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Why West End star Jonathan Bailey’s speaking out on LGBTI homelessness

Why West End star Jonathan Bailey’s speaking out on LGBTI homelessness

Jonathan Bailey | Photo: Albert Kennedy Trust

Rising star Jonathan Bailey has a long history with the Albert Kennedy Trust, the group tirelessly working to counter LGBTI youth homelessness, and community members living in hostile environments.

The actor remembers first marching at Pride in London in 2014 in an AKT shirt given to him by a friend who worked for the organization. ‘Little did I know years later I’d be an ambassador!’ he says.

Fast forward to 2019, and Jonathan and the rest of the cast of Company – the hit West End show he’s currently appearing in – will co-host a gala night to raise money for the cause on 12 February.

‘Our assistant producer’s put aside 50 free tickets for young LGBTQ people who’ve come through the care of the AKT,’ he explains. ‘Alongside that, there are 100 tickets that will be sold to raise money. There’ll be a big do afterwards. It’ll be a super uplifting evening.’

The show’s of course a revival of the classic musical that debuted on Broadway in 1970, with music and lyrics by icon Stephen Sondheim. This version costars Broadway legend Patti LuPone and ex-Bake Off host Melanie Giedroyc in supporting roles.

The gala, Jonathan admits, was his idea. It came about after he met AKT’s Chief Exec Tim Sigsworth MBE, and helped arrange a similar gala at the Donmar Warehouse last year.

‘We always discuss ways we can raise awareness and money,’ explains Jonathan. ‘The initial thing, a no-brainer, was to ask Patti to offer up an evening for a dinner they could sell at auction.’

‘Patti’s fashion’s always on point’

And what’s the two-time Tony and Grammy Award winner like to work with, I wonder?

‘Amazing,’ he says. ‘Full of showbiz stories, but also not – down to Earth and fucking cool. Her fashion’s on point, she’s always got an amazing opinion, she’s warm, generous and funny… She grafts.’

And Sondheim?

‘He’s astonishing,’ he replies. ‘An animal of the theatre. After the first performance he gave a speech and burst into tears. Patti’s known him [for years] and said she can count on one hand the number of times she’s seen him cry. There’s something about this reinvention that’s touched him.’

‘We recorded the album recently,’ Jonathan furthermore adds. ‘He’d wrestle the mic and there’s this iconic voice through the headphones… Like he’s been smoking 90,000 cigarettes a day! There’s something magical about him.’

‘I asked Sondheim for a photo’

But something I often wonder of legends – can you talk to him on a personal level?

‘Yeah. Before he came in, me and Mel decided we were going to be brassy and salt of the Earth. I was like: “Where are you staying?” “The Covent Garden Hotel…” “No way!? Wicked…!”

‘But you quickly burn out. Like meeting all legends, I was completely in awe by the end. After having had quite a successful conversation, as he walked away, I said “Oh, please can I have a photo!”’

It’s notable Sondheim gave his seal of approval to this production – about a 35-year-old single woman in New York ‘surrounded by couples’; dealing with ‘heteronormative’ societal pressures to get married and have a baby – given it features a huge artistic change.

’It’s gender-swopped,’ explains Jonathan, who plays the main character’s best friend Jamie (previously Amy), a gay man. ‘He has a panic attack on his wedding day. It’s a stark and compelling presentation of what a gay man [might] feel suddenly being able to get married and being acknowledged by a society in a way we weren’t before. It’s a genius idea.’

‘I’d like to get married one day’

Jonathan’s previously said he drew on his own experiences to prepare for the role. ‘My experience as a gay man, my friends’ experiences,’ he says.

‘The gay experience changes every five years from what I can tell,’ he furthermore adds. ‘Now, for me and my friends, all we know is each other and the intimate conversations we’ve have. It’s hard to unpick years of systemic belief that you’re not going to be able to commit, in a way you were born into, the institute of marriage, but also into the arms of someone else.’

‘Of course we can now, it’s brilliant, and everyone’s entitled to their own relationship,’ he continues. ‘That’s how it should be. And although that isn’t my experience, I can understand why a gay man [like Jamie] who, at 30, has everything going for him, has organized this huge wedding with this older gay guy who’s more solid within himself… [He’s thinking] “How can I love someone fully if I don’t love myself? When I’ve been brought up thinking something intrinsic to who I am is wrong?”‘

Truly, Company’s a story that’s about relationships in all their forms – from friendship to one’s relationship with oneself, to love and marriage. And would Jonathan like to get married one day?

‘I think yeah,’ he replies. ‘I want to get married to someone who wants to get married to me. Not “I have to get married to validate my relationship.” I wouldn’t prioritise it. I would definitely like to be in a long-term relationship, and monogamous. I completely believe in that being something that, for me, is the ultimate value. But I can identify that’s different for other people.’

For more information about the Albert Kennedy Trust, click here.

See also: 

London’s first permanent LGBTI homeless shelter struggles to find a home

Five LGBTI people reveal what it’s like to be young and homeless