I once read a brilliant interview with the ever-awkward Simon Amstell, which included him talking about his first celebrity crush.
It is rare for gay celebrities to talk about their crushes. Usually we don’t really like to imagine anyone knocking one out thinking about another, let alone gay men.
Also, for a gay man to admit he may at one time have dreamed of kissing a straight man would mean he were in some way determined to make it happen, right?
As we all know, a straight man left alone in a room with a gay man is bound to feel under threat and oppressed – we can’t keep our hands to ourselves, we love to intimidate.
And then I got to thinking about my first crush and surmised there must have been many, even before I realised what sex actually was, and what went where, and even dreamed of putting anything anywhere. But the first one that stuck in my mind was Harry.
Harry. I remember thinking about Harry.
Even before I knew I was gay, I knew I wanted to see Harry with no shirt on. And thankfully, once a week I did – every single Monday for three years in PE.
Holding in sobs on the rugby pitch, getting my knees battered in hockey, being too short for basketball, watching 130mph serves whistle by me in tennis, trudging dejectedly across the field after one run in cricket, and the endless, infernal hell of football for the remaining millennia – all worth it, in their perverse way, for the 10 minutes either side that I got to furtively look at Harry’s skin in the changing rooms.
With my 20/20 hindsight I can now see that there was nothing special about Harry, but when you are a barely cognisant little gay, you can create a matinee idol from anyone, not just the guys in magazines.
Jordan Knight doesn’t sit three seats down in chemistry on a rainy Friday, but Harry does, and nothing elevates a boy to the sex god pedestal quicker than the lack of anything else in your eyeline.
I was 13 when I first saw Harry. I was a pocket-sized, spiky-haired, dustball, anxious not to be noticed and just to get through grammar school without getting my head kicked in. Harry was in my tutor group, as they insisted on calling registration classes or forms in the nineties, and sat at the “cool table”.
I say “cool table”. I wouldn’t cross the aisle in a Tesco Express to talk to them now, but back then, knowing no better, the four guys at the table in front of our teacher were so effortlessly switched-on and unattainable the table wouldn’t dare call itself anything else.
Harry and I barely spoke, so I had to content myself with the PE lessons and not being caught eyeing him up. Difficult, but I soon became an expert in side-eye and straight faces. It’s a talent that’s stayed with me.
His underwear, I noted, always sparkled, but it was depressingly laddish. Boxers. Ugh. The best I could hope for was that he’d struggle a bit getting his trousers off and I’d see the shadow of something, but usually I went hungry.
There was no internet, then, of course. I feel sorry for the Harrys of the digital age – nobody bothering to moon over their mum-bought trunks anymore because they can go online and, in a click or two, see 100 dicks on the same screen.
That first summer, after months of wondering, something weird happened. I was sitting in my back garden having an argument with the next door neighbour – long story, but my supposed sexuality featured heavily – when Harry came round the corner of my house with another boy, Chris, the “bad lad” of the school. They were “in the area” and thought they’d call in. I still, 25 years later, don’t know how or why they knew my address but there they were, and so began three weeks of being wild about Harry in the closest proximity ever.
Harry’s mum was newly divorced and at work a lot, I lived in a council house and my mum was not interested in having two extra teenage boys cluttering up the place, so we would hang out at Chris’s house – he was extremely rich and had lax parents who bought him anything he wanted because he was adopted. We made prank phone calls and snuck into the cinema and raided his parents’ booze cabinet and smoked cigarettes, and even though Chris was super-creepy and possibly a serial killer, it was worth the risk to get to know Harry.
It was both exciting and disappointing to find out Harry wasn’t as clever as me, and only slightly more confident. He had his looks and what I would now recognise as straight white male privilege but back then was just “normal”, but beyond that, not a lot going on apart from his beautiful skin.
Girls at school wanted to fuck him – or thought they did – because he was as near to a man as they were going to get in Year 9, but Harry was just a boy with burgeoning curtains making his own way in the world and really not sure about any of it.
One day he let us watch through a hole in the door as he wanked in Chris’s bathroom – he had a really weird way of doing it, I remember – but I was anxious that it was a trap, set for me to see whether I was gay and then have me beaten up, so I stood aside and made mock horror faces while Chris eyeballed away, not seeing a thing. I still think it was a trap, actually – I’m glad my curiosity didn’t get the better of me.
One day we all pulled some girls from our school. I say ‘all’ – obviously they all wanted Harry. We hung out of his kitchen window agape, watching him snog one of them with electric teenage ferocity. I look back now and realise I probably wasn’t the only one wishing I were her.
Eventually Chris got a little too weird and Harry’s opportunities to get some serious fingering were being hampered by his hangers-on, so I made the decision to start staying at home more, and away from them.
Harry and I would still nod in class or in the corridor, and I would watch with increased excitement at the hairs springing up on his surprisingly broad chest over the years, but eventually he faded from my dreams to be replaced by other ridiculous notions, fantasies and, mainly, worries about exams.
Chris ended up a convicted rapist and dead, but I don’t know what happened to Harry. We did A-levels and I think he fared worse than expected. A friend said they bumped into him years later and he looked really different, in a bad way, but I couldn’t imagine it. Wouldn’t. Didn’t want to. Facebook searches proved fruitless, and I’m glad.
For me, Harry is forever in the changing rooms at school, tangled up in his shirt trying not to let everyone see his torso, reaching for his Lynx, and never quite getting in the right position for me to see everything before I turn my gaze away, back to my own shirt, my school bag, myself, my thoughts. Not even understanding what they were.
And now I do understand and realise Harry was the question, not the answer.