview with a prominent LGBT figure, and the pair started with the columnist and campaigner Owen Jones, who is superb value looking back on when he came out (at university), the nature of homophobia, and much else.
The interview was recorded at Jones’s north London home, and the Young-Sweeney sections are recorded in Young’s south London home, and the noises off provided by Jones’s cat and Young’s dog are all part of what makes the show so super-relaxed and approachable.
Future interviewees include the screenwriter Russell T Davies, the Nigerian activist Bisi Alimi, the singer-songwriter John Grant, and the transgender actress Rebecca Root.
There’s a real openness and intellectual curiosity about Homo Sapiens that shouldn’t restrict it to an LGBT audience only. It’s also funny. Young in particular has a very self-deprecating sense of humour. They can laugh at themselves and at gay stereotypes – “the flat in Marylebone, shopping at Fresh and Wild, wearing Dolce & Gabbana”.
If I have a criticism it’s that there are maybe not quite enough elements in a 50-minute podcast that’s aspiring to be a magazine show. Young and Sweeney together are great, and the big interview is great, but I reckon a couple more mini-features would add a lot. The interactive section around Young’s Twitter account didn’t really get off the ground.
But it’s early days, and these guys are absolute podcast naturals.