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BBC Radio 1's Dean McCullough on alcohol misuse: 'It got really dark really quickly'

The presenter leads the Media and Broadcast category in the Attitude 101 issue, empowered by Bentley.

2021-12-07

Interview: Matthew Todd; pictures Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

BBC Radio 1's latest recruit, Dean McCullough, beams his sunny personality over the air, as the first openly gay presenter on the station from the get-go.

After discovering his love for the mic while at drama school the 29-year-old has put in the work to get to his own show Friday to Sunday from 10.30am to 1.30pm.

Speaking to Attitude as he leads the Media and Broadcast category for the Attitude 101 issue - out now to download and to order globally, Dean candidly discusses his journey to sobriety, as well as being one of the few openly gay presenters on BBC Radio 1.

For Dean, the partying and drinking began aged 19. Getting invites to press nights and premieres allowed Dean into all sorts of situations. "Crazy wild nights, sneaking into Soho House, ending up in many a hotel room with many a man, wondering, how the fuck has this happened?" he says. 

Alcohol was a way of numbing how he felt after years of homophobic bullying and learning, aged 15, the man who he thought was his dad actually wasn't. His biological father had left when his mother was pregnant. Dean reveals he's spoken to his biological father once via Facebook Messenger, and that he stopped talking to the dad he grew up with after his parents broke up. 

He says both have let him with abandonment issues. 

Dean wears suit, by Tommy Hilfiger, tee by Reiss, chain by Thomas Sabo, boots by Vagabond Photography (Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa; Styling: Sacha Dance; Grooming Viorela Coman using NARS)

But it was the first lockdown that made the Irish broadcaster realise he needed to quit altogether. Then presenting the breakfast show on Gaydio, the UK's biggest LGBTQ radio station, Dean says he would start drinking "bottles and bottles of wine" on a Friday lunchtime admitting he was "a bit lost and scared and fragile," during the early days of the pandemic.

But getting sober, he says, has been "the best thing I've ever done". "Sometimes I really want to drink and go wild and crazy because I am now facing my demons which are coming up through therapy. Ordinarily, I would have gotten on it. Sober, you have nowhere to run."

Now, he's among a large number of young people not drinking to the same extent as previous generations. A 2020 survey found that nearly a quarter of young people aged 18 to 24 were teetotal. Another study in 2019, by the University of Sheffield, showed the number of young people not drinking more than doubled from 10 percent to 25 percent between 2001 and 2016. 

Dean thinks the issue for people is one of validation. "I think we as a community need to take a step back and assess collectively our relationship with alcohol and drugs. It’s about self-esteem. We all know that. That doesn’t need to be the narrative any more. It can be really good fun, but do we need to get fucked up?"

Dean wears shirt, by Our Legacy at MATCHESFASHION, jacket by Abercrombie and Fitch, and coat by All Saints (Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa; Styling: Sacha Dance; Grooming Viorela Coman using NARS)

His advice for people also wanting to give up alcohol: "'This is just you now, but this doesn’t always have to be you. Be really gentle with yourself.'"

"Don’t think about it as giving up something, but gaining something else in your life. Think of all the positives. For me, it’s not about losing anything, it’s about gaining a new life," he adds.

Years of homophobic bullying and learning the man he thought was his Dad have also had an effect. It wasn't until he overheard an argument between the 

On his new Radio 1 show, Dean is (understandably) living the dream. "People keep saying, ‘You must be overwhelmed; this is all so new and exciting,’ and it is all of that, but I’ve been preparing my whole life for this. I’ve been listening to Radio 1 every day for so long. Now I’ve got my own show, it feels like I’ve come home." 

Check out the full, detailed list in the Attitude 101 issue, which is out now to download and to order globally. The Attitude 101 issue includes the FREE Attitude 2022 calendar, presented in association with Taimi.

Subscribe in print and get your first three issues for just £1 each, or digitally for just over £1.50 per issue.