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James Wharton: From Barracks to Books

The gay elite were out in force for James Wharton's book launch...

‘I’m not an author; I was a soldier.’ said James Wharton at the first public reading of his autobiography Out in the Army: My Life as a Gay Soldier, held at London’s exclusive Cavalry and Guards Club last night. It seems that much has changed in the life of this young trooper, who left the army a mere six weeks ago after ten years of service. ‘I had no intention to write a book. I kept writing little notes here and there, and after talking to some people, they told me I had to make it into a book.’

Wharton joined the army in 2003 in the prestigious ranks of the Blues and Royals, which saw him escorting the Queen to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding, and also spent time in Iraq in 2007. With a genuine sense of modesty, ‘I’m not the greatest reader but hopefully I’ll be alright’, Wharton read an excerpt from chapter one, titled The Great Escape, from the book that documents his army career, from the highs to the lows and everything in between. ‘I’ve been a little bit honest in some places, and received some late night calls from my mother when she was reading the book. They’re the more interesting parts’ he laughed.

But it’s not all about late night exploits and barrack bonding sessions. The autobiography also deals with the stigmas and discriminations within the army and how they are dealt with. ‘The book is essentially about change, at an incredibly quick pace. The army that is depicted should change from the start of the book to the end.’ Wharton himself has been a massive influence in this change. He was the first gay person to appear on the front cover the British Army’s official magazine Soldier, and with his husband Thomas, became the first same sex couple to marry in the Household Cavalry’s 350-year history. ‘I hope [the book] serves as a source of inspiration and shows how a traditional organisation like the British Army can be forward moving and accepting of diversity.’

As a catalytic force for change, Wharton also travels around secondary schools in the UK as an ambassador for the charity Stonewall and discusses his experience as an ‘out’ soldier with young students. Wharton recently garnered much attention when he revealed that everyone’s favourite Prince Harry had saved him from homophobic bullying from six members of a different regiment when on a training exercise in Canada in 2008.

Last night’s reading continued Wharton’s philanthropic efforts, with the proceeds from the event being donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity that works to raise awareness of HIV and sexual health. Speaking of his respect for and the importance of the Terrence Higgins Trust, he said ‘When I was young, I got caught up in the gay scene and all sorts of trouble. I had no knowledge of the dangers that gay people can be exposed to. The Trust provides education and support.’

A raft of well-known figures attended the event, including Paul Gambaccini, Paul O'Grady, Jonathan Harvey, Dan Gillespie Sells, Christopher Biggins and many more.

His work was praised by presenter Gambaccini, who said ‘I love this book. It is not a literary book; it is a human book.’ Gambaccini’s good opinion extended to the author as well. ‘All this time, he was a hero. Not just a battlefield hero, which he was, but a real life hero, who has lived an honest and true life with all his heart.’ With Wharton as a role model, public figure and now author, hopefully he can inspire others, whether in the British Forces or not, to do the same.

Words: Darcy Rive

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