My main preoccupations at 16 were Doctor Who, and thinking about being gay… Feeling a bit out of it. I have this powerful recollection of being in the school yard, and not being part of any gang, and I think that’s a gay thing, I really do. I think it explains why so many gay people go nuts in their twenties and thirties.
Because when everyone else is snogging at 14, 15, 16, running around expressing their salty horniness, gay kids are lying and keeping quiet. That’s still true now, there are still lots of gay teenagers just sitting back watching.
I’d like to go back to that time and say, hello tall, 6ft 6 Russell – don’t worry about being on the outside. Be that watcher, have your own rhythm, it’ll take you somewhere. It’s not sad, you’re not neglected or banished, your mind is busily thinking. I think that’s what made me a writer.
I was observing people all the time, and I think I got very good at analysing and understanding human nature. I continued being like that in my twenties. I’d go to Canal Street in Manchester on my own and just stand at the railing and watch. And after 10 years of doing that I wrote Queer as Folk.
My parents both taught classics, so the house was full of books about gods and legends and myths. I loved all that stuff. Then 30 years later I find myself writing for Doctor Who! Which is essentially good versus evil, love and revenge, epic stuff. As well as all the individual personal stuff – from people who think they can fly to parents who are missing their children. Just like the Classics. I also loved Asterix. If I got the chance to write a modern-day version of Asterix I’d do it at the drop of a hat.
I wasn’t too bothered about hating school because I belonged to the most phenomenal youth theatre. For me, my teenage years were all about that youth theatre. All the friends I made, they’re still my friends to this day. The man who ran it, Godfrey Evans, he kind of made me who I am. He got me writing, he got me acting, he got me to express myself. It was clear to me by 16 that I was gay. And with that came the instinct that I should be quiet about it. That’s why I loved my youth theatre so much. It was actually a gay space. A lot of us were, by coincidence, gay. That’s what theatre does, it draws together like-minded souls. We were camp as Christmas – oh my God we had a laugh. But it was wonderful to be free to be like that.