A list of the most influential gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer British celebrities of today.
Queer culture in the UK is colourful and varied. If you visit the largest cities, outside of, but especially during pride month, you are sure to find events and establishments that welcome and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
Another aspect of British pride comes in the form of celebrities. Those in the public eye who are paving the way forward for queer representation in British culture, using their fame to bring attention to queer issues and greater social acceptance at home and around the world. So here is a list of the most well-known and influential gay and queer British talents of today.
Sir Ian McKellen
An icon of British acting and LGBTQ+ activism, Ian McKellen is best known for his roles in the Lord of the Rings and X-Men films, as well as for his expansive theater career going back to the 1960s. He has been awarded every major British theatrical prize you can think of, and was knighted by the Queen for his services to performing arts in 1991.
McKellen has spoken openly about his sexuality since the 1980s, and has been an activist for British and worldwide LGBTQ+ rights ever since. He first came out on a BBC radio show in 1988 while debating a conservative MP about a proposed anti-homosexuality law, explaining wanting to use his fame to show that supporting gay rights was ok no matter your identity.
He co-founded stonewall, the British LGBTQ+ rights organization, and supports many other charities like London pride, LGBT history month and more.
Layton Williams is a young, well known stage and screen actor from Manchester. He began his career at 12 playing Young Michael Jackson in Thriller – Live in the West End, and as the star of Billy Elliot the Musical. He featured in Jack Whitehall’s BBC comedy Bad Education in 2012, playing a gay school student, and has now returned for the show’s fourth series in 2023.
He famously played the lead role in the successful musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, playing the titular character in both the UK and US. Layton talked about growing up in a small town, facing both racism and homophobia:
“That’s why I’m so out of the box now. That’s why gay people are so iconic — we spent so long pretending to be someone else that when we can be authentically ourselves there’s
no holding us back.” He advocates for the LGBTQ+ charities ‘Stonewall’ and ‘Ditch the Label.’
He has recently been announced as a contestant on the newest season of Strictly Come Dancing.
Joe came to fame only last year as the main character of Netflix’s Heartstopper, a series featuring a range of queer actors and characters, based on author and illustrator Alice Oseman’s successful graphic novels. He stars as Charlie Spring, the only openly gay boy at his school, and the story follows his romance with fellow student Nick Nelson.
Joe, with his Heartstopper co-stars, talks about the importance of the queer representation seen in the show, and how still as a young person himself, it has helped him to accept his own sexuality, especially with being so rapidly placed in the public eye.
Heartstopper is Joe’s first acting role, but his future role in Marvel series Agatha Coven of Chaos has already been announced, acting alongside Patti Lupone, and his future in the industry is sure to keep growing.
This leads us to Kit Connor. Kit came out as bisexual in 2022 at only 18 years old after online pressure and speculation. He proudly plays the also bisexual character Nick Nelson in Heartstopper, whose experiences Connor has commented mirror his own in many respects.
Speaking on his school experience: “[it was a] a very heteronormative atmosphere. It wasn’t really accepted in a lot of ways…It’s the experience of maybe you’re too straight to be gay and you’re too gay to be straight.”
Kit has been acting since he was a child, notably playing a young Elton John in Rocketman in 2019. He is set to star in the film adaptation of the book ‘A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow’ and will continue to play Nick Nelson for at least one more Heartstopper season, if not many more (we hope!)
The last from the Heartstopper universe on this list, Alice Oseman is a writer and illustrator from Kent, where Heartstopper is set. The first of their novels was released when they were only 20 years old in 2014, while only a freshman at Durham University. In 2019, it was announced that Netflix had commissioned a first season of Heartstopper with production company See-Saw Films, and Alice now writes the wildly successful series, as well as continuing to publish episodes of the webcomic of the same name on Webtoon and Tapas.
