Loneliness of a locked down TV star: JOHN BARROWMAN describes how Covid’s left him without work and cut off from friends… but is planning the biggest step of all – fatherhood
John Barrowman, the perennially upbeat, affable and incontestably happy Mr Nice Guy, is feeling uncharacteristically glum.
Lockdown for him — a ‘control freak who loves to work’ — has been particularly difficult, he says. As for so many in the entertainment industry, 2020 has been a complete wash out.
‘This is the longest period I’ve been home without travelling. Normally I travel and work every weekend. Part of it is frustrating and part of it is depressing.
‘I know some people find it exciting but, personally, I don’t. I’m a control freak at heart, so having the element of not knowing what’s going on and having no control over it . . .’
John Barrowman (pictured in August), the perennially upbeat, affable and incontestably happy Mr Nice Guy, is feeling uncharacteristically glum in lockdown
He sighs. ‘I’ve been depressed to be honest. There have been days through lockdown when I’ve found it difficult to get up.’
John is speaking from his home in Palm Springs, California, where he spent lockdown with his architect husband Scott Gill, whom he married in 2013. They’d only intended to be there for a month when Covid-19 struck.
‘A lot of the friends I speak to on a daily basis are in the UK. If Covid hadn’t happened we’d have been here only for a month.
‘I was going to be working on some stuff in the UK, but that all went out the window. Everything stopped. There’s nothing on the horizon until January.
‘I’m used to being busy, but there are only so many times I could clean the floor or the toilet. By the time I’d done it ten times I was thinking, “OK what do I do now?” Then it just hit me: I don’t have people I can ring up and talk to.’
To hear John talk like this is a shock — he’s the one who’s been keeping everybody’s spirits up on social media over the past five months, but, as anyone in showbusiness will agree, a virtual ‘like’ is not the same as real-life applause.
‘One night, before I went to be bed, Scott said, “What’s wrong with you?” I said, “Everyone’s asking me to make them feel better, but nobody’s making me feel better. I don’t know what to do.”
‘I still did my little videos online for my fan family to help boost other people, which is when I realised, “Who’s around to help me? To talk me through it?”
John Barrowman poses with husband Scott Gill after being awarded an MBE at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on October 14, 2014 in London
‘Scott said, “What about me?” I told him it’s different. You’re there for me but you have friends you can call if you want to talk about stuff. It’s made me re-evaluate who is there for you and who isn’t. People you thought would pick up the phone and talk to you haven’t, or maybe I’ve picked the phone up and called them but there’s been no answer.’
John adds: ‘I find it a nightmare not being able to work. There is no real income coming in. There’s nothing. I’ve never been out of work in my life and now I am. It’s devastating.’
There has been one good thing to come out of lockdown, however. These months of enforced reflection and isolation have resulted in ‘an epiphany’ (John’s words) for them both, as it has for many. They are now both serious about wanting to pursue fatherhood — the big question is how.
‘I’d like a child of my own,’ says John. ‘Scott’s more into adopting an older child, but he’s always said to me, “If you’d like to have a baby you do it. I’ll obviously go along with it.”’
‘I said, “It doesn’t work that way. I can’t go out like I’m going to buy a new car.”’
Privately, it turns out John has wanted to become a father for some years, but Scott was less enthusiastic. ‘Having a child is a big decision and a big change,’ says John.
‘Lockdown has made us realise that we’ve a lot of time on our hands. I know I can work less now and spend more time at home, so there’s an epiphany.
‘I’ve been watching a lot of programmes on parenting. I also follow a lot of couples online and on Instagram — younger couples such as [diver] Tom Daley and his husband [Dustin Lance Black].
‘Then I think, “John, you’re 53 and Scott’s 57”. But Elton [John] and David [Furnish] did it later in life, so it can be done.’
Elton was 63 years old and David 48, when they had their first son, Zachary, via a surrogate in 2010. His brother Elijah was born via the same surrogate three years later.
‘You might be a little older and not able to kick the ball around the football pitch as much as you may have used to, but you can still give love and support,’ explains John.
‘Scott likes the idea of helping older children, say three siblings who need to be adopted and taken care of. We’d love to do something like that, because we’d love to keep a family together. We have a lot of love to offer and a lot of guidance. We feel we could be really good parents.’
If any couple can find a way work out parenthood, they can.
John Barrowman has been keeping everybody’s spirits up on social media over the past five months. Pictured: Barrowman stars in BBC’s Holby City in July
John Barrowman is, of course, the prolific Scottish-American performer who has quietly established himself as one of our best-loved stars.
He’s been in just about every West End musical from Phantom Of The Opera to Chicago, as well as winning the hearts of children playing the charismatic, bisexual Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who. So popular was his character, it sparked a successful spin off series of his own, Torchwood.
These days, he’s also turned his hand to judging — this year, before lockdown, he replaced Jason Gardiner on the Dancing On Ice panel.
His ‘national treasure’ status was further bolstered last Christmas when he heard about Terrence — the lonely pensioner who had spent the past 20 Christmases on his own.
John was so moved he invited him on to his A Fabulous Christmas Tour in Sheffield and asked the audience to sing to him.
John Barrowman is a prolific Scottish-American performer who has quietly established himself as one of our best-loved stars
John and Scott have one of the strongest partnerships in showbusiness, having been together for 27 years. ‘I’m the boat on top of the waves and he’s the keel underneath,’ says John.
