Knock at the Cabin and Spoiler Alert star Ben Aldridge has opened up about coming out as gay as he leads the Film, TV, and Music category in this year’s Attitude 101, empowered by Bentley.
In the following excerpt from his cover interview for issue 351, the actor, spoke exclusively to Attitude’s Cliff Joannou about his latest projects as well as his experience of coming out.
Both Knock at the Cabin and Spoiler Alert feature a narrative device that is common to most queer-centric films: the coming-out scene. For Aldridge, his own coming-out was a slow process of growing past his fears of what it means to be a gay man. The first person he came out to was actor Kirsty Woodward who, ironically, he first got to know in a play at the Soho Theatre. They were in Paris together, Aldridge was 23, and he had just graduated and was working on Lark Rise to Candleford, a series on the BBC.
“We were walking down a street with loads of shoe shops on it, and I realised that it was getting to a point where it was making me unhappy. I felt like I had to talk to someone about it,” recalls Aldridge. “I just said to her, ‘I think I like boys as well as girls.’ I just felt very safe with her. And she was like, ‘OK.’ Then she compared women and men to fruits and was like, ‘You’ve just eaten one fruit out of the fruit bowl. You’ve eaten apples. You need to try some strawberries.’ She was like, ‘Just try it.’”
So, it was only apples and no strawberries for Aldridge until that point? “I didn’t kiss a guy until I was 23. I was strawberry-less, very limited on my fruits. Wasn’t part of my five-a-day.” He then created a dating profile on Guardian Soulmates. “I listed myself as bisexual, and didn’t have my photos public, because I was on TV. I was really terrified that it would derail my career. And I was playing a straight romantic lead in a period drama on the BBC at the time.”
Britain in 2010 was a very different time where closeted people in the public eye were still being outed in the media. Social media was yet to proliferate, and openly LGBTQ+ representation on screen was rare. When it did occur it was often far from diverse and laden with negative tropes. This was compounded by the fact that Aldridge grew up in a religious household.
“I was just deeply ashamed and deeply afraid. There was no positive to it. It was only ever a ‘negative lifestyle’. And I also didn’t know what it was, as well. I didn’t know what it would lead to. I had no examples. None at all,” Aldridge says of the time. “I didn’t even let myself watch Queer as Folk. I was too afraid to watch it. When I was aged eight, I watched an episode of This Life with my sister. The actor, Ramon Tikaram, he had long hair and was in biker leathers, and he kissed a guy.
“I remember saying to my sister, ‘I like that’. I can remember feeling that I liked it. And she, I think just out of concern, told my mum. And I remember my mum talking to me about that. And whatever that conversation was, I realised it wasn’t a good thing. And actually, Ramon, we are in Pennyworth together, and I’ve been able to tell Ramon this story, years later. He was like, ‘That’s such a beautiful thing.’”
As groundbreaking as Queer as Folk was, even I remember finding the unapologetic pride in the series challenging to watch. It was without doubt television that changed the media landscape for queer representation for the better, but for little closeted me, it was a window into an almost unrelatable world that felt a million miles from my own life. Still, it taught me — and countless others — the basics of understanding the sheer, unabandoned joy that comes with accepting yourself. (And, of course, a crash course in rimming.) But I couldn’t relate to those situations even though I was interested in them.
Aldridge concurs: “Queer as Folk just scared the shit out of me. I remember seeing Aidan Gillen going online to get a prostitute and inviting him over. I was thrilled and excited, and also really terrified to be watching it.”
Sneaking a peek at gay characters on screen was no easy feat for young Aldridge, especially when his parents banned their children from watching even the most anodyne TV shows. “My family at one point banned me from watching Neighboursbecause it was too adult-themed. It was like, people having affairs and stuff,” he says. “We were banned from watching Friends, too, at one point. That makes us sound like we were Mormons,” he laughs. “We weren’t.”
Watch on Apple TV ‘Knock at the Cabin’ directed by M. Night Shyamalan:
Read the full interview with Ben Aldridge as part of Attitude 101, empowered by Bentley – our list of our 101 most influential LGBTQ people including Dan Jervis – which appears in full in issue 351 of Attitude, available to buy and download now.
Words Cliff Joannou @cliffjoannou
Photography Kosmas Pavlos @kosmaspavlos
Fashion Joseph Kocharian @josephkocharian
Art Director: @alexhambis
Social Producer: @pengaz
Content Editor: @jamietabberer
Senior Writer: @mralastairjames
Hair & Makeup: @petransellge
Fashion assistant @outfitbyaaron
Photography assistant @lukejohnsonphotographic
Digital imaging @dienbacharin