Musical theatre performer Luke Suri opens up about coming out, heartbreak and life on the open seas!
Isn’t it funny how two small words can cause us so much angst? Take a moment and say them out loud: ‘I’m gay!’
Go on, louder! ‘I’m GAY!’
For those of us already out and proud, those words are merely a joyful affirmation of our great lives. But when we’re still stuck in the closet and oh-so-desperate to inform our nearest and dearest that we prefer boys to girls, finding the courage to say those two little words can totally stress us out.
Why? Who knows? It just does, right?
Meet Luke Suri, a 26-year old Yorkshire based singer who normally lives the high life on cruise ships around the world. Although he knew he was gay from an early age, the handsome lad kept his pesky penchant for peen to himself so that he could continue to fit in with his friends, family and neighbours. However, once he was off working away, surrounded by all-singing-all-dancing like-minded folks, his mindset changed and he was able to happily enjoy his big gay life. However, when he returned home one Christmas, Luke was faced with the dilemma of whether or not he should tell his mum and step-dad about his secret life.
Here, in an open and honest interview, Luke opens up about how he finally told his mother that he liked guys, how he dealt with severe heartbreak and how the current pandemic situation has helped him discover some important things he didn’t know about himself.
First of all tell us about your family?
I grew up in a split family. My parents were divorced when I was 18 months old, and trust me, knowing my parents as I know them now the divorce was most probably the most sensible thing they ever did. My dad ran pubs and mum had an office job, so me and my older brother would spend a week with mum and a week with dad. There was such a contrast between the households. Living in the pub was very social but also very independent. We entertained ourselves and did a lot growing up, and because dad worked most evenings we didn’t really have that family bond you get in a nine to five household. At mum’s, we lived a very different life style. We would all eat dinner together at the table, watch TV together and pretty much have that “glorified Hollywood Movie” family life.
What were you like as a child?
I was definitely a very confident child. I would talk to anyone about anything. You just couldn’t shut me up. But I also had a very sensitive side. I never liked being shouted at and I hated confrontation.
Sounds like you had two healthy but different family set ups.
At the age of 10 my Dad told me he was going to move to Sri Lanka with my step mum and sister and I had to decide whether I wanted to stay in England with my mum or move over 5000 miles away to Sri Lanka. For a 10 year old boy that was (and most probably still is) the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life. Before this big decision the only thing I every really stressed about was what colour crayon I was going to use to colour something in with. Then all of a sudden I had to choose where I was going to live, grow up, be educated and as awful as it sounds which parent I wanted to be with most at the time.
What did you do?
I decided to move to Sri Lanka with my dad and we moved out there in the October of 2004, leaving my brother with mum.
Wow, big decision.
Looking back on it, I think one of the reasons I moved to Sri Lanka with my dad was to see what that family dynamic would be like when working in a pub was taken away. Turns out it wasn’t much different. I suppose you can’t teach an old dog new tricks after all. Both of my parents – and their now respective partners – have been very supportive of everything I do. I guess it’s every person’s dream to hear their parents say they are proud of them, and I’m lucky enough to hear them say it a lot.
What made you suspect you were a chap who liked fellas?
I think I knew I was ‘different’ from an early age. In primary school I hung around with the girls – in fact all my friends were girls. I was always interested in singing and dancing and sport never appealed to me at all. I was the kid that would hate playing rounders in PE. I would rather just skip around the field all day singing away to myself. I wish I could tell you that I woke up on the 24th of April 2006 and saw a naked man and thought ‘WOW this is what I want’ but I can’t. I don’t think I ever realised I was gay – because deep down I always knew.
Were you ever resistant to being gay?
Let’s put it this way, in my hearts of hearts, I knew I was gay. I just knew. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to understand what being gay really meant and how I was going to act on it. However when I had just come out at 19 if anyone asked me; ‘did I always know?’ I would have lied through my teeth and said ‘No’.
Why is that?
