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Graham Norton, Bimini, Munroe Bergdorf, and more remember their first Attitude

Senior writer Alastair James chats to friends of Attitude about their first memories of the magazine and what it meant to them

By Alastair James

My First Attitude
Bimini, Graham Norton, Munroe Bergdorf, and Ben Thompson (Image: Attitude)

It was summer 2015. I’d graduated from the University of Leicester the year before and had entered the real world not really knowing what to do with a BA in Contemporary History. I had always been somewhat interested in journalism but had never seriously considered it. But after a miserable time in retail, I ventured into BBC Bristol and eventually volunteered for four months with their political editor. It was exciting. I applied and was accepted to study a postgraduate diploma in broadcast journalism at the renowned School of Journalism, Media, and Culture (JOMEC) at Cardiff University.

But I still questioned if this was something I should be doing at all. Then, one day, I was watching BBC Breakfast, and Ben Thompson appeared. A quick Google showed me two things: he’d gone to JOMEC to do the same postgrad course. And he had just appeared on the cover of Attitude. I went into town and bought a copy. Seeing a gay man succeeding in the industry I was considering jumping into gave me hope. I felt reassured and it gave me the push I needed to commit. After my course, I ended up in Cardiff for six years working at BBC Wales. I made some of my closest friends there, and eventually, it brought me to Attitude.

In my near three years here, during the pre-amble before interviews or during photoshoots, celebrities have shared their first experiences with Attitude. And as this is our 30th-anniversary issue, it’s the perfect time to share a few of these stories. Enjoy!

John Whaite, Baker

John Whaite (Image: Cris Barnett)

Like many queer people, I grew up pretending to be something I wasn’t. In order to conceal my true sexuality for as long as I could, in high school I’d do what the other lads did — though I drew the line at playing football. But to be a part of the conversations on the bus and in the playground, I had to ensure I was up to date with the latest issue of FHM or Nuts magazine. I’d eyeball Attitude in the supermarket, longing to look beyond the front cover. That never happened until I was in college and on a drama trip to London.

Newly out to my friends, who all celebrated having a gay pal, I stopped at WHSmith in Euston station to get my first copy. I think the cover featured the singer Preston, but separate memories may be converging. I felt a deep sense of pride and acceptance to be sat on the train, speeding back to Wigan, talking about the contents of the magazine with my mates — straight lads included. For the first time in my life, I felt seen for who I truly was.

Juno Dawson, Writer

Juno Dawson (Image: Alex Cameron)

My first memory that Attitude existed was — no big surprise — the iconic Spice Girls cover which had them dressed like the Village People. At that point, I was far too closeted to even consider buying it. The first one I bought was the Will Mellor Naked issue in 1999. I had to because the sight of him protecting his modesty with a boxing glove made me… feel things deeply. By then I was at university, but was still scared to buy it from anyone except a nice gay guy who worked at WHSmith on Bangor High Street. I was basically a subscriber from that point on. Appearing in Attitude as a columnist for the first time in 2015 was truly one of the highlights of my entire career.

Munroe Bergdorf, Writer, model and activist

My First Attitude
Munroe Bergdorf (Image: Markus Bidaux /Attitude)

The first issue that I remember seeing was Madonna’s cover. I think it was around the mid-90s, during her Bedtime Stories era, I was barely 10, I was obsessed with that album. I remember seeing [Attitude] in the shop, and I was playing ‘Human Nature’ and ‘Secret’ on repeat, driving my mum mad. Mum knew what Attitude was. I was probably too young to read Attitude at that age, even though I probably would have loved it.

For some reason, the cover headline stuck with me: “Interview with the vamp”, which I thought was really fun. And that era of Madonna’s career was so important to me because that was when I really understood the power of a woman’s sexuality, but also the power of a woman’s refusal to conform. For that to be my first album, and first magazine cover that I actually remember, is really powerful. I definitely feel that I’ve carried that energy through in my own career in my own way — and you have to as a woman in this industry.

Every single woman, I think, has a piece of Madonna in them. When I was older and conscious of what Attitude was as a magazine, its cultural significance was probably the Geri Halliwell covers. I thought Geri always had such fun aesthetics, and I just loved how she embraced the camp aesthetic. She was a big part of me embracing my campness. It’s the same with the Kylie covers. So many have really stood the test of time.

I used to read Attitude in the school library by putting it inside another magazine. People thought I was reading fashion magazines, but I was looking through what was happening in queer clubland. It was really about my access, in a way, to London. I didn’t grow up that far away from London, but it felt like a world away. So, it was very much a portal into a world that I wanted to be within. I think it gave me a glimpse into the future and what could be possible, something to look forward to. And it showed me I shouldn’t be afraid of who I am, and that it’s possible to be happy and queer.

