When Barclays decided to include a gay couple in their new personalized debit card commercial in the UK, they didn’t just hire two actors.
Instead they picked Niki Mahona, 23, outside his job at London’s famous Selfridges department store.
And they gave him and his 19-year-old real-life boyfriend, Luis Donegan-Brown – who also works at Selfridges – a taste of fame.
The couple have only been together for just over a year but now they have the claim to fame of being one of the very few same-sex partnerships ever depicted in a British mainstream TV commercial.
And it’s been a success – so far an incredible 300,000 Barclays customers have personalized their debit cards.
With the help of Barclays LGBT Spectrum network, we found out more.
How did you come to be involved in the personalised debit card advert?
Everything happened so quickly, Luis and I were ‘street cast’ on 15 August and by the 24 August we were in Holborn Studio having still shots done for the photo booth scene and then on 31 August we were on location in Tollington Square, London, for the live shoot.
What was it like?
The whole experience felt awesome. We were just told to be ourselves and not to overplay.
For the still shots, Luis and I were just fooling around against the blue screen, giving piggybacks and being silly. It quickly becomes clear what does and doesn’t work and I think they were pleased with the end result.
There was a really good atmosphere at the shoot with pumping music so it was easy for them to capture our personalities in this way. It all felt natural apart from the excessive smiling – my jaw was sore at the end of the day!
What was the most memorable thing about taking part?
Definitely the wow factor when we saw our printed card for the first time. It sounds corny, but it was magical. I was like ‘oh my God, I want a card like that!’
It’s not just made me want to bank with Barclays, I want to come and work for Barclays! I have been so impressed by everyone I’ve met; all the frontline colleagues seemed like best friends.
How do you feel about being a visible gay person in a TV advert?
I feel really proud. I am proud that I can be open about my sexuality and not shy away from comments. For many people who aren’t able to come out, I would hope that this might help plant the seed in their mind that they too can be open.
Some viewers have commented that because there was no kiss, it’s not clear enough that you are a gay couple. What would you say to them?
When we were filming, this subject did come up, but we shouldn’t have to kiss. Men and women shown cuddling are assumed to be in a couple, so why can’t it be the same for us? Sex sells in advertising, but emotion stays; I think that’s what you remember as a viewer.
What do you get up to when you’re not starring in TV ads?
This was a first! I’m an assistant manager in Selfridges, but my passion is singing. I am from Denmark and I used to have a band there. I tried to do the same here, but there’s just not enough time; London’s a busy place to live.
The experience of appearing in the Barclays commercial has motivated me to do more in the acting space, so you may see more of me again in the future – watch this space!
You can see the commercial here: