BBC series Queers delves into the defining moments of the gay experience in the UK across the past 10 decades through a series of monologues.
But which were the most decisive times in the Queers actors’ lives? We asked Alan Cumming, Rebecca Front, Gemma Whelan, Kadiff Kirwan and Ian Gelder about their most important memories…
My most formative moment: finding myself in the gutter on Broadway
On Sunday 6 June, 1999, I gave my last performance of a year-long run in Cabaret at Studio 54 on Broadway. The production had been a sensation, its gleeful sexuality perfectly counterpointing the concurrent Clinton/Lewinsky affair and all the incomprehensible (to me, any rate) shame and self-harm it had engendered.
There were pictures of me semi-clad on billboards and buses, my armpit hair was dissected in gossip columns, and on my last matinee performance John Travolta asked if he could land his helicopter on Studio 54’s roof to ensure he didn’t miss a second of my farewell.
(He wasn’t allowed, but did come to my dressing room to pay his respects and ended up staying to watch me have my head shaved. Draw conclusions from that as you will).
There were hundreds of people waiting for me at the stage door as I left that last afternoon, and I had a police escort home. The invitation to a party being thrown later that evening to celebrate my triumph read simply, “Are You Cumming?”
The night before I had gone to the Roxy, a gay megaclub where the DJ, Victor Calderone, reigned supreme and I had become a regular after my two-show Saturdays. I had a security man, Carmine, and he would join me on the dancefloor with a bunch of chums where we would dance the night away.
It was the balmy early hours of Sunday morning before we stumbled out onto 18th Street, dodging the straggly revellers and boys handing out magazines and flyers advertising other dens of hedonistic fun.
And it was then that this story’s metaphorical slap in the face with a wet fish occurred… I had done an interview for a magazine called Next! with a picture of me on the cover kneeling down, picking up roses in front of a red velvet curtain, and the headline “Curtain Call: Alan takes his final NYC bow (for now)” emblazoned across it.
When I emerged, delirious from my dancing and high with the palpable love of the city that had become my adopted home, I looked down to see dozens of discarded copies of that issue of Next! strewn all over the Roxy’s alleyway, footprints and cigarette butts desecrating my imploring countenance.
It was a salutary lesson and, though comical, a galling sight to see. My triumphant finale in NYC was just tomorrow’s chip paper – or more likely, a handy poop bag for some dog owner on their early-morning constitutional. And you know what? I’ve never forgotten it.
No matter how big a deal something is to me, I never presume it will have an impact on anyone else’s life, especially if it’s about my work and even more especially if they are a stranger.
Perspective is not just something hard to achieve in drawing; it’s a necessary life tool that often only comes with a sting in its tail!
Alan is in Something Borrowed, 10.20pm Thursday 3rd August BBC4
My most formative moment: The night I sang with Danny La Rue
The moment I knew I wanted to be an actress was aged five at a pantomime at the London Palladium. My mum and grandma had taken my brother and me to see Danny La Rue perform.
At one point Danny asked if any children wanted to come up on stage to sing “Doe, a deer” and my brother sank down in his chair – he was four years older and knew better. I got up out of my seat and, without even asking, ran up to the stage. My mum says she’s never seen me run so fast.
A fairy from the pantomime came and gathered up the children and took us backstage. I remember seeing the fairy costumes and wings hanging up, ready for quick changes.
For some people that would have ruined the magic, but for me that was the magic. I realised that if these weren’t real fairies on stage, that meant I could be a fairy. I remember thinking, “It’s all pretend and that’s such good news.”
I was absolutely bowled over. Danny ushered us onto the stage and handed the microphone to me and I discovered I didn’t know the song. I didn’t care, I thought it was so great to be up there.
When I won the Bafta for The Thick of It in 2010, the awards ceremony happened to be at the Palladium and it was also around the time Danny La Rue died.
Now I still get that sense of magic I got when I saw those fairy costumes, aged five. The first time I walk on set for a new show or a new location or try on a new costume, I feel it. It’s all about that moment when something that seems ridiculous becomes possible.
Rebecca is in Missing Alice, Tuesday 1st August 10pm BBC4