Dino, I was a judge the year you won Mr Gay UK, strangely enough (small world)! I remember you stood out as one of the contestants because you seemed down-to-earth and friendly. What was it like to be Mr Gay UK for a year? Were there any particular highlights?
How nice of you to say! Yeah, it was certainly an experience. I was very young; I entered on a whim when I was 18, out with friends, and never expected to win, at all, so it was all a bit of a shock. It was great but I definitely had lots of ups and downs.
I felt very conflicted because a lot of people expected me to be a particular kind of person which I’m just not. It’s very easy to make an assumption with a contest like that. People could be very cruel without having ever exchanged a word with me, but hey, it toughened me up.
I’m a very private person so I found it difficult to publicly share myself. When I’m acting it’s in context, I’m playing a character, and so it’s separate to me. With the competition it was all me.
I learnt to say ‘no’ to things that made me feel uncomfortable; it taught me to grow a pair, to stand up for myself. I made some of my best friends, had a laugh and I really enjoyed the charity work I did.
So I hear you’re a multi-talented guy: you can sing, dance and act. What was your training like? Do you have any big projects in the future?
Haha who have you been talking to? I love a sing in the shower but let’s just say I am not going to be in Les Miserables any time soon.
I trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I knew from when I first auditioned that it was where I had to train. It was extremely demanding training – both physically and emotionally very challenging, but incredible.
One of my best friends, Fizz (Fisayo Akinade who plays Dean in Cucumber and Banana), was two years above me, so it was so cool when we were both cast!
I have just finished filming a small role in my first feature film last week – that was amazing – and I’m auditioning for lots of very exciting projects at the moment.
I remember Queer as Folk coming out when I was 13 years old. I used to watch it in my bedroom with the volume turned down, and watched it every night on repeat from the VHS I’d recorded for about a year. What are your memories of that original series? Did it have any impact on your life or your career? With that in mind, how did you feel when you joined the cast of Banana?
Snap. I first saw Queer as Folk on repeats when I was 15 back home in Wales. I would watch it at the dead of night in the lounge with ’44-‘ pre-typed on the screen, on edge, ready to add the ‘0’ to switch to MTV at any given moment. It was a full scale military operation.
Queer as Folk stuck with me. I had no idea that world existed. It was exciting, but mainly absolutely terrifying haha. It definitely played a role in helping me understand myself.
I’m a big fan of Russell’s work so being cast in Cucumber and Banana was an incredible feeling – very surreal. I knew as soon as I read the script that this was going to be magical. I’m so grateful to be a part of it.
How do you think TV represents LGBT experiences in general? Beyond Banana, Cucumber and Tofu, do you think the diversity of representations is wide enough? What do you think really stands out or needs to be changed? Do you think there are enough role models for young people growing up and wondering if they might be LGBT?
I think that it’s getting a lot better. We are beginning to move away from stereotypes and explore storylines that aren’t only about coming out, drugs or sex. There are an ever increasing number of openly gay actors in the media, which is great, and we aren’t making such a big deal about it anymore, which I think is key. Just being open and honest about who you are is such a powerful message in itself.
Do you have any message for young people who might be watching Banana and thinking about coming out, or looking to you and the other cast members as role models?
I wouldn’t call myself a role model – that sounds a bit Disneyfied haha. I’m an actor; my job is to tell stories and take people on adventures.
It’s important to make your own path in the snow. I’m far from perfect and wouldn’t suggest anyone models themselves on me.
I’ve always respected people who know who they are and don’t apologise for it. It’s inevitable; at some point someone will try to take you down, put up a fight. Surround yourself with people you love, want the best for you and make you laugh all the time.
Just be honest and kind. But most of all, be kind.