Well, I wasn’t ashamed, I just wanted to protect people, people who had stuck up for me for years, and to protect some ex girlfriends and their feelings.
Yes, I had girlfriends up until I was 18. In Sri Lanka, kids remain kids until they leave school, having girlfriends/boyfriends was frowned upon until you had finished your education. But that didn’t stop me from getting one of the most popular girls in the school! I was with her for just over a year before I moved back to England.
What happened when you came home?
When I came ‘home’ I struggled to fit in to the British teenage way of life a little – I had to get a weekend job, I drank alcohol with friends at a house party on a Friday night, and I tried to get into pubs at the age of sixteen. It was a real culture shock – just as it had been when I moved to Sri Lanka. It was all new and exciting, but I felt like I was living in the shadow of my older popular brother who had stayed in England the entire time. I felt like I needed to try and fit in, so there were a few other women in my life for a while. And yes, although I’m not one to kiss and tell, I’m also not shy to bang and brag so…..Yes, boys, I did the deed with those girls so I am not a GOLD STAR GAY. But all the time deep down I always knew I liked guys.
Do you think you were worried about your folks?
My family wouldn’t have cared if I liked boys, girls, fruits or flowers and I was lucky enough to be apart of a few amateur dramatic societies when I was younger so was around kids that were going through what I was going through. It was a bit of a safe haven – even though none of us every actually mentioned it or spoke about it. But coming out is still scary until you do it, right?
Yes indeed. Which is why we at GuysLikeU continue to share coming out stories. Who was the person you were most worried to tell and why?
I was really worried to tell my best friend. She had stuck up for me on so many occasions when people thought I was gay and I was worried that when I told her she would be disappointed that I let her defend me on numerous occasions, knowing all along the occasional slurs or comments people made were actually true.
So how did she take it?
She told me that she had always known – apparently fighting with her over the prettiest dress for dress-up when I was five was a big indicator! But she told me that she had defended me because she had been waiting for me to open about the entire situation.
Awww, that’s lovely. Who was the first person you told and how did they react?
If I’m honest, it wasn’t traumatic or difficult. I knew I liked boys from primary school and that I was a little different to the other boys. I stayed quiet because I wanted to fit in. It wasn’t until I moved away at 18 to work on a performance contract that I was able to reinvent myself and be the guy I wanted to be. It was easier because nobody knew me. But I still messed that up, claiming I was bisexual even though I knew I wasn’t ! I was gay simple as that.
A lot of gay guys do that!
Finally it all came out to the people I was working with and I felt normal! I felt a weight off my shoulders. But I still had family and friends back home to tell. I kept it all quiet, until I went home for Christmas 2012, when I had just turned 19. I remember sat in the car at the Co-Op with my stepdad, and was feeling a little upset about something that had happened with a boy while I was away. ‘Girl trouble?’ he asked me. ‘Not quite’ I replied, avoiding eye-contact with him. ‘Boy trouble?’ he then said. I looked up and nodded. He wasn’t stupid, I think he had known ever since he came into the family but chose to turn a blind eye to it.
Wow! That’s so cute.
Then he said, ‘Do you want me to tell your mum or……..’ I told him I preferred to do it and that night we went to the pub. Eventually I turned to my mum and said that I had something to tell her, but for some reason I just couldn’t get the words out. She looked at me and said: ‘Luke, if you going to tell me you’re gay, I’ve known ever since you were about five playing dress up and wanted to go to ballet.’ I remember grinning from ear to ear and giving her the biggest hug. And that was it, no mention of it ever again! But I know she’s proud of who I am. And so am I!
That’s just so lovely. We have tears in our eyes. Some young people dealing with their sexuality tend to suffer from mental health issues. Did you?
For most of my childhood I was very happy person. I never really felt any stress about being gay before I came out to after, for that matter. I do feel my mental health has become more of an issue in the past few years but I don’t feel that has anything to do with being gay.
What’s causing you issues?
It’s more the stress of general life that gets to me. I’m 26 years old, I have a great job, but have no roots laid down at home. I make new friends every ten months and then the previous cast members dwindle into you acquaintance pile. You come back home from a contract to find that your ‘home friends’ are in relationships, married or even have kids. I come home to living in my parents’ attic room just waiting to go away again. I do feel like this is something I really need to work on – you know, being happier when I’m home – but maybe that will come from having my own place and experiencing the freedom I get while working on a ship at home. It’s a lonely job in some aspects and after eight years of travelling the world and meeting so many different people think it gets to you.
When you were properly out did you throw yourself into the scene. Was it as you expected?
Not at all! I was actually quite reserved when I came out at 19. I don’t think I stepped into a gay bar until I was 21. Since then I have only been to a few. I once went to GAY in London and I hated the atmosphere. I felt like an utter piece of meat. I didn’t find it friendly. If anything, it was quite daunting. I was only young, so maybe I would enjoy It now a bit more. I have never been to a Pride event either! I know places such as Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester throw great pride celebrations but I have never been, something I would love to do in the near future if im not travelling the world.
Did you ever feel like you didn’t belong?
I don’t necessarily feel that I don’t belong in the gay scene. I just feel some aspects of it are not for me. But the community is welcoming and supportive, because we have to be. We went so long without being accepted but so many people, we would be absolute hypocrites if we didn’t accept somebody into our community because they don’t dress the same or look after their eyebrows as much as someone else. I could compare some of the things I don’t like about the gay scene and completely mirror it to things I don’t like about the straight scene. It is all down to personal preference.
Has looking for love been a priority for you?
This is actually something I’m dealing with at the moment – I don’t know whether its a mid 20’s meltdown kinda thing, but I worry about being single for the rest of my life because I am so career driven. You see, I want to achieve my ambitions – that is the main focus for me. I don’t really like the term ‘looking for love’. If you ever go looking for love you’ll never find it. Your entire life will be like a living Tinder hell, you’ll be so desperate to find someone, you will talk to them for a few days and then BAM! you’re left on ‘READ’. But sometimes along the way certain people pop into your life, but you both need to be on the same page. I’ve been in a few relationships where looking back I can clearly see we were at different stages of our lives. The right person will come along when you’re ready. As a single man I sometimes might be on the lookout for a little bit of fun but but have learnt to be careful having feelings and getting too involved because that’s when you get hurt. Trust me.
What kind of boyfriend are you?
I can be an absolute nightmare! I’m needy, not confident and need constant validation and affection. I will message you every single morning with a morning text and you will get a goodnight text every night too, but I expect it in return.
I need to be shown that I’m loved as much as I love. Yes, it can be quite overwhelming, but I think it’s a confidence thing for me. I’ve been in relationships in the past where it’s been more one sided and it hurts. I’m beginning to learn that people love in different ways, some people don’t feel the need to be so affectionate all the time. However I’d like to think I’m loyal, if it’s you, it’s only you. Honesty is something that I like to pride myself on. If you piss me off – I’ll tell you and I expect that honesty and loyalty back in return.
What do you look for in a guy?
Well, I have to be attracted to them, so looks are important for me. However, everyone’s concept of beauty is different. I know what I find attractive and it may be completely different to someone else. Personality is a huge thing for me. It’s ok to be good looking but if you’re about as fun as beige wallpaper there is no point. I look for someone I can connect with, someone who is independent enough to make their own decisions for them and us as a couple and someone who isn’t going to hurt me.
Do you believe in monogamy? Do you think gay men – humans actually – are capable of sticking to one person at a time?
I have spoken to a few of my friends about this, all who have different opinions on this. For me, if you are committing to a relationship with a person, it should be that person and that person only. I don’t know whether that comes down to some of my past choices in men who played with my emotions or because it’s a self confidence thing for me and feeling scared that a partner of mine might find someone else more attractive. Of course humans are capable of sticking to one person at a time. If you really love them and are genuinely happy in your relationship you wouldn’t think of being with someone else. As Johnny Depp once said ‘if you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.’
