In a frank interview radio presenter Matt Crabb looks back at the darkest times in his life and celebrates how far he has come.
We’re all familiar with that hackneyed old phrase ‘you have a face for radio’ when we josh about someone not exactly blessed with looks, but if there is one person that that rather mean comment does not apply to is actual radio presenter Matt Crabb. Just look at him! Handsome, isn’t he, the lucky blighter.
And yet while many of us may superficially believe that just because he’s a good looking fella he’s had it easy, think again. Matt’s life has – to use another irritatingly over-used phrase – been something of a rollercoaster ride that has seen him scale amazing highs and plunge to deep dark depths. Here, in an astonishingly frank interview, Matt, 27, opens up about his difficult childhood, how a broken heart and a destructive lifestyle led to him to think life wasn’t worth living and reveals how he managed to turn his life around and is now in a happier place.
First of all, Matt, tell us was life was like for you growing up?
My parents split up when I was very young. For a few years I lived with my mum but when I was 10, I moved in with my dad. My mum had a drinking problem and she couldn’t look after me or my sister anymore. It was tough, my mum loved us very much but she was battling her own demons. My grandparents looked after me a lot – they were Christians who had a very traditional way of life. My dad was and still is pretty old school, he managed a football team, worked in a steel factory for many years and was considered one of the lads.
It sounds as though you had a rather disruptive childhood.
Yes, you could say that. When my sister and I went to live with my dad who had just got remarried, we moved to a very small village in the middle of nowhere. Luckily I was able to stay in the same school but it meant I had to go to work with my dad at the crack of dawn each day. I didn’t have any friends in the village so when I got home from school I spent most of my time alone in my room. Dad’s new wife made it very apparent that she wasn’t happy about me or my sister being around. But as my mum got better, I started to see her more and I am happy to say that we have a great relationship now. My dad has grown with me and we speak a few times a year but I don’t speak to my stepmother anymore.
When did you realise you were gay?
I think I always knew. I remember being at junior prom and a girl called Natalie wanted to slow dance with me but I just couldn’t do it. When I got to middle school, my mates would print pictures of naked women and bring them in but I just wasn’t interested. By the time I got to year 7 (I think I was around 12), I started developing feelings for one of my classmates.
Oh dear, here we go….
I wanted to spend all my time with him. I had hit puberty so was sexually attracted to him. As time went I fancied other guys but I didn’t really know what being gay meant then.
Was being gay something you were initially unsure about?
As I said, my grandparents were very religious and my mother had a deeply homophobic boyfriend at the time who would say disgusting things about gay people he’d see on TV or mentioned in conversation. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t gay and that it was just a phase.
Who was the person you were most worried to open up to?
In all honesty, I was so scared to tell my whole family. No one else is gay in my family, and it was clear they didn’t approve. There was a storyline on Corrie about Todd and him struggling with his sexuality and my family said they thought it was disgusting that a storyline like this was allowed on TV.
So how did it go?
When I was 13, I told my teacher Mrs Robinson first. She was incredible, she said she knew and that if I needed to talk to her about anything then she would be there for me. I remember sneaking into her office and whispering it to her as I didn’t want anyone else to find out. She reassured me and made me feel like everything was going to be okay. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted.
And then you told your family…
I remember telling my dad and stepmother one day after school. I was really unhappy at the time, hiding this big secret. I even had a boyfriend on the down low, my first boyfriend and I was so happy and yet my family knew nothing about him. He would come over to mine and I would go to his, but neither of our parents knew. Eventually, enough was enough and when one day they asked me I what was wrong, I told them I was gay.
What was their reaction?
To be honest, I don’t really remember what happened after that. My dad, stepmother and sister left the house for a few hours and I called my mum to tell her. She was great and supportive. But it did change the relationship between me and my father and stepmother. It was never really mentioned and I spent a lot of time on my own. They had a child soon after and I felt like me and my sister were pushed out and made to feel like a problem. I was shouted at constantly for small things and I became very unhappy. When I was 15 I moved back in with my mum before leaving at 17.
Aside from all the disruption on your family, would you say you were a happy child?
I was. I liked to be the centre of attention (obviously) my late grandfather documented me and my sister’s life on video, which still exists today! I was very geeky. I liked trains, planes and computers. I didn’t have a huge amount of friends, a handful maybe. I was very social but not until my teens did I find a new group of friends who were more on my wavelength. When I moved out at 17, I started making gay friends and I don’t actually speak to many people from school anymore.
