Daniel Brocklebank | London, England | Actor
Daniel is an award winning TV and film actor whose credits include the multi Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love, Emmerdale, Merlin, The Hours and Waterloo Road
I always felt different, different from all the other males in my life. Different from my dad, my cousin and definitely different from the other boys that I was at school with. I didn't enjoy the same things as them. I hated rugby and football and always had a leaning towards the more artistic things in life.
I was a shy child and was always very happy spending time on my own or buried in a good book. Because I didn't fit in with those around me my childhood felt very isolated. That's not to say that I didn't have a loving childhood. Far from it in fact. I had everything a child could want; love and support from their family. However I always knew I was different but couldn't place my finger on why.
I grew up in a village called Kineton. A small rural village in the heart of Warwickshire not far from Stratford upon Avon. My parents tried everything. They bought me motorbikes, shot guns, sent me away on shooting weekends. I had horse riding lessons and was terrible at all of them. At team sports I was always the last to be picked. I wanted singing lessons, piano lessons and drama lessons instead.
Growing up around fields, countryside and outdoor pursuits felt alien to me. I felt like I didn't fit into the life I had been born. My father, who is about as stereotypically masculine as you can imagine, could never understand why I didn't enjoy the things I was being given the opportunity to do. "When I was a child I would have given my right arm to have the things you've got", he would say to me. I felt like a failure. I wanted to fit in but just couldn't.
"At age six I remember asking if I could have ballet lessons...I was sent to cubs."
School was awful. I hated it and was bullied quite badly. I remember at the age of seven being called gay by some of the boys that bullied me. At that age I didn't even know what it meant. I was beaten up a lot and would come home covered in grazes cuts and bruises, which I tried to hide. My parents answer to the problem was to tell me to fight back. "The bigger they are the harder they fall," they would tell me. I do not have a violent bone in my body and I didn't want to fight people. To this day I still don't see that retaliating physically is a way of solving anything.
I was often told, "These are the best days of your life," by my parents. I used to think, if this is as good as it gets I don't want to carry on. I would love to name and shame those people who did this to me. I often wonder if they ever think about the way they treated me and others. I wonder if they're still behaving in this way - adult bullies.
At the age of 11 I joined several local amateur dramatic societies and for the first time in my life I had been introduced to something I enjoyed as well as being introduced to other gay people. They were all a lot older than me and although they didn't realise it they'd shown me that being gay was nothing to be ashamed or scared off. These were nice, warm hearted people, generous and supportive. People with an excellent sense of humour, people who laughed a lot. Not the disgusting predatory people I'd been brought up to believe they were. I started to believe in myself. Not only had I finally found something I was good at and enjoyed but I'd also found a type of people who accepted me; people who didn't punch me as they walked past. Over the next few years my confidence grew; confidence in who and what I was. I felt like I had been hiding this secret for an eternity.
At the age of 12 I realised what made me different. I remember the night as if it were yesterday. I was lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, and then it hit me. 'I fancy boys', I thought. That's what makes me different from all the other boys at school! I'm attracted to boys! This thought filled me with horror. How was I ever going to be able to tell my parents? Looking out of my bedroom window and seeing nothing but fields I wondered if there was anyone else out there in the world that felt the way I did. At first I tried to convince myself that this was just a phase and that it would pass, but it didn't. At the time I didn't want to be gay, I hated it and would have done anything to change it. The fear of rejection was huge. I'd been brought up believing that gay people were somehow weird, degenerate and people to be feared. Of course, now I realise that nothing is further from the truth. I cried myself to sleep many times worrying that this secret of mine would one day come out. I hated myself for the thoughts and feelings I had and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get them to go away. Now I wouldn't change it for the world. I love and am very proud of who I am.
"The gay community is warm, supportive and welcoming. A club where you feel connected to other members instantly. If only I had known this back then."
At the age of 15 I decided to tell my parents. My mum was driving me to a friend’s house where I was staying the night, I was in the passenger seat and she just asked me, "Are you gay?" Something inside me screamed, "Say it!! Admit it!! She’s asked you!!" So I simply said, "Yes." I'm still not sure to this day if this was brave or stupid. We continued to drive and she dropped me at my friend’s house, where by this stage I really didn't want to be. I felt sick I didn't know where I wanted to be but it was not there. The next morning I drank a large glass of salt water to make myself vomit and my friend’s mum called my mother to get her to come and get me. I was driven to my grandparent’s house where I was sat with my entire family stood around me. The atmosphere was horrible. My father came up to me with his finger in my face and angrily said, "There has never been a queer Brocklebank and you are not going to be the first."
"My mother and grandmother stood in the kitchen crying."