Will Young, Singer

My First Attitude
Will Young (Image: Michael Wharley)

When I bought the Attitude issue with Chris O’Donnell on the cover dressed as Robin from the Batman movie, it was just to get haircut ideas. It was for sale in Tesco, and I didn’t know it was a gay magazine. Then, when I got home, I realised, and it showed me there was possibility, there was a community, there was visibility and there was hope. Since then, it has given voices to the voiceless and shone a light on the constant emergence of new and exciting queer people, while highlighting the history and behemoths from the past whose shoulders we all stand on.

Luke Evans, Actor

My First Attitude
Luke Evans (Image: Attitude)

The first issue I ever remember had Dermot O’Leary on the cover. I remember because Dermot— he’s a handsome devil, but when he was younger, oh my God! It was when he was the heartthrob and probably in his late twenties. I left home at 16. I was a happy gay kid in London, I was in my first show, and I could afford to buy magazines and I bought it. Also, I did a shoot in 2003 inside, and I literally look like I’m 16 years old. I am so small, so thin, and not a mark on my face — it’s so funny to see.

Then, a couple of years ago, I was on the cover [for winning the Attitude Man of the Year Award]! I was doing Nine Perfect Strangers. It was lockdown. I found a photographer who was a friend of Samara Weaving. And we shot the whole thing and did the interview. I did an acceptance speech in the house we rented. It was so much fun. I loved it, and they were lovely images.

L Devine, Singer-songwriter

My First Attitude
L Devine (Image: Provided)

My first Attitude magazine was when I was 12 years old, and McFly was on the cover. They did a very sexy, steamy, sweaty shoot in a sauna, all very much naked. I managed to get a copy of that and cut out all the clippings and stuck them on my wall, and I even used a circular crop of Harry [Judd]’s bare bottom as my Skype picture for years from that shoot. So, I guess if it taught me anything it was that despite being a closeted lesbian the whole time, you can still appreciate a really good man’s ass.

Owain Wyn Evans, TV presenter

Owain Wyn Evans (Image: Provided)

I have many memories of seeing Attitude magazine on the shelves of newsagents in Llanelli or Swansea when visiting there as a teenager with my parents or later on my own or with friends. Initially, I always remember thinking I’d love to buy a copy: ‘One day, perhaps!’ But it actually took many years for me to pluck up the courage to do so. Gay shame and internalised self-homophobia were things that took many, many years for me to overcome.

I was always particularly drawn to the queer icons who’d feature on the covers. One which stands out, in particular, was Elton John — I think it must have been in the early 2000s, when I was in my late teens. Attitude magazine over the years has continued to not only be a source of news and information for LGBTQ+ people, but also a place where between the pages people of all ages have been able to feel seen and validated as members of the queer community.

Ben Aldridge, Actor

Ben Aldridge (Image: Kosmas Pavlos/Attitude)

Getting an Attitude Award was a real marker for me. I remember being a teenager in the corner shop or WHSmith, and I remember my confused little eyes being drawn to the cover image of Attitude. I remember taking and stealing very quick, cursory glances, but never really allowing myself to really look, I couldn’t. Truly I couldn’t envisage a day where I could reach for this magazine, let alone read it, let alone be featured in it, let alone be recognised for what I do and to do that in a proud and visible way. To do that within the television industry really isn’t something I thought would be possible for myself.

Graham Norton, Broadcaster and author

Graham Norton (Image: Tom J Johnson/Attitude)

I was there from the beginning with Attitude. I remember being really excited when it hit the shelves – I remember seeing Pedro Almodóvar on the cover. It was really clever that Attitude weren’t just going pop or sexy, they were going into niche gay cultural things. They were kind of saying, “This is who we are, this is our tribe — come with us.” I do really remember it.

Ncuti Gatwa, Actor

My First Attitude
Ncuti Gatwa (Image: BBC)

The first issue of Attitude I remember being aware of was [when] I was going home from school, and I could see it in WHSmith. It took me two weeks to drum up the courage to buy it. Every day, I would stand outside and be like, ‘That’s a queer magazine. Is it illegal to look at them?’ Eventually, I bought it. That was a magical and empowering moment for me.

It taught me a lot of things that a 17-year-old shouldn’t know. It taught me about where to buy a jockstrap — all the important stuff. But jokes aside, it was like, ‘Wow, I’m not the only person in the world. There’s a whole world here of my people and that is amazing. I’m going to get out of my small town one day and I’m going to find these guys and I’m going to get there.’ I felt very seen, properly, for the first time. Being in the magazine and now on the cover 14 years later feels very emotional and rather full circle.

