Last week, John Barrowman caused a bit of a kerfuffle.
In opening the Glasgow2014 Commonwealth Games, he instigated the first ever same-sex kiss at such a ceremony; in a nod to Scotland’s progressive stance on equality.
The significance of this act shouldn’t be played down. 80% of commonwealth territories still criminalise homosexuality so this small gesture has massive implications.
It almost broke Twitter when it happened such was the response, though the overwhelming tone of the response came with a small aside. ‘Even though it was John Barrowman’.
Barrowman has been polarising audiences for years. His dual nationality and different accents seem to rile people up. The fact that he’s famous for showing his fairly significant penis off at interviews and parties makes some people love him, while others detest him.
The fact that he’s a Scottish boy done good brings out the Calvinist haters while many squirm at something as simple as his dress sense.
I really like him.
And this is why.
Born on 11 March 1967 in Glasgow, where he spent his early years, John moved with his family to Illinois in the United States and later studied Musical Theatre at the US International University in San Diego, California.
In 1989, while in the UK to study Shakespeare as part of his university course, he landed his first professional role starring as Billy Crocker opposite Elaine Paige in the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes. Since then, John’s career as a leading man in musical theatre has seen him star in many West End shows, including Matador, Miss Saigon, The Phantom Of The Opera, and Sunset Boulevard. He also reprised the role of Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway. Sam Mendes’ premiere production of The Fix at the Donmar Warehouse garnered John an Olivier Award nomination as “Best Actor in a Musical”, and in 2002 he returned to the role of Billy Crocker for the hugely successful National Theatre revival of Anything Goes.
He appeared in the West End most recently as Albin/Zaza in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s award-winning production of La Cage Aux Folles, performing to full houses for nine weeks in 2009. This role won John the 2010 What’s On Stage award for “Best Take-over in a Role”.
John has also made his name in American television drama, playing Peter Williams in the Aaron Spelling series Titans for NBC and starring in Darren Star’s Central Park West for CBS. He returned to US television in Spring 2010 with a five-episode guest-starring role on ABC’s Desperate Housewives. He also had a guest-starring role as a political fixer in the ABC series, Scandal. He can currently be seen as Malcolm Merlyn in The CW network’s hit series Arrow, based on the Green Arrow comic books.
His most famous television role is undoubtedly that of sci-fi hero Captain Jack Harkness, whose first appearance in the revamped Doctor Who created such an impact that he was given his own spin off series, Torchwood. The show achieved the best viewing figures ever on BBC America and has been broadcast around the world. For the fourth series, titled Torchwood: Miracle Day, the BBC teamed up with the US Starz Channel, filming in Wales and the US. The show aired on the Starz Channel and BBC One from July 2011.
On the big screen, John has appeared as the Lead Tenor in The Producers, as Jack in the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely and starred in cult classic Megalodon: Shark Attack 3. He had a supporting role in the Oscar-winning film Zero Dark Thirty, and appeared in Vertigo Films’ All Stars, both released in 2013.
Alongside his acting career, John has also hosted his own primetime Saturday night BBC1 entertainment show, Tonight’s The Night, a co-production between the BBC and Barrowman Barker Productions, in which he makes people’s performance dreams come true.
Other shows he has presented include The Kids Are All Right, BBC’s Live and Kicking, Children in Need for BBC Wales in 2008 and for BBC Scotland in 2010, and Keys to the Castle for US channel HGTV. In 2008, John was the subject of a BBC documentary, The Making of Me, in which he underwent tests and researched the science of homosexuality. He also hosts the children’s show, Animals At Work, which is broadcast on CBBC. He recently hosted the new ABC celebrity singing competition, Sing Your Face Off, and filmed the second series of BBC1’s new high-tech quiz show, Pressure Pad, due for broadcast later in 2014. He presented Channel 4’s Superstar Dogs: Countdown to Crufts, which saw dogs and their owners competing in agility and obedience tests to win a place at Crufts. He has recently filmed a documentary series on the work of the Glasgow Veterinary University, also for Channel 4.
John was a judge on BBC1’s Saturday night shows searching for new West End stars (How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, Any Dream Will Do and I’d Do Anything), competed in celebrity skating show, Dancing on Ice, stood in to present Elaine Paige’s BBC Radio 2 show and has guested on numerous television chat and panel shows. On Christmas Day 2010, he was one of five celebrities competing to win the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special, partnering Kristina Rihanoff to victory with a sparkling quickstep.
John embarked on his third concert tour in October 2010 to promote his self-titled album “John Barrowman”, his third solo CD with Sony following on from 2008’s Another Side (which brought John a Gold Disc) and Music Music Music in 2009. He toured the UK and Ireland again in October and November 2011 to promote his CD, The Very Best of John Barrowman, which was released on 5 September 2011. In June 2012, he performed at open-air concerts in Scarborough and Glasgow, and at the Hampton Court Palace Festival.
John’s latest album, You Raise Me Up, has been funded by his fans through PledgeMusic’s Direct to Fan platform. The album was released on 30 June 2014 and entered the UK charts at number 14. John will tour the UK again in 2015.
In December 2010, John returned to his Scottish roots for his sixth panto outing, reprising the role of Aladdin at the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow. John has since returned to Glasgow for the 2011-12 pantomime season to star as Robinson Crusoe in Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates, and starred in the title role of Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk the following year. He played Dick in Dick McWhittington at the Clyde Auditorium for the 2013-14 panto season and will star as Buttons in the SECC’s 2014-15 production of Cinderella.
In collaboration with his sister, Carole E Barrowman, John has released two volumes of his autobiography, Anything Goes and I Am What I Am, published by Michael O’Mara Books. In January 2008, Anything Goes reached number 2 in the Sunday Times bestsellers’ list and remained in the list for twelve weeks.
A sci-fi/fantasy novel for young adults, Hollow Earth, co-authored by John and Carole, was published by Buster Books on 2 February 2012, with a second novel in the series, Bone Quill, published on 7 February 2013. Hollow Earth was published in the US by Aladdin Books (the children’s division of Simon and Schuster) on 30 October 2012. The third book in the series, titled The Book of Beasts, was published on 17 July 2014. John and Carole have now been commissioned to write a further three novels in the series, to be published by Head of Zeus Publishing. They also collaborated on a Torchwood novel, Exodus Code, which was published in the UK on 13 September 2012.
In HM The Queen’s Birthday Honours 2014, John was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to entertainment and to charity. More honours came in July 2014, when John was one of the Queen’s Baton Bearers and performed the opening number of the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, which was broadcast on BBC1 and across 53 Commonwealth countries.
John’s multiple talents continue to delight audiences whether members of the Royal Family at the Royal Variety Performance, full houses at his pantos and concert tours, sci-fi fans or Saturday night TV viewers. As he says in closing his first book:
“My show’s not over. Stay in your seats. This is only the intermission.”
Oh… and he did most of this while openly and unapologetically gay.