What was school like?
I was bullied, but for being fat rather than being was gay. When I was 10, I was 14 stone, so was a very big kid. But, to be fair, my school was great and did everything they could to protect me. I was just on the cusp of online harassment, Bebo and MySpace had just started so people would write stuff about me online. In high school, the online gay bashing started. But it was a small area, everyone knew everyone and my dad was very well known. It was almost like you didn’t pick on ‘Crabby’s boy’ which was a relief. It turned around in the last few years and the bullying stopped and I had a fair amount of friends.
Was accepting your sexuality something you found easy to do?
I felt very ashamed for a long time – I constantly tried to tell myself I wasn’t gay. It did all become too much but at that age I don’t think I knew what mental health problems were. I knew that my mum took medication to level her out but I don’t think I ever thought I would need them or see a psychiatrist.
When you were finally out did you embrace the gay scene?
Well, there wasn’t really a ‘scene’ where I lived. But when I was 17 I moved in with three other gay guys and that’s when I was exposed to gay culture and life. There was a gay night at the local pub but it wasn’t until I went to Bristol for a night out that I had my first experience with the scene. I’ll be honest, I was underage and drunk so I don’t really remember a huge amount. But I was the kind of guy who was more into dating than hooking up when I was young and wasn’t single for very long.
Did moving to London help you fulfil your needs to be gay?
Before moving to London, I had very little experience on the scene. I used to chat to guys on Gaydar and then Grindr became a thing but London was where I found my gay awakening. I was 19 when I moved there and I was nervous. I had never been down Old Compton Street before moving. But when I got there, my life changed pretty much overnight.
In what way?
I really made the scene my home. Two of my best friends moved to London shortly after me and we were out all of the time, every night, getting wasted and living what we thought were our best lives. I knew lots of people, the drag queens, barmen and venue owners, it felt like a family to me. I spent most of my time in Soho, but ventured into Clapham and East London from time to time. I was having the time of my life and I was working in the industry that I wanted and found the scene to be a match.
It sounds like a wild time.
It was, but I got into a huge amount of debt, drinking became the norm for me. I would be out all of the time and spending so much money on alcohol. Drugs also became part of my life. I would go to places like XXL and not emerge until the sun came up. I didn’t want to travel back to East London so I would stay in saunas but I would be so out of it. I was young, I was earning fairly good money and I was living the life that I thought I should be.
Was finding sex the goal?
Not really. I dated, but I could never find what I was looking for. Behind the drinking and going out all of the time was someone didn’t really know who they were or what they wanted. I’ll be honest, it was a case of hooking up and never committing but I met one guy in a club one night and everything changed.
And then you met someone special….
I was working on the radio station GaydarRadio at the time and was out at XXL when this guys came over and said hello. I immediately fell in love with him. He was tall, dark and handsome and had this gorgeous Scottish accent. We left and went back to mine and became inseparable. A few weeks he moved in with me. He didn’t work at the time so I looked after him financially.
And you ended up married him…
Yes, he was American. He had been in the UK for a couple of years but hadn’t been able to find work so had to leave. But I was so in love with him and didn’t want to lose him so I said that I would marry him so that we could stay together. We got married and filed for his right to remain in the country which was granted. I was so in love and thought I had married the man of my dreams. However, my friends and family didn’t like him very much so we got married in secret. I only told two people, who were witnesses at the wedding.
Was it a happy marriage?
To start with, yes, we were smitten. But as time went on he started hiding things from me. He said he would be looking for work but never got an interview. He then told me that he got a job doing massages. I was naive and didn’t think it would be anything sexual but I was wrong. He was very secretive and would hide things. By this point, I was already in a lot of debt and I couldn’t afford to look after both of us anymore so we moved to separate houses and his family helped him out with money. Then I got an STI.
I knew then that he had been with someone else. Everything went wrong, I had lost the person I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I had become very distant from my friends and family and I felt like my life was falling apart. I was heartbroken, I had never felt pain like it before and I tried to end my life.
I got very drunk one night and stepped in front of a bus. I don’t know how it missed me but I got away with just a scrape under my eye. I told everyone I fell off a bike but I really felt like I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I also planned to take an overdose but just couldn’t go through with it. That is when I started spiralling our of control.
In what way?
