A year after being booed on his exit from the Celebrity Big Brother house, former EastEnders star John Partridge is playing drag diva Zaza (aka Albin) in a major new production of the musical La Cage Aux Folles, which opens in Dublin in January.
With Brexit and the rise of Trump, it’s a timely revival about alternative families staring down conservative values, the actor, who is married to a man himself, says. He’s also got some advice for newly married same-sex couples.
… being gay
I don’t really have a coming out story. I didn’t have a difficult life growing up; there wasn’t any trouble for me. My family was always incredibly open and accepting of me. I lived my life as a gay man not very consciously, in a way.
… playing gay on EastEnders
I did feel a huge amount of responsibility after taking on the role of Christian. I had thousands and thousands of letters from people in the LGBT community, some of them telling me about their struggle, some of them saying thank you for helping me. I realised that this was bigger than me; that I needed to be aware of that.
… the Christian and Syed love story
At the time, in 2009, LGBT people were being recognised and there was the push for equality, a real drive for achieving it. Now there seems to be a backlash against that. I approached the Christian and Syed storyline as an actor telling a story. My personal life and my professional life were very separate at the time, and I didn’t necessarily associate with myself it.
… La Cage Aux Folles
To be in La Cage, a show that’s so indelibly tattooed in my culture is a privilege. Albin is an iconic character, so I’m thrilled, excited, daunted, and I can’t overstate what taking on the role means to me. I danced around my living room to ‘I Am What I Am’; it’s part of my sexuality.
… the rise of the right
I think it’s quite timely that La Cage is having a revival now, with Brexit and the rise of Trump and Marie Le Pen. I sort of have this slight anxiety about being gay now, and what that might mean in future years to come if the world has swung to the right.
La Cage is about family. Although it’s about challenging conservatism, it’s about what most families deal with, not just LGBT people. Nobody is excluded from this story; it’s about all of our values.
… same-sex marriage
John and I got civil partnershipped in 2011 and I cannot bear the expression ‘upgrading to marriage’. Upgrading means making something better. There is no way that I could upgrade that day, standing in front of those people, and having those people bear witness to my love for this person.
… Internet trolls
When I was in the Big Brother house my husband ran my Twitter account and he just slayed those trolls. He was amazing. And when I came out of the house, just to know that I had my other half outside, defending me and crushing the opposition – I could cry when I think about it. It means everything to me to have someone like that in my life. I don’t deserve it, and I am so grateful to him.
… Celebrity Big Brother
It was horrific. There’s no other word for it. I was really naïve about the show, even though I was a fan of it. I didn’t take into consideration what it would mean to be in there, what it would feel like. I went in so I could pay for my mum’s care, which costs £45,000 a year.
Sometimes you just have to suck it up. I’m not embarrassed about it, I’m not ashamed about it, and I don’t regret it. The only thing I regret is that my mum has Alzheimer’s, and even though Big Brother was horrific; it’s no way near as horrific as living with dementia.
… being booed
It’s a pantomime. They weren’t shouting homophobic slurs at me or spitting at me; it’s like they’re booing you and shaking your hand at the same time. I didn’t really get to see what people were saying while I was I the house, and after coming I went straight on the road with the UK tour of Chicago, selling out all over the country. When I’ve met people at the stage door or on the streets, the reaction from them has been overwhelmingly fabulous.
… doing what I love
I made a conscious choice after coming out of the Big Brother house to go back to doing what I love, and what I do well. I’m currently doing the last three weeks of the Chicago tour in Birmingham and in the daytime I’m rehearsing in London in the daytime for La Cage, so I’m Albin by day and Billy Flynn by night. I’m working on a television drama between tour dates, but I can’t say anything about what it is right now.
… advice for newly married couples
Continue dating. Don’t get the slippers on too early. Do whatever it takes to keep the passion and the fun alive. Be creative. And communicate. Don’t let things turn into something else, try to be as open and honest as you can be.
John Partridge was in conversation with Brian Finnegan. ’La Cage Aux Folles’ runs at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from January 10 to 14, www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie