Gay MEP Michael Cashman has revealed he was sexually abused as a child.

Mr Cashman, a former EastEnders actor who represents the West Midlands, said he had never spoken about the attack and had not even told his family.

Speaking to Kate Silverton on 5live yesterday, he said: “I have never spoken about this before, one night I was going home, and I was aged about eight, and this man asked me to go and help him.

“And I thought – oh typical East End – he’s going to ask me to break in somewhere for him – they used to put the kids in through the fan lights and then you’d get in and open the warehouse doors – but this man took me down into the docks, pushed me into a container, and sexually abused me. Thankfully not in a penetrative way.”

He added: “I remember going home and sitting on a chair in my mum and dad’s council flat. Not being feeling able to tell that to anyone. I think it was I knew at a very early age, probably the age of seven, that I was gay.

“And I thought maybe someone spotted this about me, maybe it is written on my forehead. And you know what, I never, ever told my mum and dad that that happened to me.”

He said he used to see the man who abused him while growing up. “I used to see him in the streets. He was a young docker. He was probably aged about 18.”

Mr Cashman said he had never discussed the incident before but was inspired to mention it by an item in the news bulletin about children’s charity Childline, which says calls have increased by almost a third in five years.

When Silverton asked his views on whether early experiences can shape sexuality, he replied: “If my sexuality has been shaped by events earlier in my life then I couldn’t be more grateful, because I have had the love – for the last 27 years – of one of the most amazing men.”

Mr Cashman’s ground-breaking portrayal of Colin Russell in EastEnders between 1986 and 1989 saw the first gay kiss in a UK soap.

After co-founding Stonewall in the 1980s, he became a Labour MEP in 1999 and is co-president of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights.