With a successful television career, a popular radio show and his role as patron of Manchester Pride, it’s fair to say Hollyoaks’ Kieron Richardson has his hands full – but that hasn’t stopped him having time to catch up with Gaylife Manchester’s Holly Squire…
Talented Kieron Richardson is a picture of confidence sitting in the Village sunshine sipping a vodka lime and lemonade having just finished presenting his hit radio show.
The stylish soap star is dressed for summer with a pair of dark sunglasses shading his piercing blue eyes as he excitedly chatters away.
To see him one would never guess there was once a time when he hid behind more than a pair of mirrored lens – when the Dancing on Ice contestant kept his sexuality secret to all except his nearest and dearest.
But brave Kieron, who grew up on a tough Manchester estate, decided to come out publicly after being inspired by a plot line on Hollyoaks
where his character had a gay love affair.
He told all on ITV’s This Morning hoping his experience could help young people going through the same thing.
“We don’t live in the Dark Ages any more, we live in the 21st century,” Kieron exclaims. “Everyone should be happy and love themselves.”
Kieron is sitting outside the The New Union Hotel on Canal Street, the village is busy with couples enjoying the warm weather and many of them recognise the star from his role as Ste Hay in the long-running Channel 4 soap.
Bad-boy Ste has been at the centre of a number of controversial plot lines involving drug dealing and domestic abuse and Kieron, 27, has channelled much of his experience growing up on a gritty housing estate into the character.
The early evening sun creeps behind a cloud as the star talks about these dark and frustrating years where he was teased by other children and forced to deny his sexuality.
He said: “Growing up on a council estate was tough. I always knew that I was gay, which meant I had to pretend to be someone that I wasn’t to my friends, family and teachers.”
“When someone called me gay in school, it was then that I realised that I needed to become someone else and so I drastically started living a lie.”
“I tried to rebel against the stereotype of a gay person, so I would be accepted and considered normal,” he says looking down at his hands, “I didn’t want anyone to know who the real me was”.
Attractive Kieron had a string of girlfriends when he was growing up, and while some of them knew he was gay, others only found out when they saw him sat on the This Morning sofa.
“It wasn’t to say that I didn’t fancy them,” he explains, brushing back his hair from his eyes. “You are experimenting and fi nding out what you want.”
Kieron claims that living a lie as a teenager caused him to develop alopecia – a hair loss condition bought on by stress.
“In your head when your hiding something like that, you think it’s the worst thing ever, and everyone is gonna hate you, and I used to think that If I do ever actually say the words ‘I’m gay’, I’m probably going to melt or blow up.
“Your body deals with stress even secrets in certain ways. It’s like your body tells you, if you don’t do something about this, I’m gonna make you do something about it,” He smiles knowingly.
“So then when I go to the doctor and she says, ‘oh yes you’ve got grade two alopecia, now that is caused by stress’ and her saying that made me feel even more stressed.”
“I tried lots of different tablets and went to see loads of different specialists, but it wasn’t really doing anything.”
“But then I got into a really loving relationship, I also got an amazing job on Hollyoaks…and all my hair came back,” he says looking up at the gently darkening sky as if to thank his lucky stars. “So it seems like happiness completed me in the end.”
Kieron was a huge hit on the soap going from being a minor background character to one of the show’s leading stars.
But at this time only Kieron’s closest friends and family knew about his sexuality though rumours had reached the tabloid newspapers who tried to force him to come out while he was staring in Dancing on Ice.
“I’m a nervous person and it was quite a big thing to say publicly,” he explains, shifting in his seat.
“When I was on Dancing On Ice, newspapers speculated and tried to say we kind of know and if you want to say so, you can do your story with us and get it out there.”
“At that point, my personal life took a back step and it was more about the competition and trying to get through the next week rather than get a few column inches in the newspaper and maybe raise my profile at the time.”
In the end Kieron chose to come out on his own terms after being inspired by a storyline in the Channel 4 soap where Ste has a relationship with his boss Brendan Brady.
“When I got the Hollyoaks storyline that saw Ste beginning to explore his sexuality, the time just felt right,” he adds taking a sip of his drink.
“I felt that it was relevant to the storyline and relevant to some situations in my life so then I thought by talking about it publicly, maybe I could help people that are going through the same thing.
“All the viewers knew that Ste was exploring his sexuality and turning gay, which is another reason that I decided to come out publicly – even though my friends and family had known for a while.”
“I felt like it was the right time and I wanted to show other people who were going through the same, that it’s okay… I am a young lad and I can say it. It’s not wrong.”
I don’t want to move to London because it’s big and scary and I’ve got everything I need here and I’m close to my friends and family, which is important.
“You shouldn’t be ashamed of it. After I’d done it,” he starts, setting his glass back on the table, “I felt on top of the world, I was buzzing, because I was so worried before, but it felt so good, I felt like I could breathe again.”
“And in a way,” he continues, “now I feel I’m a lot stronger, I’m older and nothing can hurt me anymore.”
And if his flawless complexion is anything to go by, all those award ceremonies aren’t hurting him too much either.
Last week alone saw Kieron visiting the house of commons, strutting his stuff at a Hollyoaks photoshoot before looking fabulous at the Towie wrap party.
He then went straight to filming before topping off his hectic week with his regular Sunday afternoon slot on Gaydio with co-anchor and Gaydio regular Toby Whitehouse.
“Oh I love it” he says, when asked about the move from tv to radio. I’m broadcasting from my amazing home city of Manchester, where Gaydio has grown an equally amazing audience.”
“Through the website and iPhone app we get listeners from all over the world. And I just love getting to know them all.
“And it’s great that we get to be ourselves on Gaydio, he continues, hands paddling, “talking about everyday things and some not so everyday stuff.“
“Off screen we are great friends too and it’s wonderful to know our fans have embraced the show – we’re loving being able to talk directly to the listeners.”
Since coming out three-years-ago Kieron’s career has gone from strength to strength and he was recently awarded the ‘Best On-Screen Partnership’ gong at the British soap awards with his onscreen lover Emmett J Scanlan.
At the time his co-star said he couldn’t imagine anyone more deserving of the award, highlighting Kieron’s own struggles with his sexuality and the poignancy of the role he plays.
Kieron added: “I am gay in real life and at 20-years-old I kind of accepted it myself, so then when Ste began his own homosexual relationship, I felt like I could finally relate to my character – that he was going through things that I went through in my past.”
“When I think about my life now, I’m so lucky, I feel very blessed, I work hard and always strive to be the best in everything I do, but I am lucky,” he says smiling, toying with the neck of his t-shirt.
“I love living in Manchester, it’s such a great city, there is always something going on and I like the variety of bars, restaurants, people and faces.”
“I don’t want to move to London because it’s big and scary and I’ve got everything I need here and I’m close to my friends and family, which is important.”
But would he ever think about leaving the dramas of Hollyoaks behind one day? “See this is where I differ to other actors” he says, leaning in across the table that separates us.
“I never really class myself as an actor. I’m still learning on the job and I’m happy – I’m no bigger or better than the show”
“Coming to work is a happy place for me, because this is what I wanted school to be like… which is probably why I am really…well… just happy, ” he concludes a smile lingering contentedly across his lips as he finishes the last of his drink and waves for the bill.