The recently released Heartstopper season 2 features a character, Isaac, who’s journey into discovering his asexuality Alice felt was important to include and highlight. Alice identifies as asexual and aromantic, so many of her experiences and personal feelings have gone into her work, especially Heartstopper, and their 2020 novel, Loveless.
“The world is obsessed with sex and romance. And if you don’t have that, you feel like you haven’t achieved something that’s really important,”
A staple of British sports presenting, Clare Balding has been a prominent name in both television and radio since the 1990s. She is known for being a big proponent of British horse racing, having started out as a jockey, but has also reported for the BBC for a number of sporting events from all over the world, including as a commentator at 7 Olympic Games’. Her latest success is in her new prestigious role of the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon, taking over from Sue Barker who has hosted since 1993.
Clare confirmed her sexuality in 2002, announcing her long standing relationship with Alice Arnold, fellow BBC radio presenter. They entered into a civil partnership in 2006 and married in 2015 in a private ceremony.
Clare has spoken about why fear prevented her from coming out as gay earlier on, feeling that it may harm her career. She and her wife appeared on Celebrity Gogglebox in 2021, saying that she felt it was important for the audience to see a same-sex couple sitting at home watching TV, leading a normal life.
Although from Dublin, Ireland, Graham Norton is an indisputable legend of British presenting, and one the most recognisable talk show hosts on television today. He started out as an actor, appearing in Irish series Father Ted, then began hosting his own talk shows on Channel 4. The current BBC series, The Graham Norton Show has seen him interviewing the biggest names in the world since its start in 2007. He has hosted prestigious events such as the BAFTAs, has been the BBC’s commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest since 2009 and now is also a frequent host on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. He began his literary career in 2016, having two biographies and several novels.
Norton has been openly gay since the start of his career, never feeling the need to explicitly come out, and comfortably refers to his sexuality on his show and in interviews. He married partner Johnathan McLeod last year after meeting 6 years previously.
Another icon of British talk shows and comedy, Alan Carr has also hosted his own TV series; Alan Carr Chatty Man, on Channel 4 from 2009 to 2016, and has since been a regular face on a number of British TV and radio shows. He joined Graham Norton in
being a regular judge on Drag Race UK in 2019, often appears as a team captain on comedy panel show 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and most recently has created and stars in an ITV comedy series based on his childhood named Changing Ends. He has won several TV and comedy awards for Chatty Man and for his stand up comedy.
He mentioned on his talk show while interviewing a guest that he never really had to come out of the closet, and was made fun of for his camp behavior from childhood. Although having since split up, in 2018, Alan married his long-time partner, with singer and good friend Adele as the officiant.
One of the most recognisable names on this list when we think of famous British gay people, Stephen fry is a multi-faceted talent, having delved into comedy, acting, presenting and writing, among other ventures. He first came to fame alongside other big names in British acting, namely Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson, who all starred in the BBC series Blackadder, ending in 1989.
He famously played fellow gay writer Oscar Wilde in the film Wilde in 1997, and has had feature roles in many big films and television series.
Fry has been outspoken about many world issues, including gay and queer rights in Britain and around the world. He also advocates for wildlife conservation and efforts against the climate crisis, as well as mental health, being the current president of the mental health charity, Mind.
Sir Elton John
Arguably the biggest star on this list, Elton John is a legend of British born musicians, and his life story can be seen in the 2019 film Rocketman, which he and his partner produced.
He came to fame in the 1970s with tracks such as Your Song and album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and has continued to write and sing chart topping hits to this day. He has composed for films such as The Lion King and Billy Elliot the Musical. He has toured his music since the age of 23 and has recently retired, concluding in the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.
Elton John is outspoken about his sexuality. He came out, first as bisexual in 1976, and then as gay in 1992, both in magazine Rolling Stone. He is the founder of the Elton John Aids Foundation, established in 1992, and he is well known for his philanthropy. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1998 for his services to music and charitable services. He has many awards for his music, including two Oscars, 5 Grammys and a Tony award, as well as being inducted into the Songwriters and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and 1994 respectively.
