Nick Grimshaw: 'I Know That I Struggled With My Identity As A Young Person'

Grimmy on his LGBTQ heroes, and how Mary Portas helped create his favourite ever Pride memory.
Ray Burmiston/BBC/HuffPost

From his early years co-hosting T4 to his nine years at Radio 1, Nick Grimshaw has truly climbed the ranks to become one of the UK’s most recognisable and popular broadcasters.

To coincide with Pride month, we sat down with Nick to discuss the queer films, TV moments and music that has resonated with him over the years.

During our Over The Rainbow interview, Grimmy opened up about the struggles with his identity he experienced as a young gay person – and revealed how Mary Portas played a major role in one of his favourite Pride memories...

What is your favourite Pride memory?

My all-time favourite Pride memory was in 2017. It was the first London Pride I’d been to with my friend Amy, who is a New Yorker and an amazing ally for the LGBTQ crew.

We went to go and watch Jonny Woo doing this performance in a hotel lobby at about 11am on a Saturday. And he did a drag number as Mary Portas... as a rapper. It was quite abstract and so funny, Jonny Woo did the whole song with this ginger bob on. And Amy – as a New Yorker – was like, “who the fuck is Mary Portas?”, so I’m sat Googling Mary Portas and showing her.

Anyway, we finished that, and we were both DJing later that day for Pride, so we were like, “let’s get some lunch and go back out”. And on the way to lunch, we drove past the actual Mary Portas. So I had to go, like, “stop the car!”, made the taxi driver stop, and I ran across the road and grabbed Mary Portas – who I don’t know – and made her come over to the cab to say hi to my friend Amy.

I told her about the Jonny Woo drag show, and I thought she’d be really excited, but she was like, “oh is he still doing that old skit?! He needs to get some new material!”. Absolutely amazing.

Nick Grimshaw at a Pride event in 2017
Nick Grimshaw at a Pride event in 2017
David M. Benett via Getty Images

Who is your LGBTQ hero?

A current LGBTQ hero of mine is the poet, activist and model Kai-Isaiah Jamal. Their poetry and their activism explores identity, and identity is something I know that I struggled with as a young person.

Growing up, you’re sort of conditioned to think being gay or part of the LGBTQ spectrum is somehow not normal. And you spend a lot of time maybe feeling a little bit shit about yourself or searching for those heroes, or just wishing you were “normal”, like everybody else. And Kai really smashes that notion in everything that they do.

They did this interview a little while back, and said something that really stuck with me, and it was something that I’d have loved to have heard when I was younger. They said: “You become the mirror that you need, and I hope that you’re proud of your reflection.”

Kai-Isaiah Jamal
Kai-Isaiah Jamal
Samir Hussein via Getty Images

What is your go-to Pride anthem?

Going out and dancing is really important. I think when you’re younger and going out, going to a gay club and seeing gays on the dance floor not afraid to be themselves, girls looking like boys or boys looking like girls, or girls getting off with girls is quite empowering when you’re a young gay person. So, the dance floor is a really important place for you to go and express yourself, and get your life.

It’s hard to pick just one song, but if we were allowed to go to a club right now and play Pride bangers, I’d pick Immaterial by Sophie.

First of all, it’s an absolute banger, and I think it feels limitless and fluid. And I think that sums up what Pride should be. It should feel limitless and freeing.

What is your favourite LGBTQ film?

I would say Moonlight. I love a coming-of-age movie, and this one takes on a lot. It takes on masculinity, and breaks down the clichés of masculinity, and it’s so intimate, it’s really captivating.

I’m someone that struggles to sit down and watch a film – I don’t have the attention span for it – but this is instantly gripping and so emotive. You meet this kid who’s going through these struggles and stages of his life. I don’t know, there’s a lot of stuff that resonated with me when I watched it.

Alex R. Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight
Alex R. Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight
David Bornfriend/Kobal/Shutterstock

What was an LGBTQ TV show or TV moment that made you feel represented?

When I was younger, there wasn’t anything on TV that made me feel represented. Anyone that was gay on TV, it was either the horrible secret of some married man in the soaps, or it was someone who was about to die or something. There wasn’t any sort of great telly gay people that made me feel represented.

There was Queer As Folk, but that was late-night and I was maybe a little bit too young for that. It felt like something that I was a bit scared to watch at that age, it was a little bit inaccessible for me, but I was a teenager. I’ve watched it since, and I really love it.

Now, when I watch Drag Race on the telly, I actually do feel a true sense of pride. I love the artform and the craft and the effort and the drive and the journey… those drag queens, they’re like punks, you know? They’ve got to go out there and get on with it every fucking night and do a show and perform at these clubs. So when they get to that stage of being on Drag Race and being celebrated, and earning money, I love it.

My favourite Drag Race queen? I love Bimini Bon Boulash. I think Bimini is really smart, and very refreshing. They have a lot of opinions and they represent so many people and so many different spectrums and different walks of life.

Tayce, Bimini Bon Boulash, A'Whora and Lawrence Chaney on the Drag Race UK runway
Tayce, Bimini Bon Boulash, A'Whora and Lawrence Chaney on the Drag Race UK runway
BBC/World of Wonder/Guy Levy

Who would be your ultimate queer icon?

I’m obsessed with Divine. I just love that complete chaotic, rebellious punk attitude that Divine had, and the extremity of them [compared to] regular life in the 80s. They’re just everything, aren’t they? So extreme and so incredible. I love what they stand for, what they look like, and all the crazy shit they did.

And the other person would be Madonna. I think that, as a kid, I remember Madonna being as famous as a religion, or the Royal Family or something. She felt more than a person, she was so famous in the 90s.

I remember seeing her on TV talking about homophobia, when I was younger. Someone asked her something about how she felt about alienating fans who don’t know gay people, or don’t have anything to do with the gay world. And she was like: “That’s their problem, and they do. This is a real thing that exists, and if you have a problem with it, that’s your problem”.

She was radical at the time, in that she was the most famous person in the world, and she spoke out at a time when it wasn’t cool to be awake to the plight of others like it is now, and it could have been detrimental to her career.

Madonna spoke up for a lot of gay people, and she’s an outsider too, so I guess she could feel some sort of synergy or relation. She had a politicised voice, in her videos, her music and her interviews, she had something to say. And now everyone’s got something to say – but that didn’t happen in the pop arena before Madonna.

Madonna pictured on her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990
Madonna pictured on her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990
Gie Knaeps via Getty Images

What is your message for young LGBTQ people this Pride month?

I’d like to keep it simple, and just say: “You are loved.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Nick Grimshaw presents Radio 1′s drivetime show on Mondays through Thursdays at 3.30pm.


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