Happy Birthday Harry Derbidge!
18 Today. Eighteen!
More from GT Screen
In honour of the coming of age of one of our favourite gay TV stars, Mr Harry Derbidge, here is the full interview we did with him this year...
Have a great day Harry.
The Boys from GT
It’s happened in barely a year and a half. Mr Harry Derbridge, Essex boy and former performing arts student (“literally, my WHOLE college was gay”) has become, arguably, the most recognisable gay teenager in the country. How on earth did that happen? But while so many dismiss him for his fake tan, reality TV beginnings and OF COURSE, obligatory self-designed jewellery range, you’d be a fool to write him off. There’s something special about this kid. As every 17-year-old with a social network login or ten knows, you don’t amass a quarter of a million Twitter followers (or, for that matter, land an exclusive GT fashion shoot) through bling and catchphrase alone.
His popularity, in fact, is unstoppable. Harry and cousin Amy Childs were the breakout stars of ITV2’s hit scripted reality (or ’dramality’) show The Only Way Is Essex. And as is increasingly the case in these post-Heat times, he moved on to pastures new after only three series. But how could Harry leave behind such man candy as Mark, Kirk and Joey?
And which one was his favourite?
“Mark Wright is hot,” Harry giggles. “You can’t deny Mark Wright is hot. He’s got a nice body, he’s got nice looks. But he’s not someone I’d look at and go, ‘Ooh, I fancy him!’ Me, Mark, Kirk and Joey, the whole TOWIE cast have become a big family. We all look out for each other. Same with Arg. He’s like a bodyguard, I love him to pieces.”
Fair enough. But why, if this militia of buff men are so great to work with, did Harry leave the show?
“I managed to get the perfect amount of screen time last time,” he answers breezily, expressing no regrets. “But when you think about it, they’re bringing in 12 new people. That’s a lot of people to share and give stuff to. It feels right to leave and do my own thing. It’s not like I’m going back to a 9 to 5. I’m doing better things now, which will be amazing for me.”
But what are these better things, exactly? Could Harry be getting his own show, like Amy? His coy laugh suggests maybe.
“I can’t really talk about it to be honest,” he giggles. “But literally, me and Amy have literally requested to work more together.”
LITERALLY, they’re getting a show together. Well, that’s our guess anyway. But Harry was the heart and soul of TOWIE – how will the casting agents ever replace him?
“You know what,” Harry cackles, “I’d lay money down they’re gonna bring two new gays in.”
More fool them. Harry’s an absolute one off: happy, confident and completely comfortable in his own skin, he made coming out to the entire country – AT 16 YEARS OLD – look effortless. And this, despite the pressure targeted at gays on TV to be straight acting.
“I did an interview with once,” he says. “And they said to me, ‘you’re SO camp – people don’t like that.’”
How would you react to such a ludicrous charge, at such an age, in such a situation? For Harry, dainty and gentle but with enviable backbone, there was only one possible response.
“I said ‘Well, what would you rather me be? Someone I’m not? Would you rather me be straight? Or would you rather me be me?’ I’m not going to change for anyone. I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for what I’m not.”
He’s stunningly self-assured for one so young. Throughout our interview, I must frequently remind myself I’m not talking to someone twice Harry’s age. It’s relieving to note his maturity. With his level of celebrity Harry could be out getting wasted every night (despite being too young to drink legally), enjoying all the trappings of fame before promptly falling victim to them.
“I prefer to sit on my Twitter all day than go on a big night out!” he insists, adorably. “Replying to every single person that writes to me. Reading messages that people look up to me, that they love me, that they want to be me, that they love me on TV, that they just bought my jewellery...” I can’t help but laugh.
It’s just as well he focuses on the positive. Despite his millions of fans, Harry, like every celebrity, is routinely the target of mud slinging. And not just from the aforementioned idiot journalist. He occasionally falls prey to cyber-bullies, or ‘trolls’, as they’re known. When these anonymous assailants start picking on you for your sexuality – publicly – how does one cope? And what happens when the virtual abuse turns physical?
GT: Cyber bullying is a really modern form of bullying, isn’t it?
Harry: [Laughs] I always say ‘If you can’t say it to my face, don’t say it over the Internet.’ Bullying over the Internet or over the phone… I feel like saying, ‘Oh, bore me later!’ The worst thing any celebrity can do is reply to someone that’s being horrible to you. I follow celebrities that do it and it’s so wrong.
