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'Bake Off' winner David Atherton reveals why he waited until he was 29 to come out

“For a lot of my life, I kept very busy just so I didn’t have to deal with thinking about my sexuality."

2019-12-06

Words: Tim Heap

When David Atherton won this year’s The Great British Bake Off in November, Gay Twitter had a mini-meltdown over the swoonworthiness of the 36 year old and his Bulgarian partner Nik.

But, as David tells Attitude in the Active section of our new January ‘Activists & Allies’ issue - out now to order globally and download to any device - the couple’s on-screen ease didn’t tell the full story.

“I came out when I was 29,” he explains. “My family is quite religious, and Nik was brought up in Bulgaria, which is a very homophobic country.“Growing up as queer in that environment was not easy,” he says. “The show made us look so comfortable together but Nik’s the first partner who I’ve introduced my family.

 
 
 
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“So much homophobia comes from ignorance and when people know someone who is gay, or different, that’s a massive change.”

Hailing from rural Yorkshire, David is one of seven children, and was brought up as an evangelical Christian, which he says led to a lot of shame.

 

The Great British Bake-Off winner David Atherton, shot by Markus Bidaux exclusively for Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue 

“[Homosexuality] wasn’t really talked about but I knew that it was seen as a very negative thing,” he remembers, adding, “All my friends were Christians and there was never a day that went by where I didn’t hear a very hurtful thing said referring to LGBTQ people.”

David also opens up about why he decided to come out and says he realised he hadn’t been ‘brave’.

He says: “I realised that I hadn’t been brave, and I needed to take that step. I’d found it easy to come out to people I’d just met because they didn’t know my history, but I worried that other people would think I’d been living a lie, and that I’m not the person they knew. It got to a tipping point where I thought ‘No, I can’t live a lie any more.’

 
 
 
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“For a lot of my life, I kept very busy just so I didn’t have to deal with thinking about my sexuality.

“So that means for certain things I’m an overachiever, but I definitely haven’t achieved as much on the emotional side. That’s been quite tough. But it’s been good therapy to think about that and to challenge it.”

Working to deliver healthcare programmes in Africa throughout much of his 20s, David’s sexuality was pushed further into the closet as he was told that it could lead to time in jail if he wasn’t careful.

 
 
 
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But in some ways, that worked in his favour, as he could engage in conversations about LGBTQ issues more easily, if he was perceived as a straight foreigner.

“I could talk about my gay friends back home and argue points about how it’s not OK for people to be treated differently,” he says.

David’s time in Africa saw him working on grassroots programmes in Malawi, encouraging pregnant mothers to go to hospital early to give birth and trying to encourage men who have sex with men to use water-based lubricants instead of oil-based ones, to reduce the spread of HIV due to condoms splitting.

Read the full interview with David Atherton in Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue, out now.

Buy now and take advantage of our best-ever subscription offers: three issues for £3 in print, 13 issues for £12.99 to download to any device.