Barry Manilow: glad to be gay, without trying to sell something | Rebecca Nicholson

For some stars, their sexuality is now a commodity that can be traded

It can feel like a glitch in the fabric of the universe to be reminded that Barry Manilow only publicly came out as gay in 2017.

Manilow was 73 when he did the big reveal with People magazine – “My untold story” – and had been with his long-term partner, and recent husband, for 40 years. Coming out is different for every single person who has to do it, and every person finds their own path; when Manilow came out, it was greeted, largely, as a bit funny that anyone might have not known that already.

But even today, where, in certain parts of the world, men can sing love songs to men and women can sing love songs to women and still have hits and be successful, it’s worth acknowledging that it takes courage to stand up and be counted, no matter how all conquering and well established you are.

Last week, Manilow told the Mirror why it had taken so long for his story to be told. “It would have killed my career. Immediately,” he said. “When I started, I knew I was gay. I had a hit record and I was on the cover of Teen Beat magazine. Now what do I do? I guess it became OK a couple of years ago.”

He is putting it mildly. To survey the pop landscape now, especially on this holy weekend of our sacred Eurovision, suggests a whole new world, one that would have been unrecognisable to him in the 1960s and 70s. Pop stars’ sexual identities have quickly moved from open secrets to comfortable truths to practical commodities.

I thought of Manilow when I saw the supermodel Bella Hadid’s new advert for a clothing line. In it, Hadid kisses a CGI influencer, Lil Miquela, which I realise is a sentence that might not have rolled off the tongue so easily a decade ago. It’s supposed to be sexy, I think. “Life is about opening doors,” intones Hadid, in voiceover. “Creating new dreams you never knew could exist.” One of those, it seems, is snogging a woman without actually having to snog a woman. Titillation is truly digital.

Hadid may well be expressing her sexuality as she wishes to express it, in the hope that her dreamy free spirit will encourage us all to buy more stuff.

But how strange and rapid to have moved from same-sex action – if a digital robot even truly has a gender – having the potential to sink a career, to being a building block for one. Progress is a wonderful, strange and confusing thing.

The award for best Bafta host goes to Graham Norton

Graham Norton
Graham Norton: good, old-fashioned hosting. Photograph: Guy Levy/BAFTA/REX/Shutterstock

I was a day late to the 2019 TV Baftas and watched the whole affair on catch-up, partly because I was out on Sunday night, but partly because it didn’t seem like it would be one to make a point of staying in for. After the flurry of post-Weinstein fury, that brief moment of potential in which an evening might erupt into incendiary speeches, award ceremonies turned back into politely grateful niceness all round. Even without a political point to make, the viciousness of those on hosting duties has long since been tamed and the presenters are usually so inoffensive that they are offensive in their blandness.

But not the TV Baftas, which were far more jolly and unpredictable. There were more upsets than the judging sessions on Bake Off: The Professionals (so cutting! So mean! So many tears!) and it felt as if the awards could go any way and they did. It was the kind of evening where the suffragettes could beat Bros and nobody appeared to be unsettled by the truly surreal quality of that competition.

Mostly, though, the mood was down to Graham Norton, who did some good, old-fashioned hosting. The gags were funny and pointed. From the opening monologue, where he compared the detailed interrogation scenes of Line of Duty to “that time when Seann Walsh got home late from Strictly practice”, to his crack about women getting high-profile presenting jobs (“Not only great for equality, but it saves the BBC a fortune”), I was struck by how unusual it seemed, now, to watch a comedian making slightly naughty jokes so freely. Norton is one of the BBC’s biggest stars and perhaps this is one of the reasons why.

Katy Perry is always putting her best foot forward

Katy Perry
Katy Perry: ‘Travel and food are my top two inspirations right now.’ Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Katy Perry Collections

Art world commentators may well have been lulled into thinking that the sale of Jeff Koons’s silver rabbit for a sanity-warping $91m was the biggest creative story of the week, but clearly they were not reading People magazine’s interview with Katy Perry about her shoe line.

Fresh from her turns as a chandelier and, later in the evening, a burger at the Met Gala, Perry gave the mag an insight into her own design process, in one of my favourite celebrity interviews of recent times.

On being asked where she found the inspiration for Katy Perry Collections – shoes, but also shoes that are food-shaped – she replied: “The universe is vast. It’s really about storytelling. You can pull inspiration from so many different places. You can do it from music, movies, decades, travel. I have to say travel and food are my top two inspirations right now. You’ll see a lot of that in the storytelling of my shoes. It’s also about humour. It’s a play on words. I can just say a word and then there is this game of ad-libbing to get to the idea of a new heel.”

Her favourites, she added, are the watermelon slides. At least they’re not $91m.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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