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

·5-min read
BOREHAMWOOD, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 27: Brian Dowling hosts the final of Celebrity Big Brother 2012 at Elstree Studios on January 27, 2012 in Borehamwood, England. (Photo by Nat Jag/Getty Images)
Brian Dowling hosting the final of Celebrity Big Brother 2012 (Getty Images)

Brian Dowling says his relationship with the gay community has been love-hate and he has been 'criticised a lot' for being 'so effeminate, so camp, so loud'.

The twice Big Brother winner said he'd even had drinks thrown on him in the past when he went out.

He told Kate Thornton on White Wine Question Time: "I've always said: 'This is me.' I'm not saying everyone that's gay is like me. That's not what I'm saying. But people were very, very opinionated."

The 42-year-old, who won the second series of Big Brother in 2001 spoke to Thornton about inspiring people following in his footsteps to be more comfortable with their sexuality, such as singer Will Young who revealed in his 2020 autobiography that seeing Dowling on TV had made him feel less alone.

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But Dowling said he wasn't always showered with praise.

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

"I've had a love hate relationship with the gay community and the gay press for such a long time," he said. "I was criticised a lot from the gay community for being so effeminate and for being so camp, and for being so loud.

"Back in the day, I'd go out and drinks would be thrown over me, it was very strange."

He said in the first weeks after winning Big Brother, having come out to his parents with the help of his sister only days before going into the house, he didn't want to do any of the parties and red carpets that the other contestants were doing.

Big Brother contestant Brian Dowling waves as he leaves the house July 27, 2001. Over 7 million viewers voted in the game show final with Dowling winning the top prize of 70,000 pounds Sterling ($99,792).
Big Brother contestant Brian Dowling waves as he leaves the house July 27, 2001. (Reuters)

Saying he remembered the time after he came out of the house 'like it was yesterday' and always would, because it was 'so bizarre', he said he just wanted 'a bit of normality'.

With his then boyfriend, who he had kept secret during his time on the show, he remembered playing tennis on Clapham Common with the security guards provided by the show acting as ball boys.

Dowling said: "I just wanted to get on the tube. I wanted to go to the cinema. I wanted a bit of normality. But I remember when I'd be on my own walking around, and obviously people would come up because the show was such a big show.

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

"It would throw you because I didn't know how to deal with people that wanted to say nice things.

"Or going into bars and then encountering people who said I was a bad role model for gay men, that not all gay men are effeminate or camp.

"Nothing trains you for that. And sometimes I would just not want to go out."

He told Thornton also about his parents' acceptance of him being gay, having been afraid to tell them before 'for fear of them disowning me'.

Before going on the show, when he was working as a flight attendant, he said he realised there would be no way he could not be himself in the Big Brother even if he only lasted a week or two.

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He said: "I feel there was two versions of Brian Dowling, the one that was working at Stansted Airport and Ryanair, that was fully out. And the one that would come home to my mum, my dad and my six sisters in rural Ireland, an hour from Dublin in the country, where we had no idea what gay was, we had no idea what homosexuality was."

After he'd got his sister to call his parents to tell them he was gay, and she'd reported back that they were 'fine about it', he rang his parents from the crew room having landed on a flight from Italy.

Apart from his mum asking him if he was 'trying to be fashionable' and that just being her reasoning in Dowling's eyes, he said he only spoke to her one more time, on the morning of going into the house.

LONDON - JANUARY 18: Big Brother 2 winner Brian Dowling and fellow contestant Narinder Kaur attend the UK premiere of the film
Brian Dowling and fellow Big Brother contestant Narinder Kaur at a UK film premiere in London in 2002. (Getty Images)

"Looking back on it now," he told Thornton, "I was lucky I was so accepted by the voting public in England and in Ireland because I then thought: 'Well my parents have to be okay with it.

"'Because if this is a popularity contest, and people think I'm great, and they're voting for me to win, my parents will accept me.'"

The presenter, who has gone on to present TV shows including SM:TV Live and won Ultimate Big Brother in 2010, said he forgot all about winning and about the 'life-changing' £70,000 prize money.

Saying he had goose pimples remembering it, he described his first hug with his mum and dad on leaving the house.

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

"That was the first real embrace of who I really was as their son. And that was this out, gay man," he said.

"And that hug to me, meant so much because it was genuine. There was no more hiding Kate, they'd seen every angle of me 24 hours a day on e4. Every night on Channel Four."

He told Thornton they had never had a conversation about his sexuality since that one phone call, though he is still left with one lingering doubt, he joked.

"It was never, ever brought up again," Dowling explained. "Because I was totally embraced and accepted. I did say to my husband recently: 'If I had left the show first, would my parents have accepted me?' Who knows?"

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

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