Years & Years’ singer Olly Alexander has opened up about dealing with homophobic bullying and how it drove him to self-harm.
Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander has opened up about the bullying he experienced as a gay youngster and how it led to bulimia and self-harm.
The 26-year-old singer and actor says he hopes a documentary he has made for the BBC’s Gay Britannia series will help others who have suffered similarly, and also highlight the trauma for parents who feel they have “failed” their children.
The hour-long film sees him returning to his secondary school in Monmouth, Wales, and talking to his mother, who raised him alone after she split up with his father.
He said: “I think I knew I was gay from a very young age, probably in primary school. By secondary school I was just in denial. It wasn’t until I was 18 or 19 that I fully accepted it and came out to my friends and my mum.
I went to a bog-standard comprehensive school, and there wasn’t such a thing as LGBT people — they just didn’t exist.
There was no inclusive sex or relationship education — I feel like that really would have helped me.
“School wasn’t a pleasant environment. When I was bullied it was two things. It’s the language — being called a ‘fag’ or ‘poof’.
Being picked on. Being called ‘gay’ as a negative word — it still is, really. Then there was the physical side — I got into a few fights.”
The film sees him leafing through his old diary, which was written at a time when he was self-harming.
He said: “It was so hard at that time. I felt like I was going mad. I wasn’t talking to anybody about what I was feeling. I was writing it all down. Everything felt hopeless.
“Bulimia and self-harm were a way of coping with that. Cutting was a coping mechanism. I was in a really dark place. It’s still really difficult for me to talk about.
“What I want to get across is that there is hope — you don’t have to feel like that, if you have the right access to support, friends or family.”
His mother talks with him at length in the film. He said: “We had a very frank conversation about what it was like to parent me, and what she went through.
“She said she felt like she had failed. It was really cathartic.” He also visits the mother of a gay boy who suffered horrendous bullying.
Alexander left school at 16 to go to art college in Hereford but quit when his acting took off. He starred in Skins and Penny Dreadful before Years & Years released 2015’s Communion, the fastest-selling debut by a signed UK band.
He said of the film: “What struck me is how really good we are at hiding things. I can’t turn back time, but if I had been able to be honest with people it would have helped.”
Alexander has spoken in the past about suffering from depression and anxiety. He revealed: “I now feel confident in my skin. Managing your mental health is a lifetime thing.”
Growing Up Gay, part of the Gay Britannia series, will be on BBC 3 on July 18 and on BBC 1 later this month.