A pop idol, a rumour and why he felt he had to come out

Steve Boggan
Monday 11 March 2002 01:00 GMT

To the casual reader it seemed a cuddly confession, a heartfelt outpouring intended to elicit sympathy and understanding: "I am gay", said Will Young, the Pop Idol heart-throb whose first release has made pop music history.

Behind the headlines, however, the admission was a more complicated affair, a classic tale of Fleet Street intrigue and misunderstanding.

By the time the story appeared in yesterday's News of the World, the star, who would have preferred to keep his sexuality his own business, was forced into outing himself by events outside his control.

"Some other media pressure has led me to talk about my private life," he said under headlines that screamed: "Will - I'm Gay." He said: "I always try and be honest and true to myself and not to take life too seriously. For me, it's normal and nothing to be ashamed about. I'm gay and I'm comfortable with that. I really don't know what the fuss is about."

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the News of the World said she knew of no other "media pressures" that had left Young with no choice but to go public.

She said it was simply good journalism by the paper's showbiz editor, Rav Singh, who played a part in a similar outing, nearly three years ago, of the Boyzone star Stephen Gateley, in The Sun when Mr Singh was a reporter there.

Yet the News of the World was one of five newspapers that contacted the publicist Max Clifford when a false rumour began circulating that he could supply a former boyfriend of Young prepared to dish the dirt on the new star.

According to Mr Clifford, the confession has its roots in tabloid paranoia and misunderstanding. Mr Clifford said: "Everyone suspected Will was gay, but no one ever came to me saying they had been or were his lover.

"However, some weeks ago I did sell a £75,000 package of two stories [about other people], and I believe people at The Mail on Sunday heard about the figure and began wondering who could be worth £75,000.

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"I think they came up with Will and convinced themselves that I had a former boyfriend. I didn't but I got calls from five Fleet Street editors who said they would top anyone else if I did have."

The Mail on Sunday subsequently made inquiries about Young's past. Sources inside the paper said they were working only on a story that appeared in yesterday's edition highlighting the singer's links to Diana, Princess of Wales. They say the story they were looking for was the one they published. Insiders insist the newspaper thought outing Young would be counterproductive.

But the Sunday tabloids were convinced either their opposition or Mr Clifford had access to a former lover of Young. The 19 Management company, run by Simon Fuller, who manufactured the Spice Girls, began picking up the rumours and vented its spleen on The Mail on Sunday.

The company's lawyers, Harbottle and Lewis, sent a number of letters citing Young's rights to privacy under the Press Complaints Commission's code of conduct and the Human Rights Act. Insiders at the MoS said the warnings were ignored because there was no intention to out him.

Meanwhile, Henry's House, Young's PR company, had heard the rumour about Mr Clifford and decided it was time to act.

Mr Clifford said: "The editors all kept ringing me and the more I said I didn't have anything for them, the more money they offered. In the end, I imagine the people at Henry's House decided they had had their big number one and it was the right time to manage the situation. There was no doubt Will's sexuality was going to come up sooner rather than later.

"Whether or not they believed I had something I don't know but they could have used that to persuade Will that this was the right time." Hence the story in the News of the World speaks about "other media pressures", of which it was a part. Whether it will have any effect on Young's career remains to be seen. Gay rights groups praised the singer for coming out but music fans, particularly young girls, can be fickle.

Steve Redmond, former publisher of Music Week, said: "There are some sections of the public for whom an artist's homosexuality will always be box office suicide but Will's admission is an indication of how the middle ground has moved.

"What is most significant about this is what it says about the relationship between the entertainment industry and the tabloid press. In the old days, there would have been a conspiracy of silence about an artist being gay; now they conspire to leak it."

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