Words: Will Stroude
When Cadbury released a new advert celebrating the 50th anniversary of Crème Egg earlier this month, the beloved confectionary brand created a furore not seen since their infamous 1992 lady-in-the-bath-with-only-a-flake-for-company TV commercial.
The striking image of a real-life couple kissing as they pull apart a Crème Egg whipped up a frenzy of conversation on social media, with most normal-thinking people merely outraged at the idea that anyone would *share* a Crème Egg in the first place.
Of course, there were also sadly those whose open discomfort at the image was rooted purely in homophobia, with predictable cries of ‘Won’t somebody think of the children!’ going up when it emerged the advert would be airing on terrestrial television in the UK.
For the real-life couple whose kiss has now been plastered across websites and social media newsfeeds cross the world alongside all manner of commentary - it’s all been rather strange to watch unfold.
“It was just a normal day’s work,” recalls Dale K of shooting the ad last year. “To see the response initially, we were both really shocked.”
Dale, 25, and Callum, 30, have been together for two and half years but friends for almost a decade after meeting in Liverpool while training at adjacent performance colleges.
Professional dancers and choreographers by trade, the couple admit they hadn’t given the half-day of filming much thought since securing it as a short go-between modelling gig last year, as the pandemic shuttered their usual performance spaces.
While the speed their faces spread across the globe may have come as surprise, Dale and Callum remain unfazed by the scale comments – both negative and positive – that have been prompted by their sugary lip-locking.
“I think because of the line of work we normally do, it couldn’t have been better-suited to two people,” says Callum, 30.
Dale adds: “We’re queer activists anyway, we’re happy to be those people.”
With headlines heaping praise on Cadbury for putting such an attention-grabbing display of LGBTQ intimacy front and centre, Dale admits he’s perplexed by sheer scale of the attention.
“The advert’s been labelled as ‘progressive’, and I have this slight issue with the way Callum and I live our lives being [seen as] ‘progressive’,” he says. “To us, we’re in love and we live our life how we live it, and that shouldn’t be seen as different to any cis, straight couple.
Dale K says he was "really shocked" by how far the advert travelled (Photography: Ciaran Frame)
“But any backlash is necessary for progression. There are still ignorant people who need to be educated and come round to bi-racial, same-sex relationships being normality.
“Unfortunately, we have to go through that fight to progess.”
Many of those voicing ‘concern’ about the advert argued that ‘doing a Lady and the Tramp’ on a Crème Egg would be inappropriate regardless of the couple’s gender, but Dale is quick to point out the deep-rooted prejudice behind such puritanical arguments.
“I think anyone who has a problem with the ‘nature’ of our interaction, it’s a cover-up for the fact we are a bi-racial, same-sex couple - that’s what they’re covering up by saying that”, he says.
“It isn’t cool to be homophobic, it doesn’t gain support, and it’s a cover-up for an underlying homophobic agenda that perhaps they don’t even know they have.”
Dale goes on: “I think there’s been a correlation made between the kiss and children – that’s a consistent comment I’ve seen – this idea that putting this in front of children is going to somehow affect their behaviour. Our response is that we grew up as gay men in the ’90s watching cisgender, heteronormative narratives throughout our entire childhoods, and we’re still gay.
Callum chimes in: “I think anyone who’s gay or queer or trans can tell you it’s not a choice. People need to wake up and realise a commercial is not going to influence the sexuality of a child, full stop.”
Callum Sterling says seeing more LGBTQ couple represented in TV advertising would have cleared up confusion about his sexuality as a child, not created it (Photography: Ciaran Frame)
While the responses of frothing-mouthed homophobes might be been expected, there were also those in the LGBTQ community who reacted to the ad with cynicism: that it was a ‘Pink Pound’ marketing ploy on behalf of Cadbury – or that worse still, that they were actively trying to generate a wave of controversy at the expense of the community.
“I saw the initial breakdown for the roles and they weren’t gender or sexuality-specific,” Dale explains in response. “They were just looking for a real-life couple.
“Actually, they were so surprised with the reaction that we had phone calls from production and Cadbury themselves to ask about mental health check-ups, which we thought was fantastic.
“They actually called and were like ‘Guys, this wasn’t our intention, so we wanted to call to make sure you’re ok because we didn’t expect this’.”
It’s worth noting at this point that unlike many LGBTQ-inclusive ads, the Crème Egg commercial didn’t arrive at Attitude’s own news desk in the form of a self-congratulatory press release, rather it was stumbled upon after sitting on YouTube for a few days with just a few thousand views.
“A lot of commercial brands come out of the woodwork during Pride season and support us, and it was very evident last year when Pride parades didn’t happen which brands I’d worked with in the past didn’t show up,” Dale continues.
“Cadbury got behind the LGBTQIA community at a time when they didn’t have to.”
Naturally, many viewers were keen to know just how easy – and how sticky – it is to share a Crème Egg while kissing your partner.
“It wasn’t as messy as I thought it would be!” laughs Callum. “It was fun to do.”
Dale pipes up: “And actually the interesting thing is both of us are actually dairy intolerant! So every time we did it, it was like quick, run off set and spit into the bucket.”
He adds the a grin: “During the casting process they were like, ‘Do you have any food allergies?’ and I was turning to Callum saying ‘Do no put that down, we need the money!’”
One that note, it’s important to add that Dale and Callum’s flirtation with viral fame comes at a time where their industry is struggling to stay afloat amid the pandemic, with both keen to emphasise the importance of performers and creatives for society’s collective wellbeing.
For a couple whose romantic relationship crystalised while working on the RuPaul’s Drag Race European tour, the last 10 months have been a tough time professionally.
“It’s a hard time for a lot of creatives and freelance performers”, sighs Callum. “We’ve had lots of moments of wondering about our future and possible moments of insecurity or anxiety.”
“I think overall we count our blessings that we’ve managed to do as much as we have over this time, and there are performers who have had absolutely zero work since March”, Dale adds.
Professional dancers and performers Dale and Callum have been together for two and a half years - but have been friends for almost a decade (Photography: Ciaran Frame)
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we are sufficiently supported.”
Callum declares: “People are watching Netflix and watching TV and listening to music during lockdown – it’s one of the things that’s kept people sane. The arts are necessary and totally needed.”
The column inches generated by the Cadbury Crème Egg commercial may seem a like a storm in an egg-cup, but there’s no denying that LGBTQ-inclusivity in advertising can be a powerful tool in the media. The people who really need to see two guys expressing their love over a Crème Egg on TV aren’t likely to be setting their planners to record Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin, after all.
Callum concludes our chat by explaining that seeing LGBTQ people represented in these everyday situations would have been invaluable to him as a child coming to terms with his own sexuality.
“It would have been a very small bit of hope in a sea of confusion”, he says. “You can’t just say this one advert is going to change someone’s life when the world still feels so heterosexual and white, but I think it would have been a little bit of hope, and normalised it slightly for someone who might feel they’re wrong for finding someone of the same sex attractive.
“Seeing this would have made the confusion I went through a lot easier at the time.”