ENTERTAINMENT

LOUD & PROUD: From Noel Coward To Sam Smith, The Pioneers Who Paved The Way

Celebrating those entertainers who lived through, then overcame, discrimination.

18/04/2016 14:02 | Updated 20 April 2016
loud and proud

HuffPost UK is turning Loud & Proud, celebrating gay culture in all its forms across the entertainment industry - remembering those pioneers who paved the way, celebrating the breadth of expression we have now, and asking - what is left to be done? 

We're kicking off with a walk down memory lane, doffing our caps to the individuals - whether on or off stage, in front and behind the camera - who have withstood discrimination to rise to the top of their fields in film, TV and music.

Not all of these people were able to live freely during their lifetimes. Noel Coward never came out, leaving it to his diaries and letters published posthumously to tell his full story. John Gielgud was a revered knight of the theatre, but terrified of exposure. Nonetheless, their talents helped pave the way for the breadth of wit, creativity and expressiveness we enjoy today. 

Over the next fortnight, we'll be celebrating all that we have in today's gay entertainment culture. But first, how we got there, in their own words, or by their friends who admired them, and sometimes protected them... (and, yes, we've tried to stay British, but there are a few overseas stars too important to ignore)

  • Playwright, Novelist, Essayist and Poet Oscar Wilde
    “On November 13th, 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o’clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world to look at. I had been taken out of the hospital ward without a moment’s notice being given to me. When people saw me they laughed. Each train as it came up swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As soon as they had been informed, they laughed still more. For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob. "For a year after that was done to me I wept every day at the same hour and for the same space of time."
  • Writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp
    "The rest of the world in which I lived was still stumbling about in search of a weapon with which to exterminate this monster [homosexuality] whose shape and size were not yet known or even guessed at. It was thought to be Greek in origin, smaller than socialism but more deadly, especially to children."
  • Novelist Christopher Isherwood
    "I'm glad people have had crushes on me, glad I used to be cute; it is a very sustaining feeling."
  • Noel Coward
    "There will be books proving conclusively that I was homosexual and books proving equally conclusively that I was not. There will be detailed and inaccurate analyses of my motives for writing this or that and of my character. There will be lists of apocryphal jokes I never made and gleeful misquotations of words I never said.What a pity I shan't be here to enjoy them!"
  • Film director John Schlesinger
    According to his friend Alan Bennett, John was so aware of his sexuality that he managed to detect a corresponding awareness in the unlikeliest of places. On this occasion HMQ had a momentary difficulty getting the ribbon round his sizeable neck, whereupon she said "Now, Mr.Schlesinger, we must try and get this straight," the emphasis according to John very much hers and which he took as both a coded acknowledgement of his situation and a seal of royal approval.
  • Knight of the theatre, Sir John Gielgud
    ...writing to thank his friend Cecil Beaton for supporting him in the face of a homosexuality criminal charge: "The miracle is that my friends have stood by me so superbly, and even the public looks like letting me go on with my work. Both things would not have been so 20 years ago (though I don't think either the press would have been so cruelly open)." (This letter was written in 1953).
  • Film Director Terence Davies
    "I have hated being gay, and I've been celibate for most of my life. Some people are just good at sex, and others aren't; I'm one of them who isn't. I'm just too self-conscious."
  • Film star Rock Hudson
    ... the all-American wholesome star who shocked the world with his revelation that he had contracted HIV, just months before he died in 1985. Joan Rivers said: "Two years ago, when I hosted a benefit for AIDS, I couldn't get one major star to turn out. ... Rock's admission is a horrendous way to bring AIDS to the attention of the American public, but by doing so, Rock, in his life, has helped millions in the process. What Rock has done takes true courage."
  • Author and screenwriter Alan Bennett
    on not coming out before: "My objection about people knowing more about one's private life was that I didn't want to be put in a pigeonhole. I didn't want to be labelled as gay and that was it. I just wanted to be my own man, as it were." He also once joked about being asked whether he was gay or straight, "That's a bit like asking a man crawling across the Sahara whether he would prefer Perrier or Malvern water."
  • Stephen Fry
    "I would never apologise for feeling the way I do"
  • Actor Rupert Everett
    ... who came out as gay in the 1980s: "It's not that advisable to be honest. It's not very easy. And, honestly, I would not advise any actor necessarily, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out... The fact is that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the British film business or the American film business or even the Italian film business. It just doesn't work and you're going to hit a brick wall at some point. You're going to manage to make it roll for a certain amount of time, but at the first sign of failure, they'll cut you right off."
  • Sir Ian McKellen
    ... on coming out in 1988 at the age of 49: "I regret and always shall that I didn't see the significance of coming out at a much earlier date because I think I would have been a different person and a happier one. Self-confidence is the most important thing that anybody can have. You don't have that if part of you is ashamed or hiding something."
