Interview: BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Adele Roberts shares her Big Brother coming out story
BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Adele Roberts has been interviewed by PinkNews’ Scott Roberts about a documentary she is presenting this weekend on the subject of coming out. During the interview, the pair discovered they had a lot in common, and not just the same surname.
Adele began her career at BBC Radio 1Xtra in August 2011, and has recently started covering shows on BBC Radio 1. However, getting in front of the corporation’s prized microphones has not happened overnight. “It’s been a long journey,” the beaming DJ says, before adding: “It was a bit of a false start for me.”
She explains: “About ten years ago the BBC first came up with the idea of going for the licence for 1Xtra, and they called it Network X; they were putting this station together to kind of be like Radio 1 but play urban music. And they had these open days around the country for people who were looking to get involved – and I really wanted to get involved.
“So I drove all the way to Birmingham with my best friend which took me about two and a half hours from Southport. I got there, got in the room, saw Tim Westwood in the room, then got really nervous and went home – and I didn’t speak to anybody!”
Laughing, Adele continues: “I did about three laps of the room and then I left. So that was about ten years ago, and ever since then, I have worked my way up from local radio. I started off at a station called Rock FM, doing a weekly specialist show, playing hip hop, R&B and house music. And then I moved to Galaxy Yorkshire in Leeds – from there I progressed on to the Galaxy network – at which point I managed to start getting some cover shifts at 1Xtra – then luckily they gave me a job!
“But that whole process took ten years,” Adele laughs before adding: “So yeah it was a bit of a struggle, but I got there in the end.”
Back in 2002, the same year that 1Xtra launched, Adele took part in the third series of Big Brother. It was the series that gave rise to Jade Goody. While some people in the media end up having their personalities changed forever after being thrust into the spotlight, you get the impression from Adele that it didn’t lead her down a radically different career path or change the way she interacts with people. She radiates humility and giggles a lot in our interview. Attention then turns to Adele’s upcoming 1Xtra documentary which deals with the subject of coming out. It’s a topic that is close to her heart.
“We noticed it was LGBT History Month in February and we really wanted to do something to celebrate that and I suppose celebrate the social change. Since coming out I have noticed that attitudes have improved and I just thought, let’s really show that and celebrate it, and let other young people know that it’s kind of gotten better.”
Discussing her own coming out experience, Adele says: “I see myself as coming out in two stages. I think I came out to myself when I was about 14; and it freaked me out, I was a bit like, ‘Ahhh I don’t know if I want to be gay?’ – then after around a week I was like, ‘Yeah I want to be gay that’s fine.’”
Adele then came out to her friends at 18 when she started DJing. “All my friends knew it was just my family that didn’t know,” however, entering the Big Brother House aged 23 changed all of that.
“I went on this reality TV show, and that’s when the whole world found out that I’m gay, but I hadn’t actually told my mum and dad at that point… and it went a bit pear-shaped, so I just wished I had had that conversation with them before I did the TV show, but because of my social life, where I was kind of out already, I didn’t even think about it, and I didn’t realise that they did not officially know”.
Asked how long it took for her mum and dad to get use to the idea, Adele replies: “To be honest my mum spoke to me before I went on the show, I use to hang around with this girl all of the time and stay over at her house all of the time; we did everything together, one day my mum said, ‘Is this girl your girlfriend?’, when my mum first asked me, I thought to myself, I can either lie or tell the truth… so I just told her the truth and said ‘Yes’ – and my mum didn’t say a word to me, she just walked off.”
With another giggle, Adele adds: “And then I thought – well at least she’s going to tell my dad – but she didn’t!
“We never spoke about it again, then I went on Big Brother, and the whole world found out. After I came off Big Brother, it was probably around six months later that I actually sat in a room with my dad and spoke about it. He just explained how much it upset him that I hadn’t had the conversation beforehand… he said, ‘You should have told me, I have a right to know as your dad that you’re gay’ – but I replied, ‘When did you tell your mum and dad that you’re straight?’”
With another laugh, Adele states that her dad suddenly understood her position, she then gets serious again and says: “With hindsight I should have told him because I think he did get quite hounded by the press… they asked questions like, ‘How does it feel that your daughter is gay?’ he wasn’t prepared for those questions, I think he found it quite hard and I wish I had told him beforehand.”
