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BBC Queers stars reveal the moments that changed their lives

The new BBC monologues track the defining moments in the UK LGBT experience, but what are the most important memories from the cast's lives? We spoke to Alan Cumming, Rebecca Front, Gemma Whelan and more...

Published: Wednesday, 18th October 2017 at 9:44 am

Ian Gelder


My most formative moment: Falling in love

I knew I was gay from a very early age. It seemed quite natural to me and never caused me anxiety. While still at school I fell in love with another boy and sent him a love letter, which his mother discovered when taking his jacket to the cleaner’s.

The next day I was still in bed when the phone rang and I heard my father’s voice saying, “Oh dear, I had no idea. I just thought they were good friends.” The next thing I knew was the sheets being torn from my bed and my mother shouting abuse at me through tears of anguish and disgust.

She refused to talk to me for several weeks, addressing me only via my father. He tried hard to intercede, saying it was probably an adolescent phase I’d grow out of, and that, whatever, he is our son and we love him.

She eventually came round and they were both the most supportive parents anyone could wish for. However, the boy’s father took a different approach and demanded I see a psychiatrist. I was taken to the local mental health hospital and I remember being confused and terrified as we drove up the long drive, passing patients on the lawn who, poor souls, looked straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

“Why was I here?” I thought. “All I’d done was fall in love.” The psychiatrist took me through my life in minute detail asking questions about my feelings and emotions from the moment I suspected I might be gay to the present time.

Finally he looked at me and said that, yes, it was possibly a phase I was going through but that, if not, I seemed happy and my feelings and emotions were well adjusted. He only advised me to be more careful and discreet in the future! This was 1967, and I will never forget my relief and gratitude for this man’s compassionate and enlightened view.

Ian is in I Miss The War, 10pm Wednesday 2nd August BBC4

Gemma Whelan

My most formative moment: my big break

To actors, the only thing more familiar than rejection are the clichés issued by others to comfort you in the shadow of that rejection. “Everything happens for a reason” is among the most clichéd of the clichés. But I’ve still used it as a mantra in the gloomy days following an unsuccessful audition, of which there have been plenty.

When you don’t get a job, of course you soul-search and wonder what you could have done differently. One particular rejection sent me spinning off into this crazy overthinking like no other before it, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

The audition, for a coveted role, had gone well. So well that I was offered an on-the-spot recall. Then at that recall, to which I wore the same outfit I’d worn previously, I was recalled again. This is going well, I thought. I am so close to getting this. Then: final audition, different outfit. First mistake? If it was my first, others followed.

In the waiting room, I sat with a friend I adore – also my competition for the role. This is not an uncommon occurrence. In the audition room, anxiety enveloped me and I got tongue-tied with embarrassment.

In the days that followed, hope died a slow death. A week later, I bumped into my friend. Unable to help myself, I asked if she’d heard anything about That Job. As gracious as I was awkward, she replied that she’d heard pretty soon after that the role was hers.

I reached for the cold comfort of clichés. The next day, I received an email offering me an audition for something called Game of Thrones.

Had I got the role I’d so desired, the clash of the dates would have ruled me out of even being considered for GoT [Gemma plays Yara Greyjoy]. Lesson learnt. Everything happens for a reason. If it’s for you, it won’t pass you by. Blissful liberation.

Gemma is in The Perfect Gentleman, 10pm Thursday 3rd August BBC4

Kadiff Kirwan

My most formative moment: Escaping disaster

Before my family moved to the UK when I was nine, we lived in the Caribbean. For seven of those nine years, Montserrat was home – until the volcanic eruption in 1995 changed everything.

Two of my older brothers and I were at primary school. It was a beautiful day and then, ten minutes later, it was suddenly dark outside.

Because we were kids and we didn’t know what was going on, everyone started screaming. As we watched the pyroclastic flow – we stood and watched it flow past! – we had no idea of the impact it would have.

We got home but not everyone did. Two aunties died and it wasn’t long before we left for Antigua because my family wasn’t prepared to risk staying.

Today, that home we rushed back to is under 14 feet of ash. That’s what prompted our move to the UK and it was at school in Preston that my life changed again. I was the only black kid in my year so I did everything I could to fit in, including joining the basketball team. I enjoyed basketball so it wasn’t exactly a trial. But I also enjoyed acting and, for some reason, I was embarrassed about that, and I didn’t tell my teammates or my friends that I also did drama.

When, at 14, I was cast in the school production of Bugsy Malone, I was determined none of my peers should know. On the opening night, I went on and did my number and then, when I’d finished, there was all this cheering from the back row, which consisted of my basketball teammates, who were proud to see me up on stage and had seen through my attempt to keep it a secret.


After that night, I couldn’t think of doing anything else with my life. That moment may never have come about, had it not been for us leaving Montserrat.


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