Paul Sinha: 'The Fight For LGBTQ+ Rights Is Global, We Should Never Be Complacent'

"I don’t know what it is about a closeted gay Asian man in South London being in love with a hot Daniel Day-Lewis, but My Beautiful Laundrette resonated big time."

As a qualified doctor, acclaimed comedian and one of the country’s most famous quizzers, Paul Sinha is a very different sort of triple threat to most of his peers in the entertainment industry.

Best known as one of the experts on the long-running ITV gameshow The Chase, where viewers probably know him best under his “Sinnerman” moniker, Paul has been beamed into the nation’s living rooms at tea-time for over a decade now.

Throughout it all, he’s also kept up his work as a stand-up, appearing alongside Iain Stirling and Sian Gibson on the cult comedy Taskmaster and with a new show debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe later in the summer.

Paul Sinha
Paul Sinha

To mark Pride month, we spoke to Paul about how Take That helped him come out, the “triggering” effect of It’s A Sin and his advice for anyone struggling to come out in 2022…

Who was the first queer person you can remember looking up to?

Frankie Goes To Hollywood, pictured in 1984
Frankie Goes To Hollywood, pictured in 1984
Michael Putland via Getty Images

Holly Johnson, the lead singer of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I was 14 years old in 1984, which was Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s massive, superlative year. And the song Relax started hitting the airwaves in the early part of 1984.

The weird thing is, before it was banned off Radio 1, I don’t think anyone particularly knew what it was about. But when Mike Reed banned the song, it made it more iconic in the eyes of anyone that heard it, because it became “oooh, it’s about gay sex, don’t you know?”.

At that stage, I didn’t really know what gay sex was. I was very much aware that I was gay and attracted to men, but I didn’t know what I was exactly meant to do about it. And I was very, very sheltered, shall we say. Only two members of the band were actually gay, but they were clearly appealing to the gay aesthetic and they were clearly so open and upfront about it. And, you know, one of the first crushes I can remember was Holly Johnson with his slightly scally look and Liverpudlian accent, and totally upfront sexuality. He was very much the first person I really looked up to and went, “wow that is brazen”.

Holly Johnson at the British LGBT Awards in 2021
Holly Johnson at the British LGBT Awards in 2021
Mike Marsland via Getty Images

It’s extraordinary to the degree that so much 1980s pop music was gay in its origin, gay in its aesthetic, when there were so many still in the closet or playing games with the media. It was a decade dominated by the music of George Michael, we just didn’t know [he was gay] at the time. And even Elton John was pretty much in the closet at the time, as well. So even though it seemed like a very gay time, and it was a very gay time, there was a lot of people who were still carefully choosing the closet, so these are things we knew in retrospect rather than at the time.

With people like Boy George and Pete Burns… people didn’t talk about them in terms of their sexuality, they talked about them in terms of their fashion aesthetic. Whereas with Holly Johnson, it was all about the sex. Before Holly Johnson came along, all I really knew was Larry Grayson and John Inman. And even they were in the closet!

What was the first LGBTQ TV show or film that you remember resonating with you?

Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke in My Beautiful Laundrette
Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke in My Beautiful Laundrette

It’s interesting, where music was so rife with homosexuality, the degree to which TV and film weren’t, unless you were significantly into arthouse cinema. And even then you’d have to know where to look.

I specifically remember how excited I was when My Beautiful Launderette was broadcast on Channel 4. I remember making a special space away from my family to watch it. I don’t know what it is about a closeted gay Asian man in South London being in love with a hot Daniel Day-Lewis, but it resonated big time.

What’s a song you associate with your own coming out?

Oddly enough, there are two songs, that were both out around a very similar time: Pray by Take That and Go West by the Pet Shop Boys. In the autumn of 1993, when I was 23 years old, that was around the time I was completing the process of coming out to my sister and to everybody at my medical school.

I remember coming out to my sister on a dance floor in Warwick, where she was at university. Pray was on, and I remember telling her, “I really, really, really like Take That”. And she went, “oh, so do I”. And I went, “no, I don’t think you understand what I’m saying”. And she went, “ah, right”. And that was pretty much it. It was very undramatic, but it was very much rotating around my absolute obsession at the time with Take That.

But also around that time was, for me, the ultimate gay anthem of Go West by the Pet Shop Boys. And I very much just remember dancing to it a lot at medical school, and every time it came on at the medical school disco, people understood why I was dancing to it a lot.

What was the most recent LGBTQ show or film that made an impact on you?

