First Dates hunk Jack Leonard tells GuysLikeU what happened with Joe after the cameras stopped rolling and shares his coming out story….
Over the years, First Dates has served up some rather lovely gay guys looking for love that thirsty viewers have crushed hard on. Remember cute Damian Friel, the cute northern Irish guy living with Tourettes? Or scrummy Xanthi Toupoyannis, the ridiculously handsome Media Business Director who tickled our fancies. And let’s not forget the divine Linford Martin, Xanthi’s delish date on the night, whose dashing good looks and admirably strong views had us at hello.
But a couple of weeks ago, our favourite telly dating show introduced us to the rather swoonsome Jack Leonard and the cute-as-a-button Joseph Parsons, who turned out to be two of the most adorable fellas we’d seen on the box in yonks.
As their date developed and they shared stories of past relationships and their love of football, we fell for them hook, line and sinker and crossed our fingers that Cupid’s arrow would hit the right spot. And from the look of it, it did – yay! – as the two foxy fellas ended the date with a cheeky smooch outside the restaurant and even met up again after the date.
Keen to found out more, we tracked down South London based Jack, 28 – who’s about to qualify as a special needs teacher – to see how things progressed with Joe after the show and to discover more about the love lorn chap we all fell in love with.
So first up, Jack, what happened with you and Joe after the show?
Well, we went on a few more dates and also met up again recently! We did not end up together but we are both so grateful to have shared the experience with each other! We’re still in contact and have been messaging loads leading up to and after the show being aired. The reaction has been pretty special, me and Joe have received a lot of messages from guys who say they could really relate to our stories and say they felt represented, we’re talking really revealing, heartfelt messages which is incredible and not something I expected. I’ve made an effort to reply to those kind of messages as I appreciate the balls it may take for some of these guys to reach out. I didn’t go on the show to blaze a trail or break a stereotype, I did it because I thought it would make a good anecdote and my Mum loves the show, but I’m really pleased that people have reacted in this way. Also, one guy did tweet that he would like to watch Joe and I f*ck, which was utterly charming and we have made arrangements. (That’s a joke.)
Take us back…. When did you first realise that you were gay?
With the benefit of hindsight there were indicators there from an early age. I saw a film on the Disney Channel where a boy was taken out of his Native Indian tribe and went to live in the suburbs, I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called but I remember around 10 or 11 being really intrigued by this character, more so than just a typical passing interest. Going into my teens I always felt a a bit of an affinity to outgoing, gregarious guys. I went to a drama club and I remember a lad who was a couple of years older than me there who was really talented and charismatic and I felt a real desire to be his friend and be around him. Looking back now I know I was attracted to this guy, but at the time I wasn’t sure if this was just a common thing that all teens felt. Sharing experiences with gay friends since it seems this strand of not knowing if these feelings are usual and standard or whether they are definite indicators of being gay is a common theme. As I said on the show, the real concrete realisation for me came a lot later, when I was into my twenties and had a string of unsuccessful relationships with some brilliant women. I was aware enough to know that the issue wasn’t with them at all, but with me, and I needed to take stock and address why.
What was it that made you want to keep it secret – who were you trying to keep in the dark most and why?
It’s a tricky one this. I wasn’t actively trying to keep it a ‘secret’ per se from anyone. I’m blessed with amazing family and friends who I knew deep down wouldn’t mind either way. It was more a case of coming to terms with it myself, and that took me a while longer than is probably typical.
Was being gay something you wanted to change about yourself?
No, never. Once I had come to terms with it I never looked back. Life has been great the last few years and coming out has definitely been a contributing factor to that, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
You mentioned on the show that you used to date girls even though you knew you were gay. Were you trying to convince yourself that you weren’t gay or were you just trying to keep people off the scent?
Its definitely more a case of trying to convince myself. I fell into a pattern of telling myself ‘but wait, what if you’re not gay? What if you just haven’t found the right girl?’ It was prolonging the inevitable for sure, and towards the end of that part of my life I finally came to accept that the right ‘girl’ wasn’t going to be a girl at all. What’s lovely is that I’ve been able to stay on good-terms with them all and even received messages of support from some after the show went out which was a really classy, comforting touch from them.
You also said keeping it to yourself made you angry to people around you.
I was a bit of an arsehole, just very irritable and snappy. By nature I’m quite highly-strung anyway, but sitting on and suppressing something so integral to my identity just made me ten times worse. I could be very cutting and in arguments would always get too personal and take things too far. I went to drama school where the idea of our outward behaviour being a result of our inward feelings and anxieties was thrown into sharp focus, I related to that and started to analyse what was making me behave in the way I was. You know how that guy from The Jinx, and also Kimmy Schmidt both burp involuntarily; it’s a sign of keeping bad stuff inside and the body trying to get it out one way or the other. Well I was very similar to that, but instead of burping I’d just be really cutting and snide to people. Since coming out that aspect of my personality has thankfully subsided. I do still burp though.
What made you eventually come out?
As trite as this sounds it was a dream! At this point I had actually just met an amazing guy – the first time I had had a proper romantic relationship with another man – I wanted to scream it from the rooftop. I had a million thoughts flying around my head about how to approach coming out. Then I had a really vivid dream- I won’t go into too much detail as there’s nothing more boring than hearing someone explain their dream – which ended with me telling my mum I ‘had something to tell her’ and her just saying ‘It’s ok’. I woke up, grabbed my phone and called her straight away. I then immediately told my best mate, and then over the next week or so spoke to the rest of my family.
Did you have good reactions?
I’m very lucky to have wonderful, open-minded friends and family. They all took it brilliantly and were and continue to be completely behind me. I think they all had their suspicions and there is a running-joke in the family that I was actually the last one to know for sure!
Did you throw yourself into the lifestyle
Not really! I tended to go out in the same places and do the same things. Joining an LGBT football team meant I’d visit gay bars and clubs more often, but I never really made a conscious effort to jump head-first into the scene. I just go where my mates are. Also, having a boyfriend at the time of coming out meant I didn’t have the experience of going straight into gay dating, I have obviously had those experiences since though.
Do you find it easy to get guys?
I’m not sure about the term ‘get guys’- it’s like they don’t have a choice in the matter, like I’m throwing a sack over their heads and bundling them into a transit! I’m fairly confident so don’t find it hard to meet guys in a club or whatever- I’d happily chat to anyone.
You’re a handsome guy… do you have beat guys off with shitty stick?
Thank you! I do get approached fairly often but nothing out of the ordinary I don’t think, and I also do my fair share of approaching. All my relationships with guys have been very rewarding. I’m lucky in that respect. I had a partner when I came out who opened up my eyes to what it was to be a gay guy. He took me under his wing in that respect which was really great, and made what could have been a mad experience very chilled! And I have had great relationships since. And I have also been pied a fair few times as well, and blanked by guys I really liked, but it’s just the way it goes isn’t it!
Were you always confident about the way you looked?
I’ve never had any major hang ups about how I look, people can be complimentary but I try not to take stock of all that. Really it’s all opinion at the end of the day. Watching the show I was a bit surprised with how my face looks in profile, but aside from getting a new head there’s not much I can do about that so I won’t get too hung up on it.
So just so we know, what kind of guys do you go for?
I’ve stopped trying to answer this question as when I look back at my relationship history each man has been completely different from the last. The common strand that connects them all though is sense of humour. I put huge value on that; they need to make me laugh and also take the piss out of me if I’m going off on some flight-of-fancy. Intelligence is key as well, they need to have something to say and know how to say it. And they’ve got to be nice to waiting staff.