I left home in Birmingham in the UK when I was 16 because I was gay, and I’m 28 now. I had met someone while I was still 15 during a family holiday in Spain. I went back home for six days, turned 16 and then I went to Spain to live with the guy I had met.
I just wanted to be gay. I knew I was gay from the age of six and I just had to get away and I had to experience that. I think it’s mainly because my school was so bad. My best friend was beaten up by 30 people because he had a blonde streak. All my year was skinheads with golf clubs -“ really, really rough.
My mum tried to stop me going to Spain but my dad said, You’re going. Don’t worry about it, because when he was 18 he was stopped from going to Germany by his mother.
I stayed in Spain with the guy I had met for about nine months. I was working in the gay bars, so that was my introduction to the gay life -“ in Torremolinos, which is a very gay place on the Costa del Sol.
The guy I moved in with was English. He was a really dodgy character. He was 32 -“ twice my age. He knew exactly what he was doing, he had brought the person before me from London, then he dumped him and got me the next day. It was a nightmare.
You can imagine how young I looked -“ I was 16 and I looked about 10, I think. I was too young to tell my Mum and Dad I was gay, they found out when I was 17. They wanted to come to the bar and when they did it was just the gayest night ever. But they’ve been great, supporting me with everything.
My experience in Spain brought me up to speed with what people, especially on the gay scene, are like. All the chicken chasers, as they called them back then.
That period was the hardest, being so young. I had so many experiences there that made me into a bit of an old man before my time. I attracted all the wrong people and had a few rough experiences. But it’s all lessons in life.
Later, I met somebody else who protected me and took me away, because it was a pretty nasty situation. I wish I had been a bit older, I would have coped with it all better, because they still bother me, some of those experiences.
In 2000 I took off on a three-month holiday around the world, and one of my stops was Sydney. Just before the Olympics, I met Terry [Trethowan, CEO of the AIDS Trust] and we were talking and he said there was a receptionist job coming up the following January.
So I went home and saved my Â£2,000 that you have to raise and came straight out and did that. I started working for the AIDS Trust just doing reception and then they found out I did photography.
I had done a six-week photography course in Dublin and then I took photos during my round-the-world trip. I’d had people telling me my photography was good, and I had a first exhibition of my photographs of flowers and that went well. I’ve just recently had an exhibition, a second series of floral work where I donated everything to the AIDS Trust. That raised $25,000. I absolutely love my job with the Trust.
I get to meet a lot of the celebrities who obviously do all the work for us, from Carlotta through to Stephen Hunt from Neighbours who works in the office at the moment.
For me being a Pom, Neighbours is such a big thing, so it’s also quite strange for me to be able to say I’m in Australia working with people from the show. It’s quite funny. But it’s not always so easy. We run a camp for children with HIV/ AIDS and their siblings and parents. That is one of the most upsetting things because the kids have got a short life ahead of them basically and they’ll never be able to live their lives to the fullest.
We also find it very difficult to get volunteers, especially Australians. We have more people coming over from England volunteering than we do people in the local community. We’ve got one person who volunteers for us on a regular basis, which is pretty sad really. You get a lot of people coming into the office saying HIV/ AIDS is such a terrible thing and then you never see them again.
It could be because HIV/ AIDS is not as in-your-face nowadays because of the drugs involved. People who were born in the 70s, like I was, often don’t know anyone who has died of HIV/ AIDS-related illness.
Before coming to Sydney, I didn’t get a university or college degree. I was never really interested in that. I just wanted to get out there. I think being gay was the major factor there. Most of my straight friends did the university thing. But my gay friends and I went off and did slightly more interesting things, I think.
And we’ve survived. We may not be earning millions, but we’re comfortable and happy. That’s the main thing.
Interview by Ian Gould