Have you had many meaningful relationships?
I was with a partner for just shy of three years. I thought he was the one, and to be honest he was amazing. However my career was just taking off and being away from him was hard for the both of us, and one day I said to him that things didn’t feel the same anymore. It was a civil break up and the time we spent together will always be meaningful.
Have you had any destructive relationships?
I was seeing a guy on one of my contracts and although the relationship itself wasn’t destructive the break up broke me. I’d known him for about a year or so and what started out as a bit of fun to keep us both entertained on the ship turned into something else. We were at each other’s side constantly for six months while we were on the ship. It sounds weird, but six months on a ship is like a year on land. You eat, sleep, work, socialise with the same people day in and day out, so when you find someone special they cling on to your heart a lot quicker because there is no escape).
So like Love Island then.
Exactly. He was everything I looked for in a guy and after the contract we tried to keep it going but we were in completely different stages of our lives. He was exactly how I was when I broke up with my partner of three years. This break up killed me because nobody did anything wrong. But what hurt me the most was the feeling that he wasn’t as bothered as I was about the entire situation. Maybe I overthink things a lot and always look on the negatives, but I just didn’t understand why I cried myself to sleep every night and he just got on with his life so easily. I’d never really been the emotional type but when I hit 25 things started to get to me a little bit and I’m slowly working on the ‘subtle art of not giving a fuck’.
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Do you think we search people out who we think will make us better people?
Yea I agree. Why would you want to be with someone who makes you a bad person? I personally think there is only so much we can learn about our selves. Having people in our lives that are going to better us is going to help us to grow as people. I recently met a friend who had a very positive outlook on life despite he himself going through a bit of a shit time. He taught me that I really need to find happiness in myself. I sometimes feel my outlook on my personal life can be quite negative. I’m always putting myself down at the moment, I shudder at compliments and if you think I look nice I will most probably think you are being sarcastic. The way that he talks to me and tells me to look at the positives of my life and physical appearance is making me feel better me in the long run. I think I always walk away from most people learning something new about myself – sometimes good, sometimes bad.
You’re a handsome chap, do you think your looks have opened doors for you? Or do you feel like some men have treated you like a slab of meat?
Aw, thank you. I don’t think my looks have opened any doors for me at all. I do think my personality has though. I went to an audition about two years ago and the casting director came up to me afterwards and said that I was ‘very likeable’ which I feel is such a great thing to hear. Do men treat me like a slab of meat? Absolutely not. Men treat me like a reduced lettuce at Aldi! Ha! I always feel like someone’s second option. I’m like the side kick of the hero, and that is something that im working on about myself at the moment. If I feel like I’m someone’s second choice they clearly aren’t worth it.
Aww, don’t say that. Have you always been happy about the way you look?
Oh gosh, no not at all, and I don’t think I’ll ever be 100 percent happy. In the industry I’m in, looking a certain way is essential and I never feel like I’m big enough, muscley enough or even tall enough. I have problematic skin – I always get giant spots on my face. I know I have an overbite on my teeth, my hair is big and bushy if I don’t put enough product in it to tame the beast. I do feel a lot of pressure to look a certain way, especially with the advances in social media.
You sound so hard in yourself.
I see some of the most beautiful people on instagram and Tik Tok and anyone reading this you tell me that you’ve never looked at picture and thought, ‘oh I wish I had teeth like that’ or ‘wow I wish my nipples were straight and not wonky’. But that’s the beauty of social media. It can either be used as tool of motivation or get you down. I’ve recently started working out a lot more and I’m beginning to feel better in my skin, but I have to sometimes question who I’m doing it for. Is it for me or is it for the aesthetics that someone will one day look at me and think, ‘That man is definitely not a reduced lettuce in Aldi’.