I would drink all of the time, it was so easy to hide it behind social gatherings and one for the road after work, it didn’t take over my life but I needed a drink every day. After I separated from my husband, I started hating everything about myself. I didn’t think I was good enough for anyone and that the world would be a better place without me in it. I was working for a TV channel at the time and also doing a show on Gaydio and it all became too much. I don’t think people at work or those listening to the radio would have known the turmoil that I was in, but I was so unhappy. I just didn’t want to be alive. Alcohol then turned to drugs and then I started being late for work.
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It's like you're screaming, and no one can hear. You almost feel ashamed, that someone could be that important. That without them, you feel like nothing… No one will ever understand how much it hurts. You feel hopeless; like nothing can save you. And when it's over, and it's gone, you almost wish that you could have all that bad stuff back, so that you could have the good. #lyrics #rihanna #selfie #gayselfie #intagay #gaylondon #gayuk
Oh dear. Did people around you start noticing?
Yes. But then one day something just clicked and I woke up on a Wednesday afternoon, hammered and told myself that enough was enough and that I couldn’t allow myself to continue. I sought help from my doctor and explained what I was going through and why I had done the things that I had done and started taking antidepressants and had some counselling. Pretty quickly I turned things around and threw myself back into work and growing in my career.
How long did it take for you to feel better?
Mental health is still a daily battle for me. I’m back on antidepressants at the moment, there’s been a lot of changes in my life recently and I’ve found it hard to cope at times.
Things are looking good now?
After my ex husband I was with someone for a couple of years, which was also a very hard relationship, as he was very secretive and independent. In hindsight I don’t think I knew him. I never met his friends, I didn’t know much about his job. When we split, I decided to move to Manchester and met Nick who I’m with now.I am so, so happy and he’s amazing. We’ve had our ups and downs, of course, and we split for a while but are back together and I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier. He makes a better person and the best version of myself, he’s so supportive and he allows me to be me, we have a great life together. He’s the one, I know.
You’re a radio presenter and DJ – how did you get started and what is the dream?
I’ve always wanted to be a radio presenter. When I was young, I would sit in my room and record radio shows and pretend to be a presenter. At school I started a radio station and then when I left school at 16 I went to work for a local radio station in Somerset. I started in sales and progressed my way into a presenting and producing role. I’ve been at Gaydio for eight years in September. I genuinely love my job and what Gaydio does. We’re not just a radio station, we do a lot of outreach work, especially in Manchester and as well as doing a show and looking after our LGBT news output I get to work with incredible people from all walks of lives, help them to get into the industry through our volunteering program and projects we run. We’ve had some real success stories and I’m very proud of what we do at Gaydio.
Who were your role models growing up?
Scott Mills was a big one, I always wanted to be like him. He’s a fantastic radio presenter and super creative. My grandparents were also great role models, on both sides of the family.
How has this Covid-19 situation changed things or impacted on work?
As well as working at Gaydio, I’m a DJ in Manchester’s gay village and I’ve lost all my gigs. I really miss playing to a packed room of people and playing cheesy pop until the early hours. I’m no longer doing the breakfast show on Gaydio but I’m still doing bits and pieces but working from home.
How are you dealing with isolation?
Up and down. I’ve had really bad mental health weeks and my anxiety has been very bad at times. I’m so lucky to have my boyfriend Nick who has been incredible through it all. I’ve had time to focus on other projects and work on some things that I’ve been putting off for a while. I’m speaking to my friends more and me and Nick have tried to organise fun things to do with our friends over Zoom most weekends.
Has this experience been a scary time – so many people are losing their lives?
I’ve taken a huge hit financially which has been tough but there are people who are a lot worse off. It’s put a lot of things in perspective for me and I’ve taken this time to learn new skills and think about the future. Spending so much time inside has made me realise the importance of making the most of the time with friends and family. I miss my friends and family so much, I definitely won’t take long weekends and spare time for granted again.
Do you think we will all come out of this changed people?
Something like this is bound to change people, I hope for positive change. For me, I’ll make more effort to spend time with my family and friends and reach out to them more
What would you say to your 12 year old self about the future?
Things aren’t always going to be easy. You are going to be confused about yourself, life and career and that’s fine because eventually you will be happy and proud of yourself. Take time to get to know your family more and be patient. Don’t put pressure on yourself constantly, sometimes you’ll make bad choices, sometimes they won’t be so good but it will work out in the end.