My grandfather put his arm around me and said, "I'm going down to London on business, come with me son." I sat in his car feeling sick and cried for hours. He told me to let it all out. He was a wonderful man. I felt like I had done something wrong and somehow let everyone down even though it was something I couldn't help. This was the way I was born. I couldn't help this any more than I could help the colour of my eyes.
At around the same time I came out at school. What prompted me to do so I'm not sure. I think it is more common for 15/16 year olds to come out these days, but back in 1995 in Warwickshire it was completely unheard of. I told my best friend in confidence, but by lunch of that day the news travelled round the entire school. If any of the bullying that I had experienced up to this date was bad what I would experience the next two years at school was a living hell. I had grown up under a Thatcherite government. Margaret Thatcher had introduced a law called section 28 which meant that discussing, promoting or even acknowledging homosexuality in schools was illegal.
This meant that the teachers did nothing about the bullying until it got so bad that I had lost so much weight and personality through worry; this is when a couple of them did step in. I am eternally thankful to this day for their interventions. One in particular went out of her way and put her job on the line by giving me someone to talk to. She would even invite me to her class room to eat my lunch so that I could stay away from the people who were making my life hell.
By this stage I was virtually living with my maternal grandparents as I was now working as a professional actor. My grandfather used to drive me to London for auditions and voice-overs. I was grateful for the time out of Warwickshire and of school. I spent a lot of time out of school working in theatre, doing TV jobs and voiceovers. I loved every second of it. The time away gave me respite from the bullying which had gotten so bad my parents considered moving me to a different school. Things at home had calmed down as I'd now told my parents that my homosexuality was a phase. I had in effect gone back into the closet. I knew this wasn't true and I'm fairly certain they knew that too but I was exhausted and just wanted a quiet life.
I finished school and did ok in my GCSE's. It then came the time to decide what I was going to do next; A Levels/college etc. I knew I didn't want to stay on at the same school and do my A Levels. I couldn't wait to get out of that place and away from those people. I was offered a place at Stratford upon Avon College and was also offered a place at Redroofs Theatre School in Berkshire. I begged to go. The thought of doing a full time course doing something I loved was amazing! My parents couldn't afford the fees but as Redroofs were my agents too by this stage, they said they would send me on auditions and allow me to work during my studies to pay my fees off in bits. My parents agreed to let me go and they would kindly pay for my accommodation. So in September of 1996 at 16 years old I moved to Maidenhead. Not a big town but certainly bigger than the community I was used to living in within Warwickshire.
During one of the first weeks at college I was sat in a pub with a lime cordial and soda with several of my class mates when one of them asked me if I had a girlfriend. My mouth went dry. I felt the panic rise. "I'm gay", I said. I braced myself for backlash. "Oh cool", came the reply. I was stunned!
"No strange looks, no fists and no segregation! I couldn't believe that no one cared. For the first time in my life I felt like I fitted in."
These were certainly the best days of my youth. This was where life began. Those people that were sat around that table are to this day still very much a part of my life. I love them dearly. From then on life got a lot better for me. By 1998, my second year in college, I was working on the film Shakespeare in Love. My career was going well and I made the decision to come out publicly. Having to come out once was bad enough, but twice?! This wasn't an easy decision to make either but it was important to me to be true to myself. I had also been warned by the people doing my PR that someone was going to out me to the press so I decided to do it myself. I'm sure I would have done it at my own pace eventually anyway.
"As someone who makes his living pretending to be other people I didn't want to pretend to be someone else in my personal life too."
I had gone through so much to be who I was and I didn't want to deny that. I wish more actors would do this. The more of us that come out publicly the less of a big deal it'll become.
It took years for my family to fully come round to the idea of me being gay. They seemed to struggle with it. My father being ever quiet and just not mentioning it, my mother having occasional outbursts. But the way I saw it, it was about education. My parents had been brought up in the same closed minded rural community that I had. I knew that their concerns were coming from a place of love. It took years but I finally taught them that being gay didn't mean I was living some debauched, drug-fuelled, sexually deviant life. It didn't mean I couldn't hold down a long lasting loving relationship. It didn't mean that I couldn't be happy, which is, I'm certain, all they were worried about.
I adore my parents. We now have an amazing relationship. I speak to my mum every day. They adore me and love my partner. There is no animosity. My parents have learned that gay people are just people; people who have relationships that are just like theirs. Good people who love, laugh and live in ways very similar to them. I even heard once of my father sticking up for gay people in his local pub when he overheard someone making a homophobic comment. When I heard this story I couldn't have been more proud of him. They have come a long way.
Having lived in London for many years now I realise how small minded, bigoted and closed off those rural communities can be with everyone knowing everyone's business, people gossiping in the post office; small lives and small minds.
"Coming Out is different for all of us but being honest with yourself is so important. If you are having a tough time then please just remember that it will get easier. There's a community out there who will accept you. Stay strong. You are amazing! You are you!"
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