Do you think gay men are too obsessed with the body beautiful?
Absolutely! Gay men, women and even some straight men are obsessed with a beautiful body. However let me once again clarify that I do believe everyones metric of beauty is completely variable.
A lot of gay men use Instagram as a way of boosting their self-esteem – do you have a healthy relationship with social media?
I don’t really think I have the best relationship with social media. It’s a very competitive virtual world. I do look at the number of likes I have on a picture or how many views my videos have on YouTube. Being a self employed performer social media is part of my job. I use it to brand myself. Somedays I hate how it makes me feel and somedays I love it. But the obsession with how many likes or views a post gets is a negative.
But is it all bad?
However, looking at it from another angle, I wasn’t the best looking teenager with my bushy hair, spotty skin and one big eyebrow. So when I came out of the closet and ‘found my wings ‘, I think I was more inclined to use social media as a means of boosting self-esteem because I used to look like the lovechild of Postman Pat and Aladdin. Social media allows us to share with the world pictures that we think we look good in and that is a positive for me too look at a picture I’ve taken and think I look nice enough in this snap to share with the world.
What do you like about your body?
Aghhh, the dreaded question! I’m beginning to appreciate the general aesthetic of my body now that I’ve finally pulled my finger out and got into a decent routine of working out. I’m actually also loving being blonde at the moment. My quarantine side project was either going blonde or trying to avoid a 2007 Britney melt down and shaving it all off! I like my teeth too. I am very lucky to have some natural pearly whites!
Tell us about your job on a cruise?
So I’ve worked at sea for nearly five years now. I am a production cast singer in the shows onboard. Some of the shows really are West End quality. I currently work for Norwegian Cruise Lines who have the theatrical rights for musicals such as SIX, Jersey boys, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and many more. So I get to work with some quality material. Along side all that, I also get to travel to so many countries and when the ship docks and the guests get off so do we! I am living the dream!
What’s life like on the open sea?
I love it! It really is a lifestyle. You work hard but also get to play hard. My typical sea day starts usually with a rehearsal in the morning for the evening show. We will do a full tech run of the show with mics, sound and the band. Then after that lunch, an afternoon nap I try to squeeze the gym in before two shows in the evening. When the ship docks in port we all usually get off and go to the beach or explore the city we are in.
And the guys you’re with must be like family.
Yes, they are my motivation, a shoulder to cry on and there for me whenever I need them at any point. One thing I struggle with coming home is that those friendships dwindle when you leave. You go from having someone at your side constantly for ten months and you come back to your life on land. The messages slow down, people become busy with other projects and that’s really hard for me because after eight years of constantly being away my home life has changed so much. I don’t really have many friends at home as I had before because they have moved on with their lives and many of them have married or have children so I find coming home lonely and when the friendships you’ve been so accustomed to start to dry up.
You heard about the Covid19 lockdown while you were sailing. What was your reaction?
I was sailing the Caribbean in January when the news of COVID 19 broke, and in a way for some reason, when you’re on a ship you feel invincible. I’ve sailed through hurricanes and storms and always felt safe, so when the news of the spreading of the virus, I never thought it would affect me in this way. I didn’t think it would take my job, my career, my life. I thought it would have been like the Ebola outbreak – I thought it would be controlled quickly and we would rarely hear of it again – how wrong was I?
How did the idea of lockdown effect you?
I was actually in the air when I heard that the UK was going into the lockdown. NCL had managed to get flights for some of the crew so I was on my way back to Manchester when Boris made the announcement. I was actually really shocked to see the lack of screening and virus prevention when I landed at Heathrow and Manchester.
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Were there any cases on the ship? Was their general panic. Did the way people treated each other suddenly change.
