Brian Dowling: 'I'm glad I was naive about being first openly gay kids' TV presenter'

·4-min read
Brian Dowling presented SM:TV Live with Tess Daly
Brian Dowling presented SM:TV Live with Tess Daly

Big Brother's Brian Dowling says he thinks if he was starting out now as a 22-year-old people would just 'bring him down'.

The presenter was the first openly gay children's presenter when he started on Saturday morning's SM:TV Live after winning Big Brother's second series in 2001.

He told Kate Thornton on White Wine Question Time he was 'glad he was naive' going into the job with no experience of presenting live TV, and that there was no social media at the time.

"I could have my fails," the 44-year-old- said. "I could be out in bars kissing guys, I could be getting drunk, and no one held me accountable.

WATCH: Brian Dowling on Big Brother legends, same sex surrogacy and coming out in the early 00s

"No one was commenting on the fact I was so thin, because I was stressed. I had no experience, the state of my hair or my clothes."

Saying there 'was really no bad press', he added: "Whereas now, I'm not sure [for] a 22-year-old to have that staggering fame and opportunity, people would just bring me down."

He spoke about the move from Big Brother to the kids' show, previously presented by Ant and Dec and Cat Deeley.

Dowling said: "I was a reality TV star that was on television drunk and screaming and being camp and naked, running around, then to land a proper, serious job as an openly gay man on kids' television.

Brian Dowling leaves as the winner of Ultimate Big Brother, at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.   (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
Brian Dowling leaves as the winner of Ultimate Big Brother, at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)

"I'm glad I didn't know what people were thinking when it came to gay men and children. I'm glad I was so naive to all of that, in a sense, I was naive to all of it."

Dowling and Thornton discussed his role as an out gay man on TV and the path it opened for others, including for the first Pop Idol winner Will Young, who has written before about Dowling's presence making him feel less 'alone'.

He said the two had similar experiences, both coming through the same industry and 'trying to have private lives' while living in the public eye.

Listen to the full episode to hear Brian talk about his journey to surrogacy with his husband and his sister as a surrogate

"But it was very different back then to what it is now," Dowling said. "Now people are so much more open and accepting."

He said being the first openly gay children's TV presenter 'was never anything that was mentioned at the time', and he was drafted in because of being on a contract with the same company that made SM:TV Live.

Read more: Brian Dowling speaks about his 'love-hate' relationship with the gay community

After Ant and Dec left the show, there was a gap to fill but Dowling was not convinced, asking bosses if they were 'f***ing crazy' wanting him to do it because he didn't think he could.

He went on to present the show with Tess Daly until 2003 until they both decided to leave to work on other opportunities.

Brian Dowling and Tess Daly arriving at the Odeon Covent Garden in London's Shaftesbury Avenue,  for the UK premiere of American Wedding, the third American Pie movie.   (Photo by Andy Butterton - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Brian Dowling and Tess Daly at the UK premiere of American Wedding, the third American Pie movie. (Getty Images)

"I love Tess," he said. "She's still one of my dear friends. She's amazing."

As a 23-year-old, he said he's glad he didn't realised his groundbreaking role as a gay man and didn't have that 'pressure' on him.

He said: "It's only as I've gotten older, I realised. I'm glad I was so naive at the time, because if I had made one mistake, or done anything wrong — privately, publicly — that's a lot for someone who's 23, who has no real media training."

But he looked back on the job as one of his best ever, saying: "[It was] an amazing opportunity for me, as an out gay man at 23, to have that opportunity."

Air steward Brian Dowling, the winner of the channel 4's 'Big Brother' show, celebrates with his parents, after winning the  70,000 prize money.   (Photo by John Stillwell - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Brian Dowling winning Channel 4's Big Brother, celebrates with his parents (Getty Images)

Remembering the summer in the Big Brother house, he also told Thornton in the episode how it had helped him feel accepted by his parents, who he had come out to just two days before going on the show.

Dowling said he had 'nothing to lose' going into the house, because he would still have his family, friends and job afterwards and said he 'loved that summer' of dressing up, drinking and sunbathing.

But he said: "I remember leaving the show and then thinking: 'F***, what have I done?' Because my life had changed so dramatically in nine weeks, all it had taken was nine weeks."

WATCH: Brian Dowling on how Big Brother helped him come out to his parents