In an exclusive interview with PinkNews.co.uk, Charlie Condou talks openly about being a gay parent and his reasons for leaving Coronation Street.

The actor announced in November that he will be leaving the long-running ITV soap in the summer of 2014. The 40-year-old is best known for playing sonographer Marcus Dent, who has had a turbulent relationship with Coronation Street’s other main gay character, Sean Tully, played by Antony Cotton. After a three year absence, Charlie’s character was made more prominent following his return to Coronation Street in March 2011. Although he is leaving the show for a second time, Charlie says he initially only planned to return on a three-month contract.

The current decision to place his character in a heterosexual relationship with Maria Connor has been the subject of much controversy. Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk from a sedate coffee shop close to his home in Islington, north London, with his two-year-old son, Hal, quietly napping in a pram, Charlie is keen to defend the storyline and says: “When they came to me with that storyline, the producer who was gay said ‘we’ve had this idea. We want to look at what happens when a gay man who is completely comfortable with his sexuality, knows who he is, falls in love with a woman, and he will continue to identify as gay; he will be a gay man, he will be very clear about that, but he’s fallen in love with a woman’.”

Charlie goes on to say: “And I know that the producer was good friends with Russell T Davis, and they had a friend who was a gay man who had done that and they had made the series Bob and Rose, based on the guy. I am aware that it does happen and I was interested. I have said this before, but if Coronation Street had come to me with that storyline ten years ago, I don’t think I would have been comfortable doing it because I don’t think it would have been giving the right message if you like, if that’s our job in soaps.

“But I really do think we have moved on from that and I don’t think people are stupid anymore and I don’t think that they would see Marcus falling for Maria and think ‘he just needed the love of a good woman’, that’s not what we were saying in the storyline at all. We just wanted to explore it. In terms from a dramatic point of view it’s certainly not been done before. Marcus has also said that he doesn’t even consider himself bisexual, if he wasn’t with Maria he would be with a man, he’s very clear about that, and of course it’s soap, it’s never going to end well.”

According to Radio Times, show executives have promised that Marcus’s involvement with Todd Grimshaw will “divide the residents of Coronation Street”. With a large hint that Marcus’s relationship with Maria is heading for the cliff, Charlie tells PinkNews.co.uk: “Of course at some point he was going to end up with a man again of course he was. So I was interested in looking at what happens and how to play that out. I’ve been quite behind the storyline, I know a lot of the gay community doesn’t feel the same way because Marcus was considered a positive role model, I totally get that, but I don’t know, sometimes I think people’s sexuality can be complicated and the storyline is may be just a sense of that.”

When asked by PinkNews.co.uk if he would have considered staying in Coronation Street if his character had been given greater prominence, Charlie replies: “Possibly yeah, I mean you never know. It’s definitely true to say I’ve had a quiet year there and perhaps if I hadn’t, if I had been really busy I would have felt differently, but that’s the way it goes in soaps. Characters go through ups and downs, sometimes they focus on one set of characters for a period of time and then they move off and focus on others. It’s like that for everyone there but for me I was just getting a bit frustrated and it wasn’t worth being away from the kids just to be ordering a pint in The Rovers every now and again.”

Once he leaves Coronation Street this summer, Charlie says being able to spend more time with his family in London is one of the things he is most looking forward too. The regular periods away in Manchester have been particularly hard on his 4-year-old daughter, Georgia. His children mean the world to him, and from a young age, the actor reveals he always wanted to be a father. “Definitely. I had always wanted to be a dad since I was probably about 13. I suppose it is quite rare for gay people in the public eye, although it’s becoming more commonplace with people like Elton John and David Furnish obviously, Ricky Martin, Neil Patrick Harris, people like that are doing it now,” Charlie jokes to PinkNews.co.uk, “I like to think they all copied me.”