Marcus Hodson, Model

My First Attitude
Marcus Hodson (Image: Kit Oates/Attitude)

When I was 19, I moved to London. After arriving at Euston station, I went to the WHSmith and saw my first-ever Attitude. I remember thinking it was quite wild to have such an out gay magazine. I was thinking ‘There’s a whole new world here in London.’ It was a cool first experience, and I remember thinking, one, ‘Sick,’ and two, I had just started modelling and I manifested to myself that one day I’d love to shoot with Attitude. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Attitude a few times and been involved for a number of years. I had the honour and privilege of having a cover not so long ago, which was very special for me. I love what Attitude represents and am lucky to be a part of it. It’s made me feel so inspired.

Ben Thompson, Anchor and presenter

Ben Thompson (Image: Attitude)

A quick glance at Attitude was all I dared to do when it appeared on the newsagent shelves, usually on the top shelf. It seemed impossibly glamorous and exciting. Growing up in a small northern town, it all looked so metropolitan. But that’s what Attitude did, and still does. It was a connection to a world I’d not yet navigated, to opportunities I’d not yet imagined. It opened my eyes to a place where I could just be me. Shooting a cover for Attitude in 2015 reminded me of that trepidation and excitement — a full-circle moment to be talking about my life and sexuality so publicly.

Journalists are trained never to become the story, but representation and visibility are important. Back then, stealing glances at the latest edition of Attitude, I never imagined I’d get to do my dream job, working with the best people in the business and just be me. But I do and I can.

Bimini, Performer

My First Attitude
Bimini (Image: Attitude)

It’s 2008. I’m 15 and I’m on a train to London, alone for the first time, with a heartbeat echoing, comforted by the ticket inspector’s Norfolk twang. In my hands is a copy of Attitude magazine, its cover graced by a preppy Tom Hardy, his gaze both an anchor and a challenge. The magazine felt like a secret companion, a silent confidant in the carriage’s anonymous crowd.

Reading Attitude as the English countryside blurred past my window was a journey within a journey. Tom Hardy on the cover symbolised more than an unattainable straight celebrity; he was a beacon of the complex feelings stirring within me: admiration, desire, a nascent understanding of my own queerness. Each page turned was a step further into both the physical distance from home and the emotional exploration of my identity. The magazine, vibrant and unapologetic, was a lifeline to a world I was just beginning to navigate. It was as if with every article, every photograph, and every story shared, I was collecting pieces of a map to my own future.

London loomed as a promise on the horizon, but within the pages of Attitude, I found a more immediate sanctuary — a space where being queer wasn’t just an aspect of who I might become, but a part of who I was, to be celebrated and embraced. In that solitary journey, the world within those pages offered a glimpse of a life where I could be unapologetically myself. As the train pulled into London, I felt a step closer to that reality, the magazine a testament to the journey and the promise of what lay ahead. And Tom looked well fit.

Kadiff Kirwan, Actor

My First Attitude
Kadiff Kirwan (Image: Wil Coban)

My first memory of Attitude magazine was when I was 12 or 13 years old. I saw a copy of it on the top shelf in my local WHSmith in Preston, where I was raised. It had David Beckham on the front cover, and he had this short pixie-blond cut and was staring directly into the camera. I remember the image quite vividly. I remember everyone was going crazy about it because it was the first time that he’d dyed his hair that colour, and it was quite short, and it was quite radical.

It was a few years later that I purchased my first issue when I moved to London on my gap year, when I turned 18. I think it was 2007, and it was a special on gay characters in TV, and it was Mitch Hewer from Skins on the front. Because I loved Skins growing up, I purchased it. I felt so nervous. I went into a newsagent in Bayswater where I was working at the time, and I don’t even think I made eye contact with the cashier when I purchased it. Then I went to a café, and I sat and I read it, and I couldn’t get enough. It’s amazing to be able to read a magazine that was about being gay, being a queer person myself. It was so essential and it’s a great thing to actually do.

Having now appeared in it myself, I’m really proud of the history of Attitude magazine. I hope you have 30 more brilliant years. Keep doing what you do, Attitude, we love you!

Daniel Franzese, Actor

Daniel Franzese (Image: Sean Black)

I first found Attitude in the summer I left college. I was staying at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, and they had just finished some production, which probably had a bunch of fantastic gay chorus boys in. They had a stack of gay magazines, and I had never held an actual gay magazine. One I saw had Mark Wahlberg on the cover of Attitude, and I couldn’t believe that the subject of many of my free-time moments was on the cover of a gay magazine, and it was super exciting to me to read stories and hear things about people that I fantasised about being around. I wasn’t comfortable with who I was yet, but I was able to get a peek into that world.

That’s why representation is so important, and that is why Attitude has had such an impact on the LGBTQ+ community over the years. And who knew a year after I would come out that I’d be a writer for Attitude. I’m proud to be part of Attitude’s history and its legacy and hope I continue to be a part of it. It was an incredible experience. Congratulations, Attitude, on all these amazing years of helping us see ourselves.

Issue 358 of Attitude is available to order here alongside 15 years of back issues on the free Attitude app.