James Greenwood from CBBC’s The Pets Factor opens up about getting married, the state of today’s politics and the naughty messages he gets from viewers’ saucy mums!
If you’re over the age of eleven you might not yet be familiar with gorgeous telly vet James Greenwood, but over the next few months you are going to see rather a lot of him. But that’s then and this is now. Here, the star of CBBC’s award winning CBBC show The Pets Factor – one of iPlayer’s most popular shows – takes time out from poking around cats and dog’s innards to chat about getting married to the love of his life, homophobic abuse and why a gay goose became his gay hero.
The Pets Factor is such a big hit, what is it that makes it so special…
I am so immensely proud of The Pets Factor it’s hard to know how to even begin to answer that question. I think one thing that makes our show stand out is the fact that we aren’t hiding away from the hard hitting topics (such as euthanasia) and we don’t make it too ‘kiddy’ – there is an animation parrot that pops up to warn if something squeamish is a about to happen – but other than that it is a real time ‘behind the scenes’ show about life as a vet. There’s drama, jeopardy, cute pets and lots of gory surgery! What I love the most though is that we are educating the younger generations about the importance of animals and animal welfare – something I feel absolutely passionate about. My dream was always to become a vet and so for me to possibly inspire the next generation of animal lovers into our field feels really very special indeed.
You’re mates with Stacey Dooley – you must have been thrilled that she won Strictly with Kevin.
I adore Stacey. She is such an absolute dream to work with and I’m so pleased we got to hang out. When she told me she was doing Strictly – she confessed she wasn’t quite sure what she was letting herself in for BUT then when she won, I don’t mind admitting there might have been a small tear in my eye! So well deserved and what an incredible journey she has been on.
She and Kevin had a tough time in the press, bless ’em.
I think they have been harsh on her of late – I can understand people’s views – but I don’t think it’s fair to go after her personally on it. She is the most kind, warm person but my word she is a fiercely strong woman! I’m in awe and I absolutely wish her all the success in the world.
Having seen Stacey do so well, have you got the taste for taking part in shows like that?
It’s hard to even contemplate getting to the point where I might even be considered for any of the huge shows like that – but I do absolutely love to learn new skills and would love the opportunity to be taught by a professional. So yes – why not!? If the phone rings, I’ll let you know!
You’re not the only hottie on The Pet’s Factor – there’s also a very cute vet called Rory. Is there a battle over who gets the most fan mail?
Nah – Rory is like my onscreen little brother! I have so much time for him, he’s doing some amazing work and we’ve become really close through the show.
You have been described as the next Dr Ranj as you also have a massive kiddie fan base and mums who fancy you – have salivating mums ever been a bit forward?
Oh crikey – you’re really asking me that? Well, I’ve received a couple of love letters over the years, mysteriously left on my consult table! Someone once brought me a very racy gift. And then there’s the time I got propositioned in a stable …. but I’m not going into any more details!
Dr Ranj has had a great career path – is he an inspiration to you?
Absolutely – I love his approach and I really admire how he uses his platform to spread such important medical advice, directly to the younger audience and to the parents themselves. I think every single parent in the country loves Dr Ranj and, even though I’m not a parent, I’m still a total fan!
Now you’re in the public eye, are you more conscious about the way you look?
I honestly have never really known how to dress well and I absolutely hate shopping! So with that double whammy – I suppose I am more conscious that I need to buck my ideas up a bit! I’m the sort of person that buys a new shirt and then wears it for every occasion for the next few months -I’d like to say it’s me doing my bit for the environment (but it’s actually just me being lazy!)
Did you ever struggle with your body image?
I probably have quite a fractured relationship with myself when it comes to how I look and feel about myself (and my body). Growing up in deepest Yorkshire – there’s a modesty that’s instilled in you that keeps any thoughts of self – adoration in very firm check! It’s obviously a lovely compliment if people say nice things about your looks but really – I’d much rather talk about something else.
But you’re pretty active on social media, so not shy.
And that’s where I feel a pressure – I was not on any social media prior to my first stint in telly on The Great Pottery Throwdown in 2016 but the pressure to ‘be popular’ online is a very bizarre thing. I do love Instagram – I find it inspiring, especially creatively with my ceramics – but I do try to stay quite ‘real’ on it and not be too drawn into the influencer world.
You recently married your gorgeous boyfriend – how did you meet?
We actually met online, 10 years ago! I was living in Jersey and he was running ski chalets in the French Alps. We didn’t meet for about four months after we started emailing back and forth and then when we did actually meet for real it all just clicked into place. I think by about the seventh date I gave him a key and we’ve lived together ever since.
Tell us about your big day?
We got married at Simonstone Hall in Hawes, North Yorkshire. I was surprised how incredibly emotional it was but honestly it was absolutely the best day of my life. We had so much fun, there was so much laughter and love in the room, washed down with copious buckets of wine! But spirits were so high, the sun shone and the whole weekend was absolutely perfect!