Before coming out, Elton married recording engineer Renate Blauel in an elaborate ceremony in Australia, but explains that while she was an incredible woman, he was living a lie. He met his current partner David Furnish, a Canadian filmmaker, in 1993 and they
were able to officially marry in 2014. They now live between London and Beverly Hills, and have two children together via surrogate.
An incredibly entertaining actress and presenter, Miriam Margolyes does not shy away from any conversation topic if her interviews and recent autobiography This Much is True are any indication, including being an out and proud lesbian.
Miriam has been an actor since the 1970s, beginning with VoiceOver work. She has featured in many major film and TV productions, and has many voice acting roles in films such as Disney’s Mulan, Happy Feet and Early Man. She won a BAFTA award for best supporting actress in The Age of Innocence, directed by Martin Scorsese in 1993, and most famously played Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films. She was awarded an OBE for services to drama in 2002.
Most famous for their role in The Last of Us, Bella is a rising talent in the acting industry, and also a new face of representation of non-binary celebrities.
Bella’s breakout role was on Game of Thrones in 2016 as Leanna Mormont. They subsequently had roles in CBBC’s The Worst Witch, adapted from the successful children’s books, and then was cast as Ellie in The Last of Us, alongside Pedro Pascal. They also starred in the animated Netflix series Hilda, and in a lesbian horror short film Requiem.
Bella has talked about using they/them pronouns, and describing their sexuality as ‘wavy.’ Bella also advocates for transgender rights and visibility, as well as for veganism.
Joe Lycett is a talented stand-up comedian, who’s fame has been steadily rising for over a decade. He has been performing live since around the age of 22, and then began appearing on a great number of established British comedy television shows, including Live at the Apollo, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and Taskmaster.
In his act and in interviews he talks about identifying as both bisexual and pansexual, and was pronounced Britain’s most high profile pansexual man of today by Unicorn Magazine.
In the last few years he has made stands against various social and political topics in the British media. He threatened to shred £10,000 unless David Beckham ended his deal with Qatar, host country of the World Cup in 2022, and famously a dangerous place for queer people.
He has hosted his own television shows, including Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, in which he uncovers scammers in the UK, helps people recover their losses and get revenge. In one
of these instances, he legally changed his name to Hugo Boss, to protest the company who were preventing small businesses from using the word ‘boss.’
Dame Kelly Holmes
Kelly Holmes is a celebrated sportswoman, having won two gold medals at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in the 800 and 1,500 meter races, and holds British records for the 600 and 1000 metre distances.
She was in the armed forces from age 18, and was not able to come out as a lesbian due to it being illegal at the time. When she came to fame for sporting, she was still afraid of the consequences from the army even after leaving, as well as the potential to harm her athletics career. She finally announced that she was gay in 2022, and in the same year released a documentary which discussed her sexuality, and met with two people who were discharged from the army for being gay.
The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust was established in 2008, which aims to support young athletes coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Although retired from athletics and competing, Kelly continues to be involved in major events, including being named president of the Commonwealth Games England in 2009. Recently, she has shown her support for transgender rights, advocating to the International Olympic Committee for trans woman athletes’ participation in women’s sporting categories.
Jameela is a successful actress from the UK, having starred in the US sitcom The Good Place from 2016 to 2020, and Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. She began her television career by applying for presenting gigs, and has been host of many British TV and radio shows, such as Playing it Straight and the Chart Show on BBC Radio 1, on which she was the first ever solo female presenter of the programme.
Since landing the role of Tahani on The Good Place and moving to Los Angeles, Jameela has played roles in a number of television and film projects. She came out as queer in 2020 when faced with backlash due to her role as a judge on queer reality show Legendary.
Jamil is a strong advocate for mental health issues, having struggled with it herself, especially criticizing diet culture and unhealthy body standards. Calling out other celebrities for promoting toxic products to young influential social media users.