Culture

Dannii Minogue on I Kissed a Girl, family and 'busting the door open' for other queer allies

Dannii Minogue's varied showbiz career has always included LGBTQ+ activism as a central thread

Dannii Minogue was a natural choice to host I Kissed a Girl, which BBC Three is billing as “the UK’s first dating show for girls who like girls”. After all, the Australian singer, actress and TV personality was supporting the LGBTQ+ community long before the term “ally” became a badge of honour. 

“I don’t think, ‘Today I’m going to be an ally and do this, this and this,'” Minogue says when we meet in a conference room at the BBC in central London. “I just do stuff that I enjoy with people I like being with. And I’m definitely drawn to things that are sparkly and queer and unique and fabulous.” 

Minogue looks sparkly and fabulous today – she’s in full glam because she’s filming social media content for I Kissed a Girl straight after this interview. But despite the lashes – and my own excitement at meeting an actual Minogue – she seems down-to-earth for someone who’s been famous for more than 40 years.

Dannii Minogue began appearing on the Australian variety show Young Talent Time as a 10-year-old. Eight years later, in 1989, she became known in the UK when she was cast as Home and Away‘s punky teenage rebel Emma Jackson. At the time, the show was nearly as popular as Neighbours, the rival soap that launched her sister Kylie’s career. 

Like Kylie, Dannii used her TV profile as a springboard for a pop career – then racked up 14 UK top 20 hits between 1991 and 2006. A year later, she found even greater fame as a judge on ITV juggernaut The X Factor.  

Today, she says her family – and brother Brendan in particular – helped her to keep things in perspective. “For the biggest chunk of his career, he was working as a news cameraman in war zones.” she says. “So how could I sit there and whine about someone being mean to me at a photoshoot?” 

Still, Minogue’s varied showbiz career has always included LGBTQ+ activism as a central thread. She spoke out in favour of same-sex marriage years before Australia finally enshrined it into law in 2017, and once posed nude, except for a red ribbon, to promote World AIDS Day.  

In 1998, she performed at Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras backed exclusively by queer women from the city’s LGBTQ+ scene. “There had never been an all-female performance at Mardi Gras before,” she says today, still sounding incredulous. 

Five years earlier, she had cemented her bond with queer pop fans by becoming the first major artist to perform at London’s now-famous G-A-Y club night, which was still finding its feet at the time.  

Minogue knew this was a big deal because industry insiders told her not to do it. “In music then, if you were gay, you were told you couldn’t be out – because then the record label would drop you and radio stations wouldn’t play you,” she recalls. “So for me it was like: ‘If you perform there, people will start saying you’re gay and you’ll receive that treatment.’” 

Dannii Minogue’s response was matter-of-fact but defiant: “I’m going to do it anyway. I know I’m not [gay] but that’s where I wanna be: with the people I love and the music I wanna listen to.”  

Though Dannii Minogue is proud of “busting the door open” – everyone from Kylie to Madonna and Adele have since graced G-A-Y’s stage – she doesn’t over-venerate her achievement. “For me, when [the club’s owner] Jeremy Joseph first booked a boyband, that was way bigger than me doing it,” she says. 

Minogue believes I Kissed a Girl, which is airing on BBC Three every Sunday and Monday night, is also a game-changer. Filmed at a sun-dappled Italian masseria – or converted farmhouse – it follows 10 single strangers who are looking for love or at least a summer fling.  

The format isn’t wildly different from other Gen Z dating shows, but I Kissed a Girl stands out because it centres queer female desire – still a rarity on mainstream TV. In episode one, the girls are “matched” into five couples, then share a kiss before they have a conversation as a “chemistry test”.  

Like I Kissed a Boy – last year’s BBC Three dating show for boys who like boys, which Minogue also presented – I Kissed a Girl is never just about fun in the sun. “A lot of the contestants have never been in a space before where it’s only queer women,” Minogue says, pointing out that the crew is mainly queer and female too. 

In episode two, this leads to a revealing discussion about the way the contestants – who range from 22 to 28 – label their sexuality. When professional footballer Georgia asks, “How do you guys feel about the word ‘lesbian‘?”, engineer Naee replies: “I just say, ‘I’m gay.’ I don’t like using the word ‘lesbian’.” 

Fire-breather Meg adds: “I’ve never used the word ‘queer’ either.” Georgia then admits that the word ‘lesbian’ carries negative connotations for her because it was used as a weapon at school. She also explains, poignantly, that “L” comes first in the acronym LGBTQ+ because of the staunch support shown by lesbians to gay men during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

“Every girl has a different reaction – that was a big education for me, the way those words can be so triggering,” Minogue says. She also points out, on a lighter note, that I Kissed a Girl has introduced her – and friends both gay and straight – to contemporary queer female terminology. “I was like, ‘What’s a “pillow princess?'” she says, referring to a slang term for a woman who prefers to be on the receiving end of sexual pleasure.  

When I Kissed a Boy aired, Dannii Minogue lost followers who told her she had gone “too far” in her LGBTQ+ allyship. “When they said, ‘I’m going to unfollow you’, I found it hilarious because, like, didn’t you get the memo years ago? After all the G-A-Y [gigs], all the Prides.'”  

Has I Kissed a Girl provoked a similar backlash? “Oh no, those people left already. But I do think anyone who’s shocked by this show is probably still going to watch out of curiosity. I actually said to the girls: ‘Curiosity is a good thing. Because the more eyeballs we get on us, the more the door will open for other shows with this kind of queer representation.'” 

I Kissed a Girl is streaming on BBC iPlayer, with episodes broadcast on Mondays and Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC Three

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