A Family Affair: `I won't be marrying anyone, Mum. I'm gay'

John Nicolson, 37, presents BBC Breakfast News. He grew up in Glasgow, where he went to university, before heading for Harvard. His first job was as a speech writer in Washington. He lives with his partner, Luis, in a converted sweat shop in Spitalfields. His mother, Marion Nicolson, is a retired civil servant and still lives in the Glasgow tenement where her sons were brought up
John

We were a very close family, and my father influenced me a lot with his ideas, but he was reserved while my mother was emotional, volatile and very open. My Mum stayed at home so she was the one I chatted to, the one who would get the frantic phone call when I left a book I needed for class at home. Mine was a big belting school so it mattered... I have an abiding memory of her tearing around the corner bringing the book and then I'd be in a terrible dilemma torn between gratitude and embarrassment at her being there.

My mother left school when she was 14 and always wanted an education for me - she saw how much it mattered . My father thought the school elitist and the teachers pompous, so he taught me to challenge what they told me, to listen to different people's views and to feel entitled to my own opinions and values.

I knew I was gay from about the age of 11, although I didn't have relationships until I went to university - and it was very difficult having it as a secret all those years. I didn't have any good role models - only camp teachers at school and people like Larry Grayson on the Generation Game. I wasn't subjected to homophobic bullying because I wasn't obviously gay at school, but that meant I was a kind of spy in the enemy camp, hearing all the intolerant stuff even pretty nice people came out with. It wasn't helped by reading books about the life of solitude ahead, the unhappiness I faced, whereas in fact I've formed loving relationships and great friendships, and it's very different to recycled 1950s textbooks.

I became much easier with my sexuality in my late twenties and thirties when I went to university, then to Harvard and to work in Washington. All this gave me confidence about being myself. My career took off, taking me into the world of news and politics, which had always fascinated me and I know it pleased my mother and she always remembers me reading the papers and saying I wanted to be in parliament.

Certainly, I found it hard to tell her I was gay. I almost told my Dad when I was 16 and he was dying but I decided he had enough on his plate, so I didn't.

But when I fell in love with Luis I decided I must tell her. I saw that my relationship with Luis couldn't develop if it was a secret from someone as close as my mother.

So, I took her out to a restaurant and said I had something to tell her. I had been going out with a girl a while before, although relationships with girls never satisfied me, and she asked if I was getting married. When I told her I was gay, she didn't say much and I was very concerned she would go back to Glasgow and worry. My Mum has lost a lot of people in her life: her brother, father, husband, best friend, so there are not many people she can talk to and besides she's not good at talking about emotional things. But she told me she was fine, and I think that has been true. She didn't talk about my being gay to other people, so the first her friends knew was when I decided to go public, which seemed important rather than hiding the truth. It didn't cause upset but there was the odd patronising remark like the person who said "at the end of the day he is still your son". Telling Mum has been a good thing. I have a more confiding and adult relationship with her now.

Marion

was my first wee boy and the sunshine of my life and an only child until his brother, Torquil, was born six years later. I didn't work so I was in the house with him all the time and he was very chatty. We spent a lot of time together because we lived in an old tenement building in Glasgow and he didn't play in the street. He went to school when he was five but he hated it. It was a boy's prep school and we hadn't realised it would be so pushy.

I always took him and met him afterwards made him tea and put him to bed, but when my husband came home always wanted a story with him. My husband would be sitting downstairs and 's little voice would call "Dad, you've not been in yet" and, because we lived in a house without central heating, my husband would say "he'll be there tucked up and warm and I'll freeze", but he always went. He was a very devoted father but he wasn't a football and cricket dad and wasn't one for games like cricket and rugby either.

His Dad was quite shy and I don't think there were any man-to-man conversations about his sexuality. We never asked if he had any problems, anything he was worried about. I know there are parents who go so far as asking why their teenager's boyfriend or girlfriend isn't staying the night, obviously wanting to be very open to them. But in my mind, it's not the thing to do, unless children invite you in, let you know they want to talk to you.

I didn't think about 's sexuality when he was young. In a vague way I assumed he would follow the ordinary pattern of having a wife and children, but he talked a lot about wanting to travel and I remember saying once that I didn't think he'd be settling down for a long time, so I certainly wasn't preparing to be a grandmother.

His father died when he was 16 and about to sit highers. He got lung cancer and was given six months to die and that was the most terrible time. Here was this loving man, knowing he had such a short time to be with us, and he was so sad.

was devastated and of course I didn't realise that on top of this, he was having to come to terms with his own sexuality.

About four years ago, I was down in London for a week and and I went out for a meal. He said: "I've got something to tell you... I want to talk to you seriously now."

He was quite emotional and then he said: "I'm gay. Did you ever think it?" I said no, I hadn't, and when he asked how I felt I said I was surprised. To be honest, I was just very surprised and I said to him "whatever you are , it's fine". Then he introduced me to Luis, the partner he lives with, and I found him such a nice, warm person and I got on with him very well.

I could also see was happy with him. Later Luis wrote me a letter saying how pleased he was that everything was out in the open and that I was happy about the situation, and that touched me. Afterwards, when I was on my own, I did start worrying a bit about attitudes. I have heard people say things, sometimes quite cruel things, and when someone is in the public eye, as is, the press seems to enjoy writing nasty things about their sexuality.

All my protectiveness as a mother came up and I found myself thinking if he encountered a lot of bigotry, would he have a very lonely life? But it's been all right and I don't think about it. Instead I watch him on screen interviewing some politician or other, being so tough with him, and it makes me laugh because I know he's soft as marshmallow off screen.

Comments