Words: Thomas Stichbury
Matty Healy has long been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ equality, even helping to raise funds for the planned launch of an LGBTQ community centre in London’s Hackney last year, but the 1975 frontman took his fiight for sexual freedom global – risking arrest in the process – earlier this year when he made a show of publicly kissing a male fan at a gig in Dubai.
The Brit Award-winning band’s frontman fearlessly flipped the bird at anti-LGBTQ laws in the United Arab Emirates, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
As he appears on the front cover of Attitude’s January 'Activists and Allies' issue - out now to download and to order globally - Matty dives into the drama surrounding the headline-grabbing snog during a concert at the Coca-Cola Arena last summer.
Matty Healy, shot by James Anastasi exclusively for Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue, out now
“It was spontaneous. In the build-up to the show, I was given a check-list of stuff that I was ‘allowed’ to do, and I’m sitting in the dressing room, thinking: ‘Don’t fucking book me if you’re just gonna give me this list of demands. I’m in this situation and I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, I’m taking money from a government I don’t agree with,’” he begins.
“I have a 30ft Pride flag and, in every set, I do a song called 'Loving Someone', which has become a bit of an anthem for all our LGBTQ fans… I’m told that I can’t do that, so I said to my lighting guy, Darren: ‘We’re doing it. It’s happening. What are they going to do, arrest us?’” he continues.
All hell broke loose pre-kiss when Matty, 30, and his bandmates unveiled the flag.
"The security, police, whatever, have a feed of every camera and apparently what happened was, boom, the Pride flag comes up, every officer runs backstage and says they need to take me off stage and arrest me.”
Photography: James Anastasi
During the kerfuffle, the arena’s security didn’t actually see the pop-rock star plant a smacker on the gay fan, only hearing about it afterwards.
“[The boy] had a sign that said: ‘Can you marry me?’ I said to him, ‘I can’t marry you... but I can give you a hug,’” he recalls.
“He’s a lovely boy and he won’t let go, and says: ‘Thank you’, and all these things. I pull away and he adds: ‘Can I have a kiss?’ I went, ‘Yeah, of course you can have a kiss’. I give him a kiss and he turns and kisses his boyfriend.”
What should have been a heart-warming highlight turned into something more sinister as Matty and his team tried to avoid arrest.
“My security managed to divert them while I came off stage. They didn’t know what hotel we were [staying] at, and we changed our flights to go to Japan earlier [than planned].”
However, the chart-topper says he was tempted to hand himself in after hearing someone at the gig had been arrested: “They said a kid had been taken to the local jail. Security had to physically stop me from going to the police so I could fucking deal with the situation.”
That wasn’t the end of the controversy, though, as Matty faced a barrage of criticism that he had in fact put the young man in danger.
“It was the gayest gig I’ve ever done. It was like a release, that they had a place to go to in fucking Dubai. So, it was a massive celebration,” he explains.
Photography: James Anastasi
“Then a couple of people say, ‘Oh, what you’ve actually done is endangered a kid’s life’. I was reading this in my hotel room on my own and I’m fucking freaking out, like I don’t know if it’s true or whatever.”
Tracking down the kid on social media, Matty breathed a sigh of relief when he found out the kid was safe.
“I find who this kid is on Twitter and I start texting his mate, ‘Oh my God, are you all right?’ He replied: ‘What do you mean? We’re in a bar, it was the best night of my life’, and they start sending me selfies.
"I was like, ‘I read some shit’, and sent them links to what people were saying. They went on Twitter, saying: ‘Don’t fucking do that’.”
Read the full interview with Matty Healy in Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue, out now.