In part one of our exclusive interview with TV news reporter Andy West, the 34 year old ex-Big Brother star reveals how as a teenager he tried his hardest NOT to be gay but says that now he wouldn’t want to be anything else WARNING: Have a tissue handy!
When he was locked up in the apocalyptic Big Brother house, handsome ex TV news reporter Andy West was far from popular with his mardy housemates by constantly rubbing them up the wrong way with his dry asides and intimidating intellect. But since he returned to the real world, everyone wants a piece of Andy, especially now that he and fiance Ed Hutton are no more and he’s back on the singles market.
Ask anyone what makes Andy so utterly desirable, and you’ll be told it’s his super cute looks combined with his marvellous grasp of language and unrivalled ability to tell a story that will break and lift a heart at the same time.
When GuysLikeU met Andy at his home, we were instantly swept up in his charismatic charm – the result? We were left a blubbing wreck as he opens about about the years he spent beating himself up about being gay and how now he wants to reassure every boy struggling with their own sexuality that being gay really is the best thing you can be.
Andy, you strike us as one of the most sexually confident men we have met but when did you realise you were gay?
I remember feeling awkward around other boys when I was little, maybe five or six. I was always shy and embarrassed around them. Then when puberty hit I realised I was different. A classmate called me gay when I was 11 and I didn’t really know what it meant. I guess I finally understood my feelings when I was around 14 but even then I’d try to make myself fantasise about women in the hope it would turn me straight. It’s sad but I didn’t truly accept I was gay until I was 18.
Was it something you were worried about?
I worried about it lots at first. I didn’t want to be gay for a long time, until I started dating guys and then it felt fun and normal.
And did you have role models at this time?
It’s funny, my gay role models weren’t actually gay. I used to love Victoria Beckham, as I still do, with a passion. I have met loads of very famous people over the years. I think I may have said in the Big Brother house that I shared a lift with Lady Gaga, and that’s a big claim to fame for me. If I was in a lift with Victoria Beckham I think I would just faint.
What was it about old Vic that was so special? Was it her lovely outfits, and her ridiculous pout?
I just had a massive gay crush on her. It has never left me. I think what I liked was you had these big bouncy colourful characters in the Spice Girls and then you had this girl who just stood there and owned it, without really having to do anything. She didn’t have to sing (much) and she couldn’t really dance, she didn’t need to. She just stood there, did that peace sign in a little black dress and it was all I saw. And that I thought that is a good way to be.
Yes, she’s the perfect gay inspiration.
You know, sometimes the noisiest shoutiest person is the least interesting person. Doing something that is a bit quiet, a bit mercurial, a bit ambiguous is actually the most intriguing and exciting way to be. I have often said I wanted to be the Victoria Beckham of news. Now I just have to be Victoria Beckham.
Do you share Vic’s taste in men?
Well, I think David Beckham is extraordinarily ugly. I really don’t see what people see in him. Who wants a toned body, a chiselled jaw, gorgeous eyes and fantastic hair and a face that ages but gets more and more gorgeous, like George Clooney. The older they get the more beautiful they get. It’s like the opposite of an Italian! I think David Beckham is beautiful, but my crush as a boy was Michael Owen.
Michael Owen? Weird!
Yes, I still get a bit giggly whenever I see a picture of Michael Owen. I still have his posters on my wall. (I actually don’t.) But I did. I think my dad was very happy the day he walked into my bedroom when I was 13 and saw that I had a poster of Michael Owen up. And he was like, ‘wow, so you support Liverpool football team.’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t!’ And he said ‘then why do you have a poster of him on your wall?’ And I was like, ‘Ermmmmmm….. He’s cool, we’ll leave it at that!’
When it came to the coming out part was there anyone you were nervous to tell?
I wasn’t scared to tell anyone in my family, not really. And I don’t think I really appreciated at the time just how special that was to have a family that I knew would be okay with it. It was only when as I got older and have spoken to so many people who have had so many coming out stories and experiences that haven’t been as happy as mine. Even now, in these more accepting times, there are still young people struggling to come out and not wanting to tell their parents or family. I didn’t have that problem.
That is very lucky.
That said, the people I was most worried about were my friends at university. They were all hetereosexual guys and a couple of girls. I wondered if they would judge me for being gay or if they would feel uncomfortable about it. When I told them I had to make it very clear to them when I came out to them I didn’t fancy any of them, but I think that rather than being angry or judgemental about me being gay they were annoyed that I didn’t fancy any of them.
That’s always the way!
They were like offended, like I was saying they were ugly. But I have to admit I am lucky to say I have never had a bad response to me coming out. I think that’s partly because I have never made a big song and dance about it. It’s not some shocking explosive thing. It’s not something I really mention. If I am meeting people for the first time, I will slip it into the conversation, something like ‘I went for a nice meal with my boyfriend last night.’ I would never say ‘Oh by the way, I must tell you that I am a homosexual’. My sexuality isn’t my personality.
But was it always that way?
God no, for a long time I tried hard not to be gay! I tried to date girls and tried to pretend to myself that I could maintain that and that actually it didn’t matter that I wasn’t sexually attracted to them because I wanted to get married to a woman and have a family and live that awful word a normal life. It was naïve of me to think that that was possible and naive of me to think that that would actually be a ‘normal life’ for me.
That’s so sad.
I was desperate not to be open about being gay when I was 13, 14, 15, because I didn’t actually understand what being gay was. I thought that being gay would mean that people wouldn’t like me, or I would be at risk of some sort of attack late at night. I thought there was so much negativity surrounding being gay that it scared me. I had always been quite nervous around the boys at school and that had stuck with me. They had made me feel shy and self conscious.
