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Riyadh Khalaf: ‘Lady Gaga made me feel like I wasn’t alone, weird or sick’

The presenter and author reflects on the songs and podcasts that have uniquely shaped his life in Attitude x Spotify's #OnlyYou series.

By Will Stroude

In paid partnership with Spotify

Images: Markus Bidaux / Mariano Vivanco 

Lady Gaga has stood as one of the world’s most beloved gay icons ever since the star first burst onto the scene back in 2008 – but with so many millions finding inspiration in Mother Monster’s music, it can be easy to forget the individual impact that’s been felt by LGBTQ people across the globe.

As Riyadh Khalaf joins Attitude for a brand new video series in partnership with Spotify, which sees LGBTQ stars reveal the songs and podcasts that have shaped their lives, the presenter and author explains how Gaga has changed his life too. 

Revealing how Gaga’s breakthrough years at the tail-end of the noughties empowered him as a young gay adolescent growing up in Ireland, Riyadh recalls: “I remember being young, gay and afraid of who I was, and then Lady Gaga came along and I was completely swept up in all of that.

The Fame Monster album really helped me find myself and made me feel like I wasn’t alone, or wasn’t weird, or wasn’t sick – and that it was cool, actually, to be a bit different.”

Naturally, when asked to name his ultimate queer anthem, Riyadh, who previously fronted BBC Three documentary series Queer Britain, points to a deep cut from Gaga.

“I keep this track and only play it in moments where I have a particular achievement that’s happened, or a happy moment in my life, sort of a milestone that I’ve passed, so that it keeps its kind of, special zing, [so] I don’t get desensitised,” he explains.

“And that’s Lady Gaga ‘So Happy I Could Die’.”

The former Celebrity Masterchef winner goes on: “I just remember being at her concert and seeing a sea of young gays and queers, everyone from every walk of life just bouncing to this song and just being together – so that is my ultimate queer anthem.”

Gaga isn’t the only big-voiced diva who’s soundtracked Riyadh’s road to self-acceptance, though: it turns out the author of Yay! You’re Gay! Now What? also owes a debt of gratitude to Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine.

Asked which track would be his chosen ‘lip-sync for your life’, Riyadh opens up about a surprisingly little-known period of his teenaged life when he carved out a brief drag career in Ireland.

“Not only would I like to lip-sync to this song, but I have lip-synced to this song! It was the song that I became known for as Ireland’s youngest professional drag queen,” Riyadh exclaims. “When I was about 17 years old I was constantly performing Florence [+ The Machine]’s ‘Dog Days Are Over’. It was kind of my signature.

“When I was coming out, this song was pretty big… and it kind of matches the horrible time, the shame, the fear, like that’s all over now, that’s all done, and you get to be free.

“That song really illustrated that for me – along with the fact I was performing it every weekend in a drag bar secretly, without mum and dad knowing!”

A decade after the power of Lady Gaga helped Riyadh leave his “young, gay and afraid” self behind, the out and proud media personality is happier than ever with his boyfriend, DJ and YouTuber Josh Harrison – and music of a different kind is now shaping their lives moving forward.

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A post shared by Riyadh Khalaf (@riyadhk)

Quizzed on the music he’d like to one day hear serenade him down the aisle, Riyadh replies: “My boyfriend Josh and I have both agreed it has to be Sufjan Stevens, ‘Mystery of Love’.

“We first heard this song in the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack and it’s just so beautiful and gentle, and we often play it when we’re on holiday together and we’re feeling particularly romantic.

“It’s kind of become our song, it’s kind of what I associate with him and my love for him.”

To mark the release of Only Riyadh Khalaf, a £500 charity donation has been made in Riyadh’s name via Spotify and the Attitude Magazine Foundation to The Food Chain, which ensures people living with HIV in London can access the nutrition they need to get well, stay well and lead healthy, independent lives.

Listen to the Only Riyadh Khalaf playlist on Spotify and below. To discover more about your own unique listening habits, visit