It was in March 2002 when Will Young’s coming out was splashed across the front page of the News of the World: ‘I’m gay.’
Shortly after winning the first Pop Idol in the UK – the first singing competition of its kind which would launch Idol around the world and later X Factor – we had a young, beloved gay singer in the public eye.
It was a massive step in recognition and visibility for gay youth. Speaking as someone who was 13 at the time, it was an undeniable statement. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone, I had someone to look up to. But it had a price.
‘I feel it’s time to tell my fans I’m gay. It’s totally no big deal, just part of who I am,’ he said.
‘For me it’s normal and nothing to be ashamed about. I’m gay and I’m comfortable with that. I really don’t know what the fuss is about.’
And then came the kicker, the perhaps record label-mandated line in the statement promising to not be ‘flaming’ or ‘homo’ about it. Even then, even at 13, it was uncomfortable to read.
‘I’ve always been discreet and I’m not a campaigner when it comes to my sexuality,’ Will added.
It emerged that Will was forced to come out over ‘pressure’ from the press. He pre-empted a journalist who had planned to write an ‘exposé’ over Will’s private life.
So he had to come out, forced out, otherwise he would be outed in the most embarrassing and career-destroying way possible before it even began. He was effectively blackmailed.
‘I don’t wish to talk about it any further,’ Will said in a sobering way that would be ignored for years at the end of his statement. ‘My private life is my private life.’
Flash forward 14 years later, and Will is still facing endless speculation over what he gets up to behind closed doors.
The catalyst this time? Not coming out, but quitting Strictly Come Dancing after the third week.
‘Unfortunately, I am leaving the show for personal reasons,’ he said in his statement.
‘I leave with joy in my heart that I have been able to take part in one of the most loved shows on British television.’
Not being more detailed about what is actually going on has sent the press into a frustrated feeble frenzy. From the Daily Mail to BBC Breakfast, speculation has been endless over what happened to force Will to leave the dancing competition this past week.
His spat with judge Len Goodman? Anxiety? A death in the family? A fight with his professional partner? A temper tantrum over how he might not win?
All of these have been offered as possible answers to why he left, but none of them have been confirmed. Some of the papers are going so extreme, so bizarre, so critical it feels – from an outsider – that Will is being coerced into revealing the truth to just stop people talking about the possibilities.
‘Here’s the thing. I’m absolutely dandy, thanks. It’s all very undramatic, really,’ Will said in a text to BBC Radio 2.
‘I’ve done my statement and others can say what they want to say. I never read what they say anyway.’
Can you blame him? From the beginning of his career the press has hounded him to offer up nuggets of his privacy.
In his debut single, Evergreen, he sang to a girl who was ‘more beautiful [he] has ever seen’. In songs since then, he was de-sexed. Neutered. And then there was never a gendered pronoun in his lyrics.
You might say he is a celebrity, he is out in the public eye, and has chosen a job that means a sacrifice of his personal life. But he’s already done that.
In 2012 Will was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, depersonalisation, derealisation, depression and spent six months at Khiron House – a trauma center in Oxfordshire. He’s also opened up about his past porn and alcohol addiction.
In Brave Man, released in 2015, he sings ‘I’m a brave man/Not scared to feel the pain.’ Written at his lowest point, it’s a song that offers a glimpse into his breakdown. It’s fitting, as he searches his soul for how he feels about his sexuality, the video stars a naked trans man running through the streets.
No one knows the actual reason why Will Young left Strictly Come Dancing other than him and those closest to him. All these ‘sources’ informing papers are bullshit, and even if they aren’t the reporters themselves making the quotes up to fill column inches, they are just guesses.
People deserve peace. Let Will have it.
Joe Morgan is the Editor-At-Large at Gay Star News. You can follow him on Twitter.