A consequence of being an “out” public figure in this country is that the newspapers will watch your every move avidly. Spies are everywhere scrounging for tit bits to feed to the tabloids about the comings and goings of the rich and famous fagerati. You can be sure if you go to a restaurant or nightclub one of your fellow diners/dancers will be on the mobile minutes after spotting you to tell a gossip columnist exactly what you did – and gawd help you if you did anything out of the ordinary.
So let’s catch up with some of the media’s favourites to find out what they’ve been doing recently.
First, Dale Winton, beloved of the tabloid tittle-tattlers. The Sunday Mirror revealed that he would finally come out as gay in a biography to be published next year. The paper quotes a “friend” as saying: “It will be a weight off his shoulders when the book comes out. He can’t avoid the subject of his sexuality any longer and he’s confident the public will support him.”
This is something of a dog-bites-man story. Are we supposed to be surprised or shocked that Dale Winton is gay? Now if Julian Clary insisted that he was straight – that would be news.
But another man in the Dale Winton mould, who flattered himself that nobody knew the truth, was Dirk Bogarde. Mr Bogarde’s life has been raked over again after a biographer decided that all this equivocation was ridiculous. Surely anyone with a bit of nous would have known that Dirk Bogarde was as fruity as Carmen Miranda’s hat.
Using previously unseen home movies, BBC2 broadcast a long documentary over Christmas about the film star and his “manager” (but actually his lover), Tony Forwood.
Bogarde’s relentless reticence about his sexuality eventually became irritating and then, when you heard his Judas-like denial of the importance of Forwood in his life, downright unpleasant. However, his family were happy to go on camera and confirm that, indeed, Dirk and Tony were lovers who hardly ever spent a night apart during their forty years together. Dirk Bogarde burned all his papers in an effort to eradicate that love from the public record. Tragic.
And now to long-time tabloid favourite, Michael Barrymore. Depending on what stage the story line in the Barrymore soap opera has reached, the papers have described him as “a brilliant entertainer”, “the nation’s favourite entertainer”, “the troubled entertainer”, the “troubled gay entertainer”, “sordid Barrymore”, “the whingeing TV star”, “the whingeing troubled gay entertainer suspected of involvement in murder” and now “shamed Barrymore”.
Mr Barrymore is attempting to revive his TV career and The Sunday People reported that “ITV chiefs” were worried that the studio audience would attack him when he attempted to involve them in his show My Kind of Music.
Two weeks later, however, The Daily Mirror reported that Barrymore had been given a “rapturous reception” when he recorded the first programme in the series. The studio audience had obviously forgiven him, but will that forgiveness be translated to the suburban settee where the vast majority of his audience sits?
Another “TV favourite” is Graham Norton, who has not only demolished his closet, but does a weekly dance on its remains for all the nation to see. Graham provides the papers with endless copy. How’s his love life? What’s his favourite colour? What does he read in the lavatory? All have been pored over in the red tops. He has become ubiquitous, with not only his regular chat show, but specials that take him to various unlikely parts of the world.
The thing about the media and celebrities is that when they’ve given them so much positive exposure, the temptation is to go the other way and start looking for flaws in the character. I predict that Graham is approaching a period when the novelty of his mucky-little-schoolboy persona will begin to pall with journalists, and they will start being nasty to him.
A small taste was to be found in a profile in The Sunday Telegraph. “Norton is horribly inescapable”, it said. “More than anything it is the arrogance – the sheer laziness – of the Norton concept that makes his success so depressing.”
Look out, Graham, you’re in for a bumpy ride. But fear not – history has shown that when the papers start a love-hate relationship with a star, it usually ends up in love. Let’s just hope that the word “troubled” doesn’t attach itself to your name before you are given the loving embrace once again.
Meanwhile, “Korben” (real name Chris Niblett) – a finalist on the Pop Idol programme – complains that he lost because he was outed as gay. He told The Sun: “Sadly, there are still people who are homophobic. That’s the key element. I think that if it had not come out that I was gay, I would still be in the competition.”
Mr Niblett sang a George Michael number in the finals, which should be proof enough for him that the issue of gayness does not stand in the way of success as a pop star. Talent, or lack of it, does.
George Michael himself, in the meantime, popped up in The Daily Mail’s gossip column. “I hope George Michael checked the neighbourhood before splashing out £7.5 million on Chris Evans’ Chelsea mansion”, the writer said. “A mere CD-throw from the 40-room pile is Brompton Cemetery, a notorious gay trysting-spot. ‘In the summer,’ lisps my mole, ‘practically every gravestone is occupied by an attractive young man’.”
Perhaps the most famous gay pop star of all, Elton John, is never out of the papers. Mr John has been through one end of the tabloid mill and out the other. He was loved, then hated and is now loved once more – in a big way, especially since he kicked the habits and took up with David Furnish.
Last month, Sir Elton was rightly lauded as a hero for raising £20 million for the fight against Aids. The Daily Express reported him as saying he was “very lucky” not to have contracted HIV during his out of control phase, and was brought to his senses by the death of 18-year old Ryan White in 1990. “As a gay man I’m very lucky not to be infected,” he said. “My concern nowadays is that young people think they are invulnerable, but they’re not.”
Sir Elton has announced that he doesn’t intend to record any more music, but this doesn’t mean he will disappear from view. The media adores him, and so long as he stays on the straight he will eventually become a “veteran entertainer” and will surely fill the vacuum soon to be created in our papers when the Queen Mother pops off in her celestial golf-buggy.
Before we leave show business, we should say a fond farewell to actor Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who died on Boxing Day. Sir Nigel emerged from the closet in 1995 and, according to The Daily Express’s gossip-monger, he delivered the final chapter of his biography to his publisher just two days before he died. The book will not shirk the homosexual nature of this well-loved thespian. In an interview with The Daily Mail, Sir Nigel is quoted as saying: “Since I was a schoolboy I realised I was not attracted to girls. I always felt different. My father once said: ‘All homosexuals should be shipped to a desert island and shot’. That was in the fifties and I’m sure he must have known I was gay by then.”
Over in Westminster, the trawl for spiteful rumours about the political classes is ceaseless. Labour MP Shaun Woodward – who defected from the Conservatives over Section 28 – is a prime target for the Tory papers that have never forgiven him for his “treachery”. The Daily Express reported that he has bought four luxury flats “taking his property portfolio to seven homes” and allege that this will create resentment in his “run-down” constituency of St Helens.
Much more unpleasant though was an insinuating story about him in The Mail on Sunday. It concerned his alleged “bond” with “a young handsome freelance camera technician who is the grandson of bisexual theatre legend Sir Michael Redgrave”. The story says: “Father-of-four Woodward, 43, and bachelor Luke Redgrave have entertained each other on many occasions since meeting at a political event.”
The paper has obviously had them under surveillance because Louisa Pritchard, the creature responsible for this would-be outing, wrote: “Luke has enjoyed Woodward’s hospitality at his elegant five-story Georgian town house… At 9.25am last Tuesday he got into his green convertible BMW which had been parked just yards from the house. Three weeks earlier they were at Luke’s home… The two men left at 9.30am – they walked out together before getting into Luke’s car. It is not known whether they have been discussing a future political documentary on which they would work together, or whether they are simply close friends, sharing as they do the same political views.”
This is surely tabloid journalism at its scummiest. Hang your head in shame Louisa Pritchard.
The other gay politico that the papers love is, of course, Michael Portillo. He was in the news again last month after Kenneth Clarke confirmed that homophobia had done for Portillo’s leadership chances. The Tories homophobic? Surely some mistake?