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Gay Times February 08 - Issue 353

In the Know - Christopher Biggins

Words by Rupert Smith
Photo James Stafford

King of the Jungle and Panto Queen of our hearts

I’ve always enjoyed fame. There are lots of perks: you can always get a table in a restaurant, and you get invited to all the best parties. Last week I was at Shirley Bassey’s 70th birthday party at Cliveden, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

The public has always been really good to me. Nobody ever tries to pick a fight. When Dennis Waterman was in Minder, he used to get blokes coming up to him trying to be all butch. I never get that.

Being open about our sexuality is the most important thing we can do. I’ve never made a secret of it, and people have always liked me. I get little children, young people, adults, 80-year-olds who know that I’m gay and they have absolutely no problem with it.

We have a duty to show that we can form stable, loving relationships; that’s why our Civil Partnership was so important to me. Neil and I have been together for 15 years, and we celebrated our CP as soon as we could. Seventy friends in Hackney Town Hall, then a big party at Joe Allen’s restaurant with Champagne and cake.

When I was presenting children’s television, it wasn’t so easy for me to be open about my sexuality. I was doing Rentaghost and On Safari, and so I couldn’t really go with the whole gay thing. There was such an equation between homosexuality and paedophilia, which is absolute nonsense. If someone interfered with my godchildren or my nephews and nieces, I’d go after them with a gun.

My feet haven’t touched the ground since I left the jungle. I’ve done the round of television chat shows, radio, magazines and all that. I’m having meetings with publishers about doing a book next year, and I’m in talks with ITV about doing a full-on entertainment show. People want entertainment with a capital E – and much as I love all those Simon Cowell shows, I think we should use the talent we already have. Let’s see people like Elaine Paige and Bonnie Langford doing fabulous things in gorgeous costumes with a full orchestra – and me at the helm!

You have no idea how well you’re doing when you’re on I’m a Celebrity. I thought I was going to be booted off every single day. When I came home, I discovered that all these people had been voting for me: J K Rowling, Daniel Craig, lots of friends, peers and the public were behind me. At the time, it was just very hard. Walking miles every day to fetch water. Changing the chemical toilets. Just grim. But I met some very good friends – and some people I never want to see again.

I get on with most people. I loved Lynne Franks, Anna Ryder Richardson, Cerys Matthews. I’m taking Gemma and J to the theatre for the first time in their lives this week. Marc Bannerman is divine: when I was covered in shit, he took me to the pool, got me stripped off, helped me wash and passed me the shampoo and conditioner.

I didn’t like everyone, though. John Burton Race, the chef, I will never see again. He was awful. He wouldn’t let any of us cook! How ridiculous! As for Janice Dickinson – well, she was vile. She is a professional reality TV star, and she’s incredibly good value as entertainment, but she is also incredibly damaged. She told me some awful stories about her family background, about her relationship with her father. It was terrible – but that doesn’t give her the right to be so hideous to everyone else.

I’ve always worked hard, and I’ve done some great jobs. Porridge really stands out, with the incomparable Ronnie Barker. And in I, Claudius I got to play Nero, which I could really get my teeth into. I love doing Pantomime. This is the first time I’ve missed doing Panto in well over 30 years, because I was in the jungle – and I can’t tell you how thrilling it is not to be doing it this year! I’ll be back next year, but for now I’m going to enjoy staying in bed all day with Neil, reading the papers and having a nice lunch, rather than having to dash off to do a matinee and an evening performance.

When I was 22, I got married to a woman. I was very young, I didn’t really know what I wanted, and it didn’t last. I met Neil 25 years ago, when I was doing Panto in Glasgow. He’s an air steward for British Airways – a trolley dolly – so we get very good deals on flights! We had a bit of a fling back then, but I was with someone else and it didn’t work out. Then ten years later, I was flying back from Barbados and the stewardess said “I think we have a mutual friend…” I gave her my number, I got back in touch with Neil and we got together on Valentine’s Day, 15 years ago. So I’ve been married to a woman and married to a man. The press asked my father what he thought about it, and he just said, “That’s our Chris…”

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