GT: Have you experienced homophobia in any other form?
Harry: I could go to the shopping centre and someone could shout to me, “Oh, you’re gay!” Obviously I can’t turn around and cause a problem because next thing you know it’ll be in the paper. You’ve got to carry on and keep going. But it doesn’t bother me. If anything, we laugh at it.
GT: But it does happen, in life, on the street?
Harry: Of course it does.
GT: I wanted to touch on the attacks that were targeted against some of the TOWIE cast members last year. I was reading that a boy you were dating on the show, Kurt Evans, was a victim of one of those attacks…
Harry: He was, yeah. He came to my house, and, oh my god… it was terrible. He had cuts all over his face; he couldn’t even walk properly. He was that hurt. It’s scary.
GT: It was all the more upsetting for you, I’d imagine, because you had feelings for him.
Harry: I had feelings for him. I fancied him. But then you really get to know someone and you know it’s not for you. I never loved him, [but] we’re sill friends today and we talk all the time. To see him in pain like that really upset me.
GT: When it happened, did it occur to you that it could’ve been you?
Harry: Yeah, it did. [Pauses] If that had happened to me, I would just be… I don’t know what I would’ve done.
It is indeed a horrifying thought, and one that will doubtless bring out the big brother in all of us. So, I tell Harry not to worry. Should anything ever happen to him, the culprit would face an army of torch wielding gays – not to mention a feisty beauty therapist brandishing a pair of red-hot curling tongs.
Speaking of Amy, I sense credit for Harry’s own strong backbone probably lies with her, and the rest of their family. I ask him what coming out to them was like, a question most evade but Harry answers happily. “It wasn’t a shock!” he says of his parents. “My mum knew. My dad, believe it or not, is a rough and ready man, [but] he loves the fact that he’s got me. He always looks out for me and he’ll do anything for me, which is lovely. And Amy was the first person I told because it felt right. We’ve always just been close.
“I’ve been so lucky because everyone has been so positive and I think that’s the way it should be for everyone. I do meet and greets and obviously I’ve got quite a lot of young gay fans. They’re, like, 13 and 14. I once met a boy who says to me, ‘Oh, my mum and dad kicked me out of my house and I haven’t seen them since.’ I just think that is so wrong. I’ve started working with Stonewall; I’ve said to them I want to start going round schools and talking. I’d love to do something like that. It’s a possibility. My mum says she wants to do it as well.”
At an age when most look to those older for guidance, Harry’s already masterminding a crusade to help his younger gay fans. I think this is pretty amazing. And what’s more, he’s bound to succeed in this aim because he’s just like the kids he seeks to help; he knows how to communicate with them. He is, after all, a normal teenage boy. In fact he’s currently experiencing THE obligatory teenage rite of passage: the loss of your first love.
“I just came out of a really, really, really bad, rocky relationship”, he admits, neglecting to reveal the boy’s identity until I reveal it for him. I’ve heard he’s been on-again, off-again with Anthony Hannah, member the now defunct X Factor boyband Eton Road, for ages.
“Oh my god that’s exactly who I’m talking about!” he exclaims. “They made us keep it all secret and you know already! We might as well talk about it then. Yeah it was Anthony, and I loved him to pieces, and probably always will. It was a really bad time in my life, it wrecked and ruined me for a bit. [But] first loves are supposed to be like that. You’re supposed to get hurt so you can learn and move on from it.”
Sound familiar? And just when you think an interviewee couldn’t get more, well, normal, Harry outdoes himself. As our chat draws to an end, I ask him what’s next.
“Well I’ve launched my jewellery with Lemonade. I’m about to take part in Let’s Dance for Sport Relief, I can’t wait to reveal what song we’re dancing to. I hope to take part in a West End show or land my dream presenting job that would be amazing and I really wanna book a trip to New York,” he almost screams in reply. “For me and my Mum! I’ve never been to America and I’ve always wanted to try their McDonald’s. I hear they’re bigger!”
Words: Jamie Tabberer, Photography: Leigh Keily (assisted by Dami Soluade) Style Editor: Dennis Maloney, Styling: Russell Philip Peek, Grooming: Evan Huang using YSL and NARS, Harry wears suit by Topman, topman.com, T shirt by Sandro, sandro-paris.com, Waistcoat by Brian Clarke, brianclarkemenswear.com, Scarf is stylist’s own, Shoes by John Rocha, johnrocha.ie