So you dated girls then? Were you a heartthrob?
When I was at uni I dated lots of girls but would always come up reasons why each one wasn’t right for me – they weren’t tall enough for me, or too short, or she didn’t have enough teeth or I didn’t like the colour of their eyelashes or some other preposterous reason! But then I met one girl who was just perfect. When I met this girl, I thought my you are perfect! She was funny, clever and utterly beautiful. All of my friends were so jealous that she wanted to date me. But because i knew i didn’t really fancy her, I would find myself going on the date thinking ‘please, please do something awful, please say something racist or head butt me or throw soup at me to give me an excuse to run away.’ But she didn’t, she was just awesome an invited me back for a coffee. Only instead of a coffee we ended up watching Roald Dahl’s The Witches at four o clock in the morning.
And nothing happened?
Nah, and she was hugely disappointed and I was absolutely petrified. I ended up just leaving her place very early in the morning, and walked home across freezing cold Preston. When I got home, my mum called and said ‘I just called to see if you’re okay!’ Mums have that sixth sense. I said ‘No,’ and then burst into floods of tears. I think she was worried that I had some kind of disease or something. So when I told her that I was gay, her reaction was relief. She got in her car and drove two hundred miles to see me. She bombed it up the motorway and was hugging me two hours later and taking me for a chip balm. And walked aroudnt he park. It was so amazing. I was so lucky.
Being young and gay is still the most confusing and difficult time.
I think a lot of guys can relate to that feeling ‘I am attracted to a boys’ but you think you can’t be. But then you think, oh but I really am. And I remember thinking I could change that. I had already changed elements of persona to fit in with every one else. And I thought I could that with that with my sexuality. If I just think about naked women and breasts lots, then somehow that will have some impact on my hormones. Of course it didn’t. when I look back on it its really sad. Really sad that a boy like me was in his own head completely on his own trying to change his sexuality. Really really sad. But thank God that boy wasn’t able to do it, because I would not change my sexuality for anyone now. Not for a million pounds.
Do you think young guys find it easier to come out?
I think what’s changed is that it is more accepting now, though not everywhere. We all think it’s easier for young kids of 13 coming out, but that’s not always the case. I have heard of stories from lads on my Twitter where they are asking me ‘I’m thinking about coming out but I’m not sure what to do.’ And after the Big Brother house I have a few come forward, ‘watching you on Big Brother made me feel more confident about coming out.’ Which is just amazing to me. It’s a huge thing to here.
But that wasn’t the case with you?
No, my problem was my own perception of my sexuality. I think it came from the media, it came from the banter at school, ‘this is gay’, ‘that is gay’, ‘you’re a queer’, ‘you’re a poof’, offensive words that are used very lightly by kids. At the time, being gay was something not to be proud of. But I’d like to think its easier for boys to come out. If you don’t want to be gay because you worry and feel uncomfortable you’re still not going to want to say it.
Was there a moment at school when being gay felt like the worse thing ever?
I remember being at school and there were two girls who were a friend of a friend of a friend. They were flirtatious and sexually precocious. They were actually very forward. They were were trying it with me on with weeks and then one of them said to me, with her arms folded and her to head to one side, ‘We’ve decided you’re gay. That’s the only explanation. You must be gay!’ And that for me was like being kicked in the stomach by a donkey. I felt like I was going to projectile vomit. It was the first time somebody had said that to me. And then a couple of times after that happened. I remember standing in front of the mirror wanting to say to myself out loud ‘I’m gay’. And I couldn’t. Then one day in school, I dropped my paint brush in an art class and let out a flamboyant ‘wooh’. And the girl next to me said something like ‘wow, that’s a gay ‘woo’! Looking back at that its really funny and sweet. She wasn’t even being mean, she was just saying that that was just a camp ‘woo’. So I dashed out to the toilet and stood in front of the mirror and said out loud ‘You’re gay!’ and it felt like a strange moment. It was an important milestone in my life.
Wow, that is a big moment.
Looking back, I wonder why I said it in an accusatory way. I think I was angry. I was angry at myself because I felt, ‘look what you’ve done now – you’ve only gone and been gay! You’ve got weird legs, bandy arms, you’re rubbish at football, you can’t run, you’ve worked hard scraping through people who are willing to be your friend and now you have gone and decided to go and become gay. Now, of course, this is the most absurd way of looking at it, but that’s how it was.
What would you say to your younger self now?
I’ll be honest… if that boy I was had had the choice whether he was gay or straight he would have chosen to be straight. What ten year old boy decides he wants to make it difficult for him to have a family or bring some kind of complication into their lives with their friends and family. But thank God I didn’t make that choice. I wouldn’t change being gay for the world. That’s the message I would give to my younger self. I’d say to myself ‘You are brilliant and fantastic, this is not something to feel bad about or change or run away from. Embrace it, embrace it and go and embrace boys and enjoy.
That’s so refreshing to hear as young gay guys hear so much negativity out there, we never think of gay as being a great thing.
I really don’t get that. There is so much to enjoy about being gay man. It gives you such a fantastic perspective of the world around you. You have amazing unique friendships. There’s a sense that there’s something very special and quirky about you with out having to try. Its part of who you are. Being gay plays an important part in who you are and who you become. When I look around at my gay friends, I see smart, driven creative, funny, beautiful, kind loving humble, wonderful and magical people. The idea that any of them should be anything different is just so deeply depressing. Any lads or lasses who are doubting themselves and wondering whether or not they want to accept being gay, should just embrace the gay man or gay girl they are going to be.
That’s absolutely beautiful…
You have to remember you have not been handed a problem, you’ve been handed a gift.