Did it all go swimmingly?
There were no major mishaps except during the ceremony. As he placed the ring on my finger and with the relief of getting through the vows without too much spluttering and tears – i realised he had put the wrong ring on my finger! I looked down, whispered to the registrar that we needed to switch the rings (as I knew mine wouldn’t fit on him) but rather than a quick subtle substitution, we had to do the ENTIRE section again, much to the amusement of our friends and family (or ‘our fans’ as we referred to them when nerves were starting to get the better of us!) but that also kind of broke the ice and set the tone for the rest of the day!
How does your fella deal with your TV fame?
He is a man of the earth – he’s a gardener and so is only really interested in earth, plants, nature, animals – basically everything other than television and ‘celebrity’. He has a very balancing influence on this slightly crazy journey I’m on, and whilst he’s massively supportive, he also couldn’t give two hoots about the fame and glitz! So it kind of just works really…
Away from the telly, what do you both do in your spare time?
I live and breathe for animals so most of my time is spent either with our dog Oliver or in some form of company with other animals. I also love ceramics – I have a studio at home and love to make pots (mainly dog bowls!) that I sell online. My two other main passions in life though are music and food, whether cooking it or eating out – I’m never happier than when I’m in front of live music or at a festival. We’re very lucky living in Bristol – there is a thriving music scene and some great eateries.
When you’re out and about do gay guys try it on?
Haha! Not really – I love meeting people so if someone wants to say hi or have a quick photo then I’m always happy to.
How do you think LGBT rights have changed over the years?
I think about this a lot. For me growing up the homophobia I experienced was casual – it was a societal norm to refer to things in a negative manner as being ‘gay’. There was lots of name calling. My recollection of the only visible gay representation in mainstream media was camp comedy and I didn’t really identify with any of them. Having said all of that – it was also quite easy to adapt, I could avoid the bullies at school, avoid the namecallers and kind of live in a bit of a bubble with my friends. The difference now is that we have made huge progress in terms of changing that perception of what it is to be gay. Workplace discrimination and generalised homophobia is no longer tolerated in many parts and with advances such as equal rights for marriage – I think we’ve made huge progress.
But we’re pretty lucky in the UK, right?
I do worry about how access to media might affect our closeted LGBT+ youth. The headlines these days have been so horrific, worldwide and on our own soil and those headlines are everywhere – you only have to open your phone to see awful reports of homophobic abuse and even death. Whilst it’s paramount these atrocities get reported, I can also empathise how a young mind might repeatedly read these headlines and start to question whether that therefore means there is something wrong with them. My message to our LGBT+ youth would be that despite the bigots and horrific stories of hatred, there is a stronger community from within our own and our allies that is full of love and support and ready to welcome them, when they are ready, with open arms.
Do you think there is still some way to go?
I think really until every single person around the world can live as their true selves, feel safe and protected by equal rights then we must never become complacent at how far we have come and instead keep focusing on where we still need to work.
Remind us about your coming out story?
I came out quite late, maybe 24 or 25. It was a very difficult time for me, for lots of reasons – but I suppose I had always known it was there in the background. I think one major issue we have in society is that everyone tries to pigeonhole everyone else – we categorise each other as straight or gay and then there is some sort of disbelief that being bi even exists. And so for me, it felt quite monumental that I was taking control of where I would like other people to place me and to stop hiding myself to fall in line with what they expected me to be.
So you’re not a fan of labels then.
We need to break down this obsession we have with flagging people’s sexuality and making it a badge to wear. Sexuality is a spectrum of feelings and that’s perfectly okay to allow some fluidity – of course the vast majority of people can identify quite strongly where they are on that scale, but if you’re somewhere in the middle then that’s also totally ok.
You make it sound like coming out was tough for you?
It was hard at the time, but now when I look back – it was also the strongest, most poignant time of my life that I don’t regret in any measure whatsoever. I used to be the guy that hated being gay, I would have done anything to hit the ‘restart’ button and start all over but that completely changed once I’d found the love of my life (and started to have love for myself again). I now actually wouldn’t change it for the world. Being gay and being openly proud about it has taken some time but it has also taken me on an incredible journey of self discovery. I really honestly and truly know who I am now and feel very comfortable in my own skin. I look at the world and think there’s nothing I can’t cope with, go through or achieve now and that creates a huge feeling of liberation
What advice would you give guys and girls planning to coming out?
Take your time, don’t feel pressured to make any choices or announcements you’re not entirely comfortable with in yourself. If coming out to everyone all at once seems too daunting then try initially talking with your closest friends or family – once you’ve told a few people and the weight starts to lift from your shoulders it becomes easier and easier. It’s like you’re the team captain and you’re picking your squad – start with your key players and work out from there! But whatever happens – the key is to talk, even if it start with that is a confidential helpline. Don’t bottle it up, be proud of who you are. Coming out can be a really positive experience. I’ve never met anyone from the LGBT+ community that regrets coming out.
