Jason Donovan was interviewed on Jonathan Ross last night. Somehow he was the climactic guest, despite being about 8 zillion times less famous than one of the other guests, Whoopi Goldberg. As with most guests on TV shows, he was only there because he was plugging something – specifically the musical version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, in which he is currently appearing.
In case you need a history lesson, Mr Donovan successfully sued a magazine called The Face for libel in 1992 when it printed a mocked-up picture of him wearing a ‘Queer as Fuck’ T-shirt. The court agreed with Mr Donovan’s barrister that the inaccurate suggestion that he was gay was a ‘poisonous slur‘. At the time Mr Donovan defended his actions by claiming that the false photograph was harmful to his career; he has subsequently acknowledged that his action against The Face has probably done more harm to his career than the original picture ever did.
In last night’s interview, Mr Donovan revealed that he had been offered a role in the 1994 film of Priscilla, but had declined it for a number of reasons, including that it was a ‘difficult time’ for him following the libel action. These difficulties seem now to have abated, to the extent that in the musical he is prepared, in his character as a gay man, to make jokes about being attracted to Scott, the character he played for a number of years in Neighbours. It is notable that sexual desires he regarded in 1992 as being so appalling that a light-hearted suggestion he might share them was a ‘poisonous slur’ he now regards as being suitable material for entertainment.
Of course, things have changed in the intervening 17 years.
In 1992, the age of consent for gay men was 21; gay relationships not only had no legal recognition, but were described in law as ‘pretended family relationship[s]’; gay men and women could be legally denied access to employment, goods and services on the basis of their sexual orientation; they were routinely prevented from serving in the military or security services. In 2009, by contrast, the legal rights of gay and straight people are almost (though still not absolutely) identical, and, more importantly, informal equality has become commonplace among large numbers of people. There’s a significant appetite amongst the heterosexual mainstream for gay-themed entertainment, as musicals such as La Cage Aux Folles and Priscilla demonstrate.
It’s against this backdrop that Mr Donovan has experienced his Damascene conversion with respect to his willingness to be associated with homosexuality. When gay men were a derided and despised minority he resorted to law to prove his absolute separation from us. Now that it’s financially rewarding to be ‘down with the gays’, he’s happy to pretend on stage to be gay, and to show off his shaven body to a sycophantic chat show host who did not challenge him once on his remarkable change of heart.
In my opinion, Jason Donovan remains what he always has been – an opportunistic, unprincipled, homophobic prick. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys musicals (personally I’d rather gnaw off my own foot than watch 99.99% of musicals, but, hey, it takes all sorts…), I’d urge you not to waste your money on propping up his tawdry little career. Go and see Graham Norton in La Cage instead. He’s been getting surprisingly ok reviews.