  • EastEnders star turned campaigner Lord Michael Cashman
    "I don't consider myself a role model. I consider that I have to be me. Because death, as I saw with (late partner) Paul, comes as a friend and when I meet that friend I want to know that I have been as true to myself and as true to Paul as I can possibly ever have been."
  • TV and radio presenter Kenny Everett
    His friend and co-star on Kenny's coming out in the 1980s: "Kenny had never really came to terms with being gay and always thought he was letting people down due to his Catholic upbringing. I later discovered what a burden had been lifted from his shoulders."
  • Star Trek's George Takei
    "It's not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It's more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen."
  • Actor John Barrowman
    ...told Huffington Post UK: “When I was in my early twenties. a big US TV company brought me in and they said, ‘We don’t want you to tell anyone you’re gay. I was so confused, it was only when I got home, I realised they meant not referring to Scott, which meant not talking about my life outside the show, to anyone, ever. I wasn’t put on earth to be political, but I wasn’t prepared to lie, so that changed everything for me. I couldn’t be something I wasn’t.”
  • Ellen DeGeneres
    ... came out on her TV show: "What I had been saying to myself was, ‘Would I still be famous, would they still love me if they knew I was gay?' And my fear was that no, no they wouldn’t, and then it made me feel ashamed that I was hiding something. It made me feel ashamed that I couldn’t feel honest and really be who I am, and I just didn’t want to pretend to be somebody else anymore so that people would like me.”
  • 'Coronation Street' creator Tony Warren
    "The outsider sees more, hears more, has to remember more to survive. All that is terrific training for a writer."
  • TV and radio host Graham Norton
    “This will sound sexist but that doesn’t mean it’s any less true. If I were a straight man, my female partner would have a role in the eyes of society. She would be the mother of my children, my hostess, the person on my arm at red carpet events. She would have a defined function. But that’s not the case if your partner is male. Every man – no matter how young or fey – has something of the alpha in him. Increasingly that puts a strain on the relationship."
  • Julian Clary
    "People see innuendo when I buy a tin of beans."
  • Pop star Will Young
    On being out from the start, he tells Huffington Post UK: “It was important for me not to walk around living a lie. The biggest decision – to come out – had already happened. What was potentially scary was coming out publicly, because it was a different time, and I could have lost everything. “What worked for me was the cushion I had, that people had already voted for me, and I think they wouldn’t have liked a mirror shone back on them, that they’d liked somebody but then turned their back.”
  • Writer Russell T Davies
    ... tells Huffington Post UK: “We grew older. The world grew and changed and expanded. “Other people have been fighting that huge battle for equality, that story’s written. Now it’s time to fine out who we really are - and catch up on the rest of the world by a few thousand years.”
  • David Bowie
    "I think I was always a closet heterosexual."
  • 1980s pop star Marc Almond
    “We’ve seen so many gay characters on film, in television, in comedy and music recently, and when there’s a big explosion like that it seems there’s always a backlash. People do feel very threatened by it. Homophobia is always there."
  • Bronski Beat's Jimmy Somerville
    “I guess it’s up to the individual to sing and write that but I don’t believe for one minute that none of those artists have a desire to sing ‘he’ or ‘him’. But we’ll never really know if they did decide to change that, if they would be as successful.”
  • Boy George
    In the 1980s, speaking out on sex: "I'd rather have a cup of tea." Asked again by Huffington Post UK in 2014: "Only if it's Earl Grey. I've changed."
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood frontman Holly Johnson
    “It is important for each successive generation to have something to relate to that their parents find shocking. Frankie provided that, and also an essential function, for not only for that reason, but also in bringing forward alternative sexuality, in a way that was particularly uncompromising, no asking for acceptance, up yours if you don’t like it."
  • kd lang
    ... as described by Madonna: "Elvis is alive, and she's beautiful."
  • George Michael
    ...on being outed in an LA public toilet: "Believe me, I'd rather have run up and down Oxford Street saying 'I'm gay, I'm gay', than have it happen the way it did."
  • Freddie Mercury
    ... on coming out in the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody, according to friend Sir Tim Rice: “'Mama, I just killed a man' - he’s killed the old Freddie, his former image. "With 'Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead' he’s dead, the straight person he was originally. He’s destroyed the man he was trying to be, and now this is him, trying to live with the new Freddie."


HuffPost UK is turning Loud & Proud. Over the next fortnight, we'll be celebrating how gay culture has influenced and, in turn, been embraced by all fields of entertainment, inspiring cinema-goers, TV audiences, music-lovers and wider society with its wit, creativity and power of expression.

Through features, video and blogs, we'll be championing those brave pioneers who paved the way, exploring the broad range of gay culture in British film, TV and music and asking - what is left to be done? If you’d like to blog on our platform around these topics, please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you’d like to blog about.

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