Daniel Brocklebank has worked alongside screen giants such as Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman and Helena Bonham Carter and is now a TV favourite playing gay vicar Billy Mayhew on Coronation Street where he recently met the Queen on set.
Not bad going for an actor once told that coming out could end his career.
Daniel, 41, decided to be open about his sexuality after appearing in 1998 hit movie Shakespeare in Love.
He says: “I pretend for a living, I didn’t want to pretend in my private life. When you spend your life on screen, it’s important to hold on to the bits that are real.
“Who I am in my real life should bear no relevance to what I play on screen.”
But back in the 1990s, coming out did, as promised, have an effect on his career.
He says: “I came out publicly just after Shakespeare in Love was released, so I would have been 18.
“I remember my management in Los Angeles trying to convince me not to come out because they said it would affect work – and it did.
“I stopped being screen-tested for the heterosexual male leads and I
was either the gay best friend or the character parts.
“It was more in America than in Britain, but it was still very prevalent.”
He may have ended up playing gay vicar Billy, whose complicated love life comes crashing down this week, but he has no regrets and could not be happier.
He says: “I love it at Coronation Street. For the first time in my life I’m not chasing the next job.
“I’m creatively challenged, I’ve made some beautiful friends and I love Manchester, why would I change it?
“I’ve had an incredible career and done amazing things and seen amazing places, but Corrie has given me a work/life balance which I’ve never really
been able to have before. As I’ve got older I’ve appreciated that.”
Daniel grew up in Warwickshire, where his family ran a stud farm. He
realised he was gay at 13 and came out to his family two years later.
He began acting at 14, playing the lead role of Ralph in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Lord of the Flies. Then, in 1998, he made his movie breakthrough in Shakespeare in Love.
The film, which won seven Oscars, three BAFTAs and three Golden Globes, starred Joseph Fiennes as William Shakes- peare. Daniel won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his role as Sam Gosse and found himself tipped for stardom.
But he turned his back on Hollywood and returned to Britain to film the 2001 horror thriller The Hole with Keira Knightley and after that decided to stay.
There were times when the lack of acting work meant he had to scrape a living as a waiter or barman, but he never regretted his decision to come out.
He says: “One of the reasons I decided to come out publicly was because of the lack of gay role models when I was growing up. I was born in 1979, so I
grew up in the 80s during the AIDS epidemic and social attitudes and
legalities were very different.
“I came out in the mid-1990s and the difference between then and now is huge. Now it’s incredibly fashionable to be gay and I like to think I was in a small way part of that movement to get the ball rolling.” Fast forward to the present day and life could not be more different.
Daniel was one of the lucky cast members who got to chat to the Queen on her surprise visit to the Coronation Street cobbles early in July to mark the soap’s 60th anniversary.
Daniel says: “The producer introduced me and said that I was the show’s
resident vicar. I said: ‘Oh, he’s an archdeacon now, he’s had a pay rise’. She
said, ‘That must be very interesting’. I said, ‘It took a fair amount of research’, and she said, ‘I bet!’ It was delightful.”
When Daniel joined the show as kind-hearted Billy in 2014 there was a backlash from some traditional Christian groups. Daniel also received some homophobic abuse on Twitter but, thankfully, that has now stopped.
He says: “I don’t know whether that’s because people’s attitudes have changed – maybe it was a shock to see Billy and Todd pashing on a bed initially, maybe now it’s not such an issue.
“Or maybe it’s because now they know that I’ll call them out on it, which I did quite a lot.
“I remember a woman said all the gay kissing in Corrie had put her off her casserole. I replied, ‘Fear not, I imagine somebody with such a closed mind would make a pretty bland casserole’.
“The then producer phoned me the day after and I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m in trouble,’ but she said, ‘Thank you. You defended the show, you defended the storyline, you defended the character and you defended yourself. I’m proud of you’.
I was really touched.”
Daniel’s other screen successes include the film The Hours, with Meryl Streep. He featured in Merlin with Sam Neill and Helena Bonham Carter, and with Kirsten Dunst in The Devil’s Arithmetic, which was produced by Dustin Hoffman.
He also played bisexual Ivan Jones in Emmerdale between 2005 and 2006, at one point pursued by Nicola Blackstock, played by Nicola Wheeler. But despite his impressive career Daniel remains modest and down-to-earth. A popular and sociable member of the Corrie cast, he admits to finding the lockdowns hard.
Sadly, he says: “I live on my own and it’s been very bleak, but I found huge solace in meditation. I’d always started my day with it, but it got to the point where I was so anxious I had to end my day with it too, otherwise I couldn’t sleep.
“My mental health would have struggled much more without it.”
As for the future, he admits he feels so settled on Coronation Street he could envisage still being there when he’s in his 60s and 70s. He says: “Why not? As long as I’m still happy.”
He has been involved in several dramatic storylines in the past seven years, including one where Billy became addicted to heroin.
But it’s the vicar’s complicated love life which keeps viewers entertained, particularly his on-off relationship with manipulative Todd Grimshaw, played first by Bruno Langley and now by Gareth Pierce.
Todd’s scheming wrecked Billy’s previous relationship with Paul Winter, but trusting Billy had no idea and he and Todd recently got engaged.
That all comes crashing down this week when Wetherfield locals gather in Victoria Gardens for the launch of a fund-raising calendar.
When Paul swaps the laptop for his own, the film played turns out to be an incriminating video of Todd boasting how he successfully split up Billy and Paul. Daniel says: “Billy is devastated and humiliated when he finds out. As duplicitous as Todd has always been with other characters, he was never like that with Billy.
“Obviously, Todd did it because he had genuine feelings for Billy and wanted him back, but he of course went about it in the wrong way.”
Daniel, who is single, says no one is more upset at Billy’s heartache than his own mum, Tracy.
He says: “It’s a sad state of affairs when the pretend vicar gets more boys than I do. When the engagement went out on screen my mother said to me, ‘I hope you say yes because it might be the only one you ever get.”
- See itv.com/coronationstreet and on Twitter: @itvcorrie
Do you have a story to sell? Get to hearin touch with us at [email protected] or call us direct 0207 29 33033.