The actor previously wrote a column for The Guardian about his experiences of being a gay parent with the aim of raising awareness. “I think that was part of the reason I decided to be quite vocal about it,” he says. “The reason I asked The Guardian for the column was because when I was growing up there weren’t any gay people that I knew that had kids and it was something that I struggled with.

“I was really worried that I wouldn’t be a parent because I just didn’t see any gay parents around me. So when I went back into Coronation Street when Catherine was pregnant with Hal, our second kid, I sort of thought this is the perfect opportunity to actually do something and talk about this quite openly and share my experiences but also talk about gay parenting in a way that gets it out there. So it was a conscious decision to do that.”

Charlie agrees that his column also helped show the slightly more mundane aspects of being a gay parent who also happens to be in the public eye. Jokingly referring to his friendship with Elton John and David Furnish, Charlie tells PinkNews.co.uk: “I know Elton and David and they are both lovely and I am sure they are amazing dads but let’s face, they don’t struggle on the tube when they are on their way to John Lewis like we do. It’s a very different world that they inhabit. Obviously I am on TV and I’ve got a profile but basically I am just doing what everybody else is doing. I’ve got a job and a couple of kids and I’m trying to get through it the best I can.”

Charlie became a father with his straight female friend of many years, Catherine Kanter through IVF. He has a four-year-old daughter, Georgia, and a two-year-old son, Hal. The actor says: “I was actually single when I first started talking to Catherine about parenting. Cameron and I have been together for eight and a half years now, but I had been friends with Catherine for, I don’t know, maybe 15 years, and she had always said that if she was still single when she was 40 would I have a kid with her.

“Obviously as she got closer to 40 we started to talk about it more seriously. By the time we had actually kind of settled on ‘yes this is something we are going to pursue’, I was with Cameron. So then it became the three of us and we had to work out the logistics of that. It wasn’t that Cameron and I got together and thought ‘let’s have a family’, it didn’t work like that, it sort of came the other way round.”

It took several rounds of IVF for Catherine to become pregnant with Georgia. Charlie believes the challenges can initially seem daunting for potential gay parents but perseverance is the key. “It can be, yes it’s tricky and there are no laws in place really because LGBT families seem to be evolving every day and I think the law is struggling to keep up. There are so many different types of family out there, it’s quite hard to have definite laws I suppose as things can become quite complex.

“But I know certainly in this country the amount of LGBT families has trebled in the last two years, which is kind of amazing. So in that sense I guess we are a growing trend, not that I like to think of myself as a trend, but it’s definitely on the increase and I think that it’s because more gay people are realising it is an option. You know a lot of gay people want to be parents, a lot of gay people don’t want to be parents, a lot of straight parents don’t want to be parents, and I think that’s great that’s fine do want you want to do, but I want gay people to know that it is an option if they want to, if they want to have kids they can and there are ways of doing it.

“It’s not simple, it’s not a case of getting into a relationship with somebody and then just falling into the next step of ‘we will get pregnant’, it doesn’t work like that for gay people so you do have to think about it quite carefully. But I think that’s a really good thing, I think parents should be really carefully thinking before they have kids anyway.”

Whilst acknowledging that it remains a key concern for potential gay parents, Charlie is adamant that the scourge of homophobic bullying should never mean that gay people feel unable to have children. “For a lot of gay people we do have that sense of ‘well things are alright but they are still not great’”, the actor tells PinkNews.co.uk: “Of course [homophobic bullying] is something we worry about with the kids: are they going to get picked on for having gay parents? Luckily we have been fine so far, but kids get bullied for all sorts of things: for being overweight, wearing glasses, for being ginger, you know whatever it is, and I think you just have to address that stuff if and when it comes up.

“I don’t think it’s a reason not to have children. I think being gay can be difficult and being a gay parent can be difficult too, but to be honest I don’t have time to worry about what people think about my family. I just don’t have the time. I’m too busy trying to bring up well-rounded, responsible good people. I am more concerned about getting it right myself rather than what other people think of what I am doing.”