Dan Gillespie Sells on blurring queer lines with his new West End musical

Johan Persson

New coming-of-age musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie stormed to remarkable success earlier this year – opening to five star reviews at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.

Set to open at London’s Apollo Theatre from 6 November, revisit our exclusive interview with the music genius behind the show – Dan Gillespie Sells.

First seen in the February 2017 edition of Gay Times. 

The Feeling frontman and chart-topper Dan Gillespie Sells is back with a new musical.

Debuting in Sheffield in February, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie champions the power of embracing your own queerness. It follows the true story of a brave young teen taking his first steps on the road to self-acceptance in heels and drag – first shown as the BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16.

Fighting to forever be unapologetically himself, Dan tell us why this tale of a boy with a dream and a passion for drag could be the queer musical new generations have been waiting for.

“I do quite like my gay life and my gay things,” proclaims singer, writer and musician Dan. “Maybe I’m old fashioned, but in the future, people might not want to be referred to by their gender and, as such, their sexuality becomes irrelevant.”

Related: Exclusive: First look at new coming-of-age musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

It’s an interesting notion that The Feeling frontman raises when we meet one afternoon. Dan is taking a break from studio time to discuss his latest project Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – a fresh musical inspired by the hit BBC Three documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, which followed a young teen who fights against his school and his father’s wishes to soar to loud and proud new heights.

“If you take gender out the equation then sexuality disappears,” Dan continues to explain when asked why he’s championing this particular project. “I don’t take identity seriously in that I think it’s put on us. We can play with it, as gay is an adjective and nothing more. It’s not a box or a constraint, it’s not a straitjacket someone puts me in. It’s not a cage.

“I’ll say ‘I’m gay’ but therefore am I like every other gay person? No. I’m a man, I’m gay, I’m also a human and I’m also English, European, of the world, and onward. They all describe the colours of me as a person.”

Johan Persson

As we consider Dan’s take on the gay human condition, our urge to know more about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie grows. Why now? And why this story?

“This story isn’t as niche as you think,” smiles Dan. “The gender or drag element of this show or Jamie’s life isn’t a niche thing anymore, as it’s become noticeably mainstream now. At the core of our story is Jamie and his mum – a 16-year-old kid and his mum. It’s their journey of discovery together as a team that makes it relatable.

“Now, more than ever, when you make art about difference and about other-ing – that awful thing we do – you wonder if stereotypes are really relevant? They’ve become almost everyday political discourse.”

Raised in an LGBT+ household by his two mums, and accepting of his own sexuality from a young age, Dan floats the idea of blurring the line between a person’s sexuality and gender once again. Highlighting his own personal experiences alongside his fear of us potentially ‘losing our queerness’.

Related: Strut inside rehearsals of new coming-of-age musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

“I was raised by feminists and sometimes there’s a feminist argument that it’s demeaning to women. Maybe it’s actually fucking with the idea of identity and femininity.” Pausing to think, his tone becomes firm.

“When we get into the argument of trans issues and drag issues, I’m fearful that we lose the idea of androgyny. I’m fearful of their not being sissy boys and effeminate men. I grew up with Annie Lennox on the telly singing in the back of the car with the cropped hair and suit. In a totally non-sexualised way, she was being powerful and being a woman but in a cool, dyke way. We had Bowie in the 70s and we had all that stuff. I don’t want to lose that to gender-norming. It worries me!”

Chuckling that his own coming out “was actually alright”, we suggest that Dan’s motivation in getting behind Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is to help others who weren’t or aren’t as fortunate as he was.

“I’d be wary of saying it is for any purpose other than the art,” tiptoes Dan. “A piece of art can’t become preachy, especially in theatre, as you’re preaching to the converted already – let’s face it! I think this does have a message, almost by accident in a way. It’s not being fronted or put in there to change the world, but to show the brave kid who did a brave thing.”

Johan Persson

Bringing together New York director Jonathan Butterell and writer Tom MacRae – of Doctor Who success – the show arrives at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, this February. Confident it’ll receive a London premiere down the line, Dan reminds us that audiences today are often drawn to theatre that maybe isn’t directly related to their life; confirming that a coming-of-age musical isn’t just for the LGBT+ community, but for anyone that goes on a path of self-discovery to become their own unique person.

“The power of art is that you find yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Dan says. “It’s seeing something from someone else’s perspective, or seeing a bit of yourself represented by someone else. That’s powerful, especially when effeminate men don’t get represented in life or the media – certainly never in a heroic sense like this, anyway.”

Related: Stars from West End celebrate Pride in London with these exclusive videos – watch

Curious as to why he specifically references effeminate men here, we push for more. “Where’s the hero story for someone like Jamie? Where’s that story of the effeminate male? That story NEVER gets told on stage.”

Gay-focused musicals like Kinky Boots and RENT aside, we agree that the highest grossing musicals in the world have tended to tread on the more heteronormative side.

“The effeminate male gets told they’re funny or adorable in a kind of patronising fashion,” he continues. “We have an older gay character who teaches Jamie the world of drag. Our Jamie becomes this creature and is taught to almost develop armour by an older generation. At the end, he goes full circle and becomes Jamie in a dress. He realises, what he needs is to walk down the road in heels and a dress – and feel wonderful. To feel beautiful and not EVER feel ashamed.”

Johan Persson

With a strong leading queer character, an empowering message and a production team led by an openly gay artist, it’s only a matter of time before everybody really is talking about Jamie. Optimistic about the power of telling this story to the world, Dan laments as we watch the passion flow directly from his heart.

“This musical is the story of our generation telling of what it is to be gay or be different. It’s what it’s like to discover identity in your way NOW, today. The generation before us told a queer story of their time, which is different to ours.

“When I speak to young LGBT+ people, they are more concerned with general identity issues rather than just sexuality. Jamie is that kid who was always out – he just couldn’t hide who he was. He’s effeminate and gorgeous, and there’s no way he could ever hide who he’s meant to be.

“Let’s make this a piece of theatre that’s beautiful, rather than just feather boas.” Gesturing to those around us, he adds: “This is relevant to us all, now.”

That’s a snatch at equality we should all get behind.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie opens at London’s Apollo Theatre from 6 November.

More information can be found here

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