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Sue Perkins interview: “My long-term boyfriend also turned out to be gay”

TV presenter Sue Perkins talks anxiety, sexuality – and what makes her feel ‘free and incredibly happy’

At 16 I had two lives. I was very square, bookish and spoddy but also spent most nights drinking 2 litres of cider in a disused car-park with ne’er do wells. Both of them were the real me – I am a shy, failed scholar but there is a side of me that’s a loud gobby nutter, which is the side that likes to do TV. I have to balance both sides or I start to feel a bit sad. Thankfully on [Channels 4’s] The Supersizers Eat.. I get to be tanked all the time.

I envy the young Sue her simplicity. She loved books and had an enquiring mind but didn’t apply that analytical process constantly to her own life, fretting and worrying. I had no perspective and in a way that was great. I was a very happy child and had a great, secure relationship with my parents and was very confident about who I was. Everyone has a crash eventually, wondering who they really are – for me that came much later.

I spent two decades trying to make people like me and it was tiring, and you just come off manic and annoying

Mel [Giedroyc, Sue’s comedy partner] and I didn’t have a pot to piss in when we started doing stand up and writing for radio in our early twenties, but they were some of the happiest days of my life. I began to think it might be possible to make a life out of just messing around. My career’s been one of mistakes and wrong turns but I don’t mind that. It shows no media savvy but neither do I. I’m incredibly shy and can’t network.

People thought Mel and I were mad to give up Light Lunch on Channel 4 after two years – it was still going well and was a good secure job. But we were tired and we wanted a life outside of TV. Ten years on, she’s got a husband and two kids to show for it and I’ve got a wealth of life experience that TV can’t buy you.

I think people are easier around me now that I know who I am. Being gay is not my identity but it calms people to know that I’m out and relaxed with myself. I probably knew at 16 I was gay but only in a very latent way. I didn’t have a girlfriend ‘til I was 22. Instead I had a long-term boyfriend, who later turned out to be gay too. He was a gorgeous man. I was very happy, sexually and romantically, with him. So I wouldn’t even say to my teenage self, “Buck up, you idiot, you’re gay!” I was happy with my boyfriend and I’ve always had great relationships with men.

My 16-year-old self would not believe that I don’t smoke and have never taken a class A drug. I just assumed I would be coked out of my nut in a club for most of my twenties and thirties. But I found that when I’m working and ‘in the moment’ I am incredibly happy and feel very free. In the last year I’ve stopped worrying so much about my place in the world. I spent two decades trying to make people like me and it was tiring and you just come off manic and annoying – now I accept there will always be people who think I’m a wanker.

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