Before I came across Adele, it appeared that the BBC’s national popular music radio stations (Radio 1, 1xtra, Radio 2 and 6Music) had virtually no openly gay female DJs. In reality this is probably not the case – yet I cannot think of the lesbian equivalents of Nick Grimshaw, Scott Mills, Graham Norton and Paul O’Grady. As BBC News presenter Jane Hill alluded to earlier this month in a PinkNews interview: “Sure we have people like Sue Perkins on Radio 4 but that isn’t enough. Across all broadcasters we need better representation of lesbian and gay people.”
I asked Adele if being able to identity with a greater number of LGBT role models would have made coming out easier.
“I’m glad you said that because I think that’s what made it hard for me to accept being gay at first because I didn’t identify with anybody in the media who was gay. I think they were a lot older than me and it was people like Martina Navratilova, and even though she’s an amazing tennis player, I didn’t feel that I had anything in common with her.”
As a young child Adele remembers hearing her parents talk about gay celebrities such as Elton John in a less than favourable way. “When I was 9 my mum and dad didn’t realise I was going to be gay and things have changed a lot… the language has changed a lot… they wouldn’t dream of speaking about [gay people] like that now because a lot of people are now educated in how not to be prejudiced, but in those days, when I was younger, it was hard and there really wasn’t anyone that I could look up to.”
Adele then mentions Karis Anderson from girl band Stooshe as someone who could have been an LGBT role model for her, if she had been growing up today. Adele also believes there is a need “for more black gay role models”. Having left the north west of England for a career in the capital, Adele says she still gets surprised by London’s diversity. She believes a cultural shift has been taking place in the black community when it comes to LGBT issues.
“Since I’ve come to London I have never seen so many black lesbians in all of my life. When I went to gay pride in Soho I was like, ‘Wow this is where they’ve all been hiding’… but yeah I definitely think more and more black people are just being honest now and saying, ‘I’m gay’… and it’s increasingly not making a difference to other people, I think that’s fantastic,” she adds: “It’s surprised me; I shouldn’t be surprised, but it has”.
1Xtra is perhaps the BBC’s most radical part of its radio network. When I’m in my local Afro Caribbean hairdressers, and it’s on in the background, I frequently mistake it for one of London’s pirate urban stations because it sounds so different to the rest of the BBC’s output. Even though it plays non-commercial and musically intensive reggae, dub and hip hop, along with its more mainstream R&B offerings, Adele is keen to point out that offensive lyrics, homophobic or otherwise, is not an issue for the station. The DJ also says that she’s never faced any problems because of her sexuality throughout her time in the radio industry.
“I have never once had any problems with people using homophobic language here [at 1Xtra] or anything like that and it’s the same for all the stations that I have worked at. A lot of them have had predominantly urban music played on the station and everybody has been fine.”
More from PinkNews
Through interviewing Adele I realised that we have several things in common; not least the same surname. As I was explaining to her about UK Black Pride and the memorable year Ms. Dynamite headlined, I subsequently learnt that Adele’s mum was born in Barbados – just like mine – we then reminisced on how strange it was that the Caribbean island previously had a Woolworths and an M&S.
I too had also gone through a similar stage of assuming that my parents had prior knowledge about my sexuality, having found it easier to be open in public than at home. In my case, it was only after I started work at Gaydar Radio in 2010 that my parents finally asked me about my sexuality; and like Adele, it was followed by a difficult few months.
Adele says: “It’s strange isn’t it how [parents] can feel, it’s almost like you have withheld something from them, seeing it from their point of view now I wish I had told them… I was thinking more about myself then them,” of her father she adds: “I think he was more upset that I hadn’t told him than the fact I’m gay… in a strange way since Big Brother, and since it’s all happened, we are closer than ever”.
Adele Roberts presents Weekends on BBC Radio 1Xtra, Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4pm. Listen at bbc.co.uk/1xtra
Catch Adele’s 1Xtra Stories documentary ‘Coming Out’ on BBC Radio 1Xtra on Sunday 24 February, 9-10pm.
More: Adele Roberts, BBC, BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 1Xtra, Big Brother, black pride, Caribbean, coming out, diversity, dj, England, gay celebrities, gay role models, gay woman, GaydarRadio, Graham Norton, Jade Goody, Jane Hill, lesbian, lesbian stars, lgbt community, lgbt history month, LGBT young people, London, London, Media, Music, Nick Grimshaw, Paul O'Grady, r&b, Radio, reality TV, Scott Roberts, Sexuality, Sue Perkins, UK Black Pride, young people