It was Friday the 13th of March, onboard the Norwegian Sun. The new guests had just boarded the vessel for their five day round trip to Mexico when the announcement came through from the captain telling all guests that the sailing wouldn’t be going ahead due to port restrictions because of the virus. All the cruisers who had joined that day left the ship no more than two hours after joining. The ship was then left without any guests and just crew. Surprisingly we didn’t have an cases on the ship. There wasn’t any panic at all, we were well informed by our managers of the situation. We were then told that the casts would be flying home as soon as they could get flights for us. We waited about four days and still hadn’t heard anything, until one night the entire crew was told to return to their cabins, collect their belongs because the next day we would be transferring to another ship. The next day we were transferred to the Norwegian Epic where we waited for three days until our flights came though. Nobody acted any differently at all. We just all had a lot more free time on our hands.
What a palaver! How did you feel about it? Scared? Relaxed?
It didn’t really bother me, because we in theory were already quarantined. Nobody was getting off the ship and nobody was coming on. So we had no risk of coming into contact with the virus, unless it was already on the ship – but nobody had showed any signs or symptoms. I wanted to stay on the ship and not go home. I mean, I was fed three times a day, the crew bar was open and the gym was available. It was practically a holiday. I was actually a bit gutted when my flights came through because I knew what I was coming home to. No pubs, gyms or Nandos. Oh and the weather was stunning so I could catch up on the ole tanning sessions.
Being a creative you must be frustrated couped up the way you are. What are you doing to keep busy?
I really am struggling. I’m such an active and social person that I have struggled a little bit during lockdown. However I have been able to use this time to focus on myself for a change, something that I’ve never really had time to do. I am an avid over-thinker and therefore when I have so much extra time on my hands I get myself into a self causing downward spiral. This time I’ve got to spend with myself I’m beginning to deal with some of these issues that I’ve never really had time to look at before.
How are you trying to deal with this?
I make sure that I set a routine for myself every day. My alarm goes off at 8:30 every morning, have breakfast, work out, work on something creative, downtime and maybe try to learn something new. I’ve actually just enrolled in a free open University course and creative writing.
We’re also love your covers on YouTube. The Dance Monkey mash up is ace!
I’m super proud of doing them. It is something that I’ve always wanted to do but again never had time to so being able to record this song, work on the editing and recording the video is something that has really kept me busy over the past few weeks. And it is so great to still be able to be so creative from the comfort of my own home. Trust me I am ready to get back on the stage at any point.
Has this experience been a scary time – so many people are losing their lives.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking, and yes it is scary. Never in our lifetime would we think we will go through a pandemic like this. The entire world has stopped. And to be honest I don’t think it will ever go back to the way it was. There will be a ‘new normal’.
What have you learnt about yourself during this time?
This is a really good question. Like I said with so much free time on my hands I’m still learning so much about myself every day. One thing is that I really don’t like to be alone. My lifestyle is full of so many different people that when a job ends and we go our separate ways I do find it unbelievably lonely. All my life I have run away from my problems, I run away from confrontation, because I feel it’s easier to start afresh. But starting afresh every ten months isn’t healthy, especially knowing that after those 40 weeks I’m back at square one. So this time I’m trying to retain those connections I’ve made with people. it does work both ways but only I can control my side.
That’s great introspection.
I also have learnt that I have a lot of motivation that I didn’t realise I had. I’ve been so motivated every day to get up and do something creative and do something beneficial to my body, my health, my mind, and I hope this stays with me after lockdown ends. I should always be able to make time for myself because I’ve realised I put too much time into other people for little in return.
Finally, what would you say to your 12 year old self about the future?
If I could go back in time I would let my 12-year-old self know that 2020 is going to be a complete write-off, so don’t plan anything for that year. I will tell myself to carry on dreaming about becoming a singer because one day it’s going to work out for you. I would also give little Luke a list of boys names to avoid and tell him ‘when you meet these people, smile, wave but for God’s sake boy keep it in your pants – because the heart break isn’t worth it!’ I might also tell myself to look into shaping my eyebrows at an earlier age.