The cast of It's A Sin
The cast of It's A Sin
via PA Features Archive/Press Association Images

I am biased because it’s named after a Pet Shop Boys song, I know Russell T Davies is a fan of The Chase and I grew up gay in the 1980 – but It’s A Sin was a game-changer.

There was a TV show when in the 1990s when I was a junior doctor called Cardiac Arrest, that was so triggering to junior doctors because it was like our life was being played back on the screen. And It’s A Sin very much has that effect on my age group of gay men. Bloody hell. It didn’t hold back, it was totally uncompromising, and very much portrayed the idea that hedonism is not something to be ashamed of. And I still believe that with a passion, that people shouldn’t be ashamed of behaving badly. You’re only young once!

At my stage of life, I don’t go out to be emotionally triggered by stuff, necessarily, and therefore I don’t watch as much LGBTQ programming as I might do, because it all gets a bit emotional. But I think It’s A Sin was the exception to that. It was good to take a plunge and see your life reflected back in front of you – the years it portrayed were a little bit before me, but only a couple of years.

Who is your ultimate queer icon?

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell
SOPA Images via Getty Images

I think I’ve got two. The Pet Shop Boys would definitely be up there in terms of creative output, and how much of a fan I am. But I’d like to take a step back and go less glamorous, and say Peter Tatchell.

Love him or loathe him, he was always there for us, fighting what was sometimes a lonely and very, very bitter battle. But also a very unglamorous battle, involving being demonised by the media and attacked. And I don’t think he ever really got the credit he deserves.

He’s so much more a part of our mainstream now than he ever was then, in a way that suggests that he won the battles, but there are still so many battles to be won across the world. And the idea that Peter Tatchell is an “enemy of the people” – as he was portrayed as in the 1980s, and much of the 90s – is now seen as being the nonsense that it always was. I’m not saying for a second I agree with everything he’s ever said, but I don’t think you have to for somebody to be an icon.

Why do you think Pride is still so important today?

Paul on the set of Beat The Chasers
Paul on the set of Beat The Chasers
ITV/Kieron McCarron/Shutterstock

For a start, I think it’s a really good rallying point for people who are much younger than myself to find a community of like-minded people who can offer support.

But more than anything else, people have to remember that the fight is very much global, and the fight should never be complacent. There are people who are guilty of going, “well my life’s OK, why do you need Pride?”. But the fight should never be complacent.

And, of course, as now know, the fight for transgender rights is a very different fight, and that fight is much less mainstream. There is a T in LGBTQ. I’m very much anti- the idea that you should be complacent just because you’ve got the rights that you’ve always wanted. And a lot of the battles that have been won have only been won in recent years.

Who is a young queer person in the public eye right now that makes you excited about the future?

Jake Daniels
Jake Daniels
Lee Parker - CameraSport via Getty Images

Jake Daniels, the Blackpool footballer who came out recently. I saw the story and I thought, “wow what a story”. And then I saw the age, and I thought, ’wow what a story’. It’s one thing to come out as a footballer, that makes him almost unique in the history of British football. But as a 17-year-old, in the whole of society, is also a massive thing as well.

One of my frustrations when I was growing up was that the gay experience was sometimes portrayed as a very homogenous thing. And that gays were into dancing and fucking and fashion and pop and not anything else. And as somebody who is not into much of that, necessarily – who was into indie music and watching sport and eating at all you can eat buffets – I’ve always been passionate about that the non-homogenous gay lifestyle should be represented as well.

The fact that Jake Daniels is a professional footballer – and a good one, as well! – and there’s no mainstream condemnation or even ickiness about the whole thing, only happiness for him, is a sign. We don’t know if the floodgates will open, but he’s probably made a lot of people who are in the closet look at their lives and go, “could I be a bit braver?”.

What’s your message for the next generation of LGBTQ people?

I think I’d like to stick to “G” because that’s what I am, and I don’t want to patronise anybody who’s fighting a different battle. I don’t want to waylay into the transgender fight because I’ve got nothing to say to transgender people other than they have my support.

But what I’d say to people who are “G” is not to fear coming out. It doesn’t matter what life you are leading, you are healthy and better out than you are in.

In terms of dealing with being gay, the barriers are falling as we speak. And the next generation after this one, will widely have no problems with it at all. If you want to live the life that you want to live, you’re going to have to do it out of the closet. There are exceptions, as we know. And also, I realise that some people have more conservative families and come from more conservative backgrounds. But if you want to life your life as happy as you can be, you’re better off out of the closet than in.

Paul Sinha’s show One Sinha Lifetime is coming to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.


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