Brian Dowling: I never felt love from the gay community after winning Big Brother (Picture: Channel 4)
‘Will Young did an interview recently and he talked about me I his book where he said he doesn’t feel like I get enough credit,’ says Brian Dowling, reflecting on the immeasurable impact he had on the LGBT community simply by appearing on Big Brother.
Of course, then at 23-years-old, Brian not only appeared on Big Brother, he won it. Later, in 2010, when Channel 4 rallied all the most loved Big Brother housemates of all time, he won it again.
It’s been 20 years since Brian walked into the Big Brother house, just two days after telling his family, anxious what they might think when seeing him as his authentic self for the very first time.
But without knowing it, Brian’s family weren’t the only ones who would be bowled over by the charming, quick-witted, openly gay man. For many it was the first time they’d met a gay man at all, let alone become besotted with one.
Will won Pop Idol just five months after Brian left the Borehamwood bungalow a Big Brother winner, and came out as a gay man just a few weeks after beating puppy-eyed teen Gareth Gates.
His acknowledgment that Brian blazed a trailer much brighter than he’s often recognised for comes from a unique perspective, after spending months on the other most popular reality TV series of the noughties at a similar time, but in the closet, at least publicly.
After winning Big Brother, one of the few times gay men were truly celebrated on national television – let alone on a popularity contest – Brian went on to present SM:TV Live as the first openly gay kid’s TV presenter.
Brian became the first openly gay kid’s TV presenter on SM: TV Live (Picture: JUSTIN GOFF/SM:tv)
‘At the time I didn’t see that as a really big thing,’ he tells us. ‘It just is what it is. Looking back on it now, you go “Oh my god I was only 23 when I did that, I had no idea what I was doing.”
‘It was a massive thing for ITV to do.’
Why Brian isn’t celebrated more as breaking boundaries for LGBT in the noughties is a mystery. If anyone has the credentials to be an ‘icon’ it’s him.
But looking back at his first encounters with fame, he says the LGBT community never really celebrated his success. Far from it.
‘I never felt the love from the gay community. On nights out I would have arguments from people telling me I was negative for the community, “it’s not all gay men are, not all gay men are like [you].” I was too effeminate, I was too camp. But my point was I never said all gay men were like me.
‘I won Big Brother twice as an openly gay man, then SM: TV Live, then Dancing With the Stars here in Ireland I did the same-sex dance and that hadn’t been done here before, it hadn’t been done in America before and that was amazing to do.’
It’s only now Brian really recognises the significance his presence in popular culture really had.
‘I only realised at 42 how important it was to host SM: TV Live at 23-years-old as an openly gay man which had never been done before. People had been closeted for years for fear. I wish I had the passion and determination at that age to realise how important that was.
‘Maybe I was too young to understand how important it was, but maybe that was good for me.’
Two decades have passed since Brian won Big Brother. He now lives with his husband Arthur Gourounlian in the house they share in Kildare, Ireland, and is about to return to TV on Celebrity Karaoke Club alongside the likes of Olivia Attwood, Made In Chelsea’s Mark-Francis Vandelli, and TV presenter AJ Odudu.
Brian will be belting Britney on Celebrity Karaoke Club (Picture: ITV)
In each episode, the pack of celebrities share some gossip, have a catch up, perform some questionable karaoke before voting each other off.
‘This wasn’t like on Big Brother when they don’t give you alcohol, these f**kers give you loads of alcohol,’ he says of the ITV2 series, which was filmed throughout the third national lockdown.
‘I was actually hungover. Olivia Attwood had me doing tequila! You can’t be doing tequila at my age.’
While he admits ‘the world never needs to hear me sing’, the timing couldn’t have been better.
‘I didn’t see the first season but I thought we’re in the middle of a f**king pandemic, you can barely walk out of your garden without getting in trouble so the thought of jumping on a plane and staying in a nice hotel, safely, to dance and drink was like, “Yes, yes, yes!”’
Naturally, Brian is bringing all the pop bangers to the table.
‘Louis Walsh always told me he wanted to put e in a boyband but I have no idea which one because I can’t f**king sing. But you don’t need to be in a band, right? It’s all about performance and songs so for Celebrity K I picked the campest of sings. There’s Britney in there, Kylie in there, Liberty X in there.’
Celebrity Karaoke Club kicks off at 10.05pm tonight on ITV2.
Credit: Original article published here.