This interview was first published in Attitude issue 276, November 2016.
Reality star Stephen Bear may have won the public vote in Celebrity Big Brother
but Frankie Grande was the real winner. Ariana’s older brother says: “I feel as if I won because the public have been wonderful. Everyone has been embracing and so loving.” Having left the house on the last night after coming sixth, Frankie added: “I went through a journey and a battle and I came out a winner.”
Frankie, the Broadway star, YouTube sensation and host of Amazon’s Style Code Live
(where people can chat, shop and catch up on fashion trends), is a hard-working gay role model who stood up to Bear — best known for his controversial behaviour on Shipwrecked
in 2011 — who threw food on the floor, smeared jam in a book, smashed objects and regularly lost his temper, even in the Diary Room. Frankie, 33, tells Attitude
about tackling homophobia, the fantastic support he receives from his famous sister and why he’s ready for love.
How do you feel about Stephen Bear’s Celebrity Big Brother win?
I’m pleased I made up with him before leaving the house. Right before I went in, Michelle Obama said: “When they go low, we go high,” and I took that with me. Stephen went low so I had to go high. Do I feel he’s deserving of the title or a good representative of the Big Brother name? No.
Did you learn anything about yourself from your time in the house?
That I’m stronger than I ever imagined. There was a horrible moment when Bear threw that cup and shattered that glass. The shootings in Orlando took place just as I left the US, and when I saw that shattered glass it looked like bullet holes to me. Post-Orlando was the first time I was afraid to walk down the streets of New York dressed the way that I dress, with my hair the way that I have it, and with my rainbow tattoo out. I didn’t go to Pride in New York because I was so scared. In that moment of Bear’s rage, either I could break down and lose it or find the strength to build myself up and move forward — and that’s what I did. He lost all power over me once I figured out how to beat him. I beat him by being stronger than him and better than him at controlling myself.
Do you have any regrets about anything you did in the house?
Absolutely. No. Regrets. As Madonna would say!
And what were your proudest moments?
Beating the Bear in terms of taking away his power over me was one. Another was when I actually defeated him on the spinning Christmas pudding. I rode that pudding longer than the Bear did!
He’s been accused of homophobia on the show. What do you feel is the best way to tackle that?
There are many different types of homophobia and there’s also ignorance. I feel when people are ignorant, our job is to try to educate them. We need to make them understand that the terminology they’re using is offensive or that their beliefs could be hurtful towards other people so maybe they should keep it to themselves.
Given that, do you feel it’s important to speak out about LGBT+ issues when you have a public voice?
Absolutely. That’s the one thing I stand by adamantly. You have to speak up because it’s the only way things will change. And we need change.
You’re a supporter of Broadway Bares/Equity Fights Aids. Why do you see that as an important cause?
HIV and Aids have gone out of the public eye a lot. People forget that others are still suffering, people who can’t afford medication, can’t afford doctors’ visits and need people to bring them food because they can’t get to a store. It’s almost become like, “Oh, Aids doesn’t exist anymore because we have all the cures.” That’s not true; it’s prevalent and there are a lot of people suffering. That’s why Broadway Bares is so important. They also support the Women’s Health Initiative, which is very near and dear to my heart because I lost my aunt to breast cancer almost 10 years ago. So the work they do is really phenomenal and I love that they do it through talent and sexiness. What better way to raise money than by having talented, gorgeous people, who are at the top of the industry, take off their clothes and do a beautiful dance?
What do you most enjoy about presenting Style Code Live?
I’m so excited to get back to the show. I think the concept is brilliant and I’m honoured to be part of something that’s never been done before.
You’ve got a fabulous sense of style. Who are your style icons and inspirations?
David Bowie. Oh, I love him so much. Then there’s Gianni Versace — Italian and fabulous — and Nick Jonas is really nailing it.
How would you describe your relationship with Ariana?
She’s my best friend and probably the person who makes me proudest on this planet. I’m so proud of her because she’s someone who at a very young age knew what she wanted to do, pursued it and succeeded to an extent none of us could have foreseen. And she did that herself; she’s not the product of any sort of machine.
What’s it like when you two get together?
We’re very yin and yang. She’s very chilled and I’m very crazy so we’re the perfect balance. She grounds me and I lift her up. But we’re running around the house screaming musicals, constantly singing songs from Rent
. There’s always a performance going on in our house.
How did it feel when you learned she’d taken to Snapchat to rally support for you on CBB?
That was so wonderful. I love that she’s so supportive of me and I in turn am so supportive of her. We’re a very supportive family and we have each other’s backs above anything else. It’s family first with the Grandes. We defend each other passionately, especially when we’re in the right — which is, you know, always.
Why do you feel gay rights are so important to her?
Because she has a gay brother. There’s a 10-year age gap and I came out to her when she was just 11 years old — and she said: “Great, when do I get to meet your boyfriend?” She was raised in a family where gay was not only accepted, it was celebrated. The fact that some people are in families who throw them out because they’re gay or they’re being told they’re wrong because of who they are, it’s a tragedy and both she and I feel it’s our responsibility to educate those people and help them see that we’re all the same. Everybody deserves to be treated equally on this planet regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.
Is there a man in your life at the moment?
I am very single and I have been very single for a long time, but I think the Big Brother experience has allowed me to be open to the possibility of finally allowing somebody in. That introspection has now allowed me to be a receptive person. I think I’m ready to be on the market.
What are your pleasures in life?
Disney World, Harry Potter and Downton Abbey
. Those are the things I love most in life. And, of course, entertaining.
During your career, who have you most been blown away to meet?
Madonna. I met her at the Grammys and it was the most incredible experience of my life. I’d been building up to the moment for years and I was terrified, but she was so wonderful and so gracious.
You’ve done Broadway. Any plans to take the West End by storm?
I’d love to play Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys
, so let’s put that out there. I was considered for the part originally but they told me I was 10 years too young — and that was 10 years ago. Plus my voice is certainly high enough, so we’re all good.
Style Code Live is on Amazon.com. Follow Frankie on Instagram and Twitter @FrankieJGrande and on YouTube.
Words: Simon Button
Attitude’s January issue is available to download and in shops now. Print copies are available to order globally from newsstand.co.uk/attitude.
The first ‘Tom of Finland’ trailer is finally here – WATCH
Man who strangled policeman during Grindr hook-up before dissolving body jailed for life