Have you experienced any homophobia – it sadly seems to be on the rise?
I was called the ‘f’ word at a festival – we weren’t showing any outward sign of affection but the rain suddenly poured and two heterosexual couples, in their 60’s ish opened their umbrellas. The wives offered us to shelter under theirs and as we got chatting, we explained we were together. The mood took a strange dive whereby one of the men overheard and told us we’d better step out as there wasn’t any room for ‘f’s’ under the umbrella.
I should have probably been more mature but I threw him some strong words back, looked at the wife (who had been lovely up to this point) thanked her, looked her square in the face and told her she deserved to have married someone so much better. It was a bit of a low blow on my behalf to stoop to their level but I think it did the trick, I could see how ashamed she was of his behaviour.
Have you had any of your younger fans get in touch with you about their coming out stories?
I get some really heartfelt messages from our younger viewers about how they are coming to terms with their sexuality, or getting bullied for it which is really quite difficult to read. I had one guy in his late teens asking for advice on how to get into vet school (the veterinary course is still massively oversubscribed so competition for places is rife) and that was an opener to then go on and talk about how he was struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and wanted to know whether the veterinary industry is supportive and inclusive (which it very much is – we have an LGBT+ association that marches each year at London Pride and as a profession I have always found it very supportive)
I also receive some incredible messages on Instagram from guys of all ages and some women saying my story has inspired them to start the process of coming out. From all backgrounds – I’ve had messages from married guys, closeted university students, guys from minority ethnic backgrounds whereby culturally being gay it is not accepted. I often feel quite ill-equipped to be offering out advice – but I’m humbled and honoured that these people would message me if I have inspired then to become their true selves.
You did a GuysLikeU story a while back – what reaction did you have after that? Did you feel liberated by it?
I had a fantastic reaction – I got so many messages from other guys saying how they massively identified with it. I was quite open about my gritty road to coming out being quite a bumpy ride and for many out there it seems they shared a similar path. It’s easy to look at Instagram or You Tube, see the ‘perfect’ lives of others and think how easy it must be to come out these days, but for many it is still so absolutely daunting and the real life situation is that there is still a massive issue with LGBT+ youth being kicked out, rising homophobic attacks, rising LGBT+ homelessness so actually we still have a long way to go.
There was a documentary about gay pets recently – is it true animals be gay?
YES! 100 % and it’s totally recognised scientifically. A lot of birds are gay – especially geese. Growing up I kept ducks and chickens in my back garden but in one of my books about keeping ducks it made reference that male geese would sometimes form same sex pairs. I can’t have been more than maybe 10 or 11 but I read that little section about a goose being gay over and over again! I hope for our youth today we have stronger role models than a gay goose – but I don’t mind admitting that goose was my absolute hero!!
Now let’s get serious…. there have been lots of reports of deaths linked to stabbings in the UK over the last year or so. A lot of it is has been blamed on kids not having enough things to do. What’s your take on that?
Disillusionment is toxic. If kids have no hope, no vision, no expectation, no feeling that they could achieve their dreams then it will breed anger and frustration. Everyone needs to feel something to give them a kick and a reason for being and if that’s not coming from something purposeful then it will come from somewhere else – drugs, violence, crime.
Our political leaders don’t seem to have a grasp on what’s going on, do they?
The political world is in turmoil. Our leaders from all sides are acting like children and we are left in a situation where we don’t know who or what to believe anymore plus we are hurtling towards a climate emergency.
It’s kind of easy to see how kids of today might feel pretty lousy about the world we have created for them. What would I say to give them hope? I’d say don’t take the easy path of falling into that place of anger and frustration – instead be the change you want to see and lead by example.
Do you think young people have less options than you had growing up?
I believe – or perhaps want to believe – that there is a kind of ‘mass awakening’ happening – we are no longer living under the pressure of ‘social norms’ and instead people are choosing to re write their own rule books. We are so much more aware of topics such as mental health, climate, gender identity, animal rights – these things are taken so much more seriously and I think people are wanting to live more holistic, less damaging lifestyles in more and more diverse societies. So in some aspects, I think the youth of today have so many more options to be whoever they want to be, live however they want to live and do whatever they want to do.
But their life is tough for people..,
Making money is harder than ever, progressing to owning houses is becoming more and more difficult and to gain an education through university can equate to huge financial debt. So it’s hard to know whether they have it easier or harder than the generations before them. But one thing is for sure – they are the ones who own tomorrow! The future is theirs. I don’t think get enough credit and get branded ‘milennials’ and ‘snowflakes’, but I think with the rise of activists like climate activist Greta Thunberg we are starting to see the real potential of today’s youth.
What advice would you give your 16 year old self?
To stop changing myself to make other people happy. Be yourself. Be true to your own beliefs, feel proud in who you are and never stop having fun! And never be without a dog!
The new series of The Pets Factor is available on iPlayer.