He met Scott when he was appearing in a production at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester in 1993. Scott had come to watch the play with a mutual friend who brought him backstage afterwards.
‘I saw him at the dressing room door and, of course, I didn’t know who he was but, somehow, I knew he was the one I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I needed to get to know him.
‘Over the next nine months I kept seeing him on the street [in London], or I’d be driving to work and see him at the bus stop.
‘It wasn’t until I was in Sunset Boulevard that I was test driving a Jag through Soho with the top down — as you do to attract a little attention,’ he laughs. ‘I saw Scott in the street with this friend of ours, pulled up next to him and started chatting. I thought, “this is the moment”.
‘So I invited him and this friend to come to see Sunset Boulevard and that was it. We went out for dinner afterwards and were inseparable from that point on.’
John has been a pioneering actor in his own way. As Captain Jack Harkness, he was the first gay man to play, as he puts it, an ‘omni-sexual or openly bisexual, whatever you want to call it, hero on television’.
‘Torchwood changed my life,’ he says. ‘I learned a lot not only from being Jack and seeing the response to him but also to me. That’s when I kind of got the if-you-don’t-like-me-I-really-don’t-want-you-in-my-life model. When you stick to your truth, life gets easier.’
Earlier this year, he gave the same advice to Phillip Schofield, who co-presents Dancing On Ice with Holly Willoughby, when he came out as gay in February.
John has wanted to become a father for some years. Pictured: Barrowman on ITV’s This Morning last year
John only started living as an out gay man when he was in his mid-20s. Popular This Morning presenter Phillip came out after 27 years of marriage to his wife, Stephanie Lowe, with whom he has two daughters.
Phillip and John first met on the kids’ programme Live And Kicking in the Nineties and they happened to be working together on the ice-skating show the day Phillip made his sexuality public.
‘I saw him on the night he came out,’ says John. ‘I knew he was upset. I gave him a hug and congratulated him in a very mild way, because I knew he was thinking about his wife and kids.
‘I told him it will get better. I told him it will be tough, in particular, because you’re in the public eye and you’re married. People look at that differently. You’ve got a lot of different hurdles to overcome, but it will get easier.
‘He [Phillip] said that, for years, he sat on the sofa helping other people live their truth and he wasn’t living his.
Barrowman met Scott when he was appearing in a production at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester in 1993
‘I gave him a big hug and he shed some tears on my shoulder. I think he felt it was nice to hear from somebody else who had not been through it in the same way, but was living his truth.’
John was born in Glasgow but brought up in Illinois where he moved with his family, including two older siblings, at the age of eight. Encouraged by his high school teachers, he studied performing arts in San Diego before landing the role of Billy Crocker in Cole Porter’s Anything Goes in London’s West End at the age of 22.
Lead roles in the theatreland’s biggest musicals followed, but it would be three years before John began to live openly as a gay man.
‘I always knew I was different in the sense I didn’t like girls the way my brother liked girls, but growing up in the Seventies and Eighties you wouldn’t reveal that,’ he says. ‘I didn’t beat myself up about it. I just knew I was different and I kept it to myself.
‘I was a late bloomer. I’ve never slept with a girl and I’d never slept with a boy until my mid-20s. I was too focused on my work.
‘Also, in the back of my head, I thought I had to be straight in order to have a good career.
‘Then, in 1991, I met my first boyfriend who was a Spanish flamenco dancer. That was when I lost my virginity. If anyone dates a Spanish flamenco dancer and doesn’t lose their virginity, they’re stupid.’
He came out to his parents the following year when he was starring in Phantom Of The Opera and feared he had HIV.
‘Any gay man who got sick during that period — whether you had a cold, a cough or a fever — you thought you had HIV. The results took a while to come through. I really thought I was sick so I flew home, not only to tell my parents I was gay, but if I was going to be sick I wanted to be sick at home.
‘In the end, everything was OK but I had no idea what the result was going to be when I reached the States. I just knew I wanted to live my life — for however long — as who I was inside.
‘I remember my parents were in their bedroom getting ready to go out when I mustered up the courage to tell them.
‘I was standing in the doorway and said, “I’m prepared for you to throw me out. If you do, I’m going to walk out of that door with my head high and I’m going to live my life. It’s going to be unfortunate, because you won’t be a part of it, but I’m telling you because I want you to be part of my life.
‘It’s going to be a great journey and I’m going to have an awesome time. I want you there and I need you there.”
‘Then I said, “I’m gay”. I burst into tears.
My mum walked to the other side of the room, turned around and went, “Well, I’ve known”.
‘My dad [a manufacturing manager who rose to be vice president of the machinery giant Caterpillar] just said, “What you do in your bedroom is really none of your mother’s or my business. You’re our son. We’ll always love you. Of course we’re not going to throw you out, but it might take a little while for us to understand.”
‘I said, “I’m willing to teach you.” Dad said, “OK. Can we go and get dinner at the country club now?”’
John remains enormously close to his parents. He spent lockdown in Palm Springs looking after them as they sheltered, particularly his mother who broke her hip.
‘In this new time, you’ve got to think about what you have to do and how you’ve got to be safe and protect everybody.
‘We have to treat everyone like we [in the gay community] did in the Eighties and Nineties: as if they have the disease. You have to protect yourself. My message is, “wear your mask”.’
‘Everybody needs to do what they can to make the future work.’ With or without a baby Barrowman? He laughs. ‘Who knows?’ Indeed.
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