Steps’ H Watkins On How He Found A Safe Space In Pop Music: ‘I Want Everyone Else To Feel That As Well’

With a Summer Hits tour looming and a new album marking their 25th anniversary since the release of their debut single, it seems like everyone is in the mood to celebrate Steps these days.

H Watkins has been part of the chart-topping band from the start and admits he still hasn’t quite gotten used to the acclaim Steps has received in recent years.

It’s really unbelievable when everyone laughed at us 25 years ago,” he says. “It feels like a moment that comes full circle.”

H attributes Steps’ recent success to staying true to themselves over the years. But he also has another theory about Steps’ enduring appeal, which has to do with the escapism offered by their musical output and live shows.

“I honestly don’t think there are many artists who have been around that long who create safe spaces for how you want to identify,” he says.

“Whatever your sexuality or ability, Steps has an open door policy where you can come and live your best life. Whether it’s in your bedroom with the door closed or loud and proud in a field, come live your authentic self and have a heck of a time, that’s what it’s all about.”

Steps is performing at the Mighty Hoopla Music Festival in June
Steps is performing at the Mighty Hoopla Music Festival in June

Lorne Thomson via Getty Images

It’s definitely an approach H himself has taken on Steps’ recent tour, which has showcased his queer identity both in his wardrobe and in a speech he dedicated to the group’s LGBTQ+ fandom, which he delivers every night on the road held, really accepted.

“It was important to me that I include a celebration of humanity, so that’s what this whole section was about,” he says. “For me as a gay man and all other Steps as LGBTQI+ allies, using our platform for good is important.

“Speaking openly as a gay man and a proud gay dad and wearing a ball gown on stage – I never thought I could pull that off! When we started 25 years ago I was in the closet. I was totally unsure of who I was. And now I’m wearing prom dresses and harnesses, nail polish, glitter on my eyes.

“And [on Steps’ last tour] I said every night on stage, “Thank you for allowing me to feel safe in this space.” I was living my best life and I wanted everyone else to feel the same way. I get goosebumps just thinking about it because it was such a special moment for me every night.”

“A Steps concert is a safe place,” he continues. “It’s just about surrendering and expressing and playing – why not? And we’ve had so many incredible messages from parents of trans kids, non-binary people, people struggling with their sexuality, thanking me for the speech I gave on stage every night. And it’s worth it to me.

“Having these people on your side, the love in the room is immense. And that’s so cool, isn’t it? But you feel it.”

H Watkins on stage during a Steps show
H Watkins on stage during a Steps show

Joseph Okpako via Getty Images

For Pride, we spoke to H about how he found solace in ’80s pop when he was bullied, the queer icons he most admires, and why appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race was “all his gay Christmases at once.” …

Who was the first queer person you looked up to?

They’re not so much queer people, but they are queer allies. When I was young, the whole queer movement was so fueled by Pete Waterman. OG Kylie, OG Jason, Rick Astley, Mel and Kim, Bananarama, Five Star, all these people, they’re not necessarily queer, but they were part of my soundtrack to my youth and they provided me with a queer safe space. and I sought comfort and acceptance from them.

I knew I was different, but I didn’t know what was different then. But I would close my bedroom door and play these records on my little red plastic record player and shut out the world of being bullied, beaten up, taunted for being camp and femme and different. My bedroom was my safe place.

Kylie Minogue in 1988
Kylie Minogue in 1988

Dave Hogan via Getty Images

What was the first LGBTQ+ TV show or film that you remember resonated with you?

wonderful thing. What I love about this film is that it’s a strange love story, beautifully told. If you’re of that age and era, you’ll remember the peppermint foot lotion scene… my little heart. Nice.

And I love that scene at the end where they dance, it literally makes me cry now just talking about it. I met Scott years ago [Neal, who played Ste in Beautiful Thing] outside of Selfridges, and I literally blurted it all out to him, “You made me survive!!”

And I think Heartstopper is Beautiful Thing for a new generation. It’s very factual – of course there is the obligatory face-off, but there aren’t any massive ones consequences, nobody gets beaten up gay or ends up in the hospital, there are none of those dangers, it’s just a beautiful story. And maybe it’s idealistic, I haven’t been to school in a while, maybe it’s like that in school these days for queer people, maybe they can live their lives and be accepted and celebrate who they are.

But when I was in school, I never had that. I was followed home from school, I was bullied, I was beaten up. I never had that safe space. And Beautiful Thing gave me a safe space for me.

Scott Neal and Glen Berry in Beautiful Thing
Scott Neal and Glen Berry in Beautiful Thing

Paul Chedlow/World Prods/Channel Four/Kobal/Shutterstock

Which song do you associate with your own coming out?

One of my songs on the My Life and My Strange Awakening soundtrack is Mama Cass’s “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” from Beautiful Thing. The lyrics are just beautiful.

What was the last LGBTQ+ show or movie that impressed you?

The show that has had a massive impact on me and my queer education is RuPaul’s Drag Race. It has taught me to appreciate where I am because of all of our trailblazers before us, they teach queer history classes and the queens talk about their own past and upbringing and the people who inspire them.

I’ve been a drag race fan since about season 3 so to actually be on the show it was my whole gay Christmas at once. It was like, “How on earth can I talk to these young queer kids on this stage and give them advice and they listen to me?”. And we had a nice moment, River [Medway] and I, where he talked about being femme, and I totally identified with that. I think that touched him and then he cried and I cried. These conversations, this visibility, conversations begin in rural villages and they are lifelines for people who are in dark places.

The cast of Drag Race UK Season 3
The cast of Drag Race UK Season 3

via PA Features Archives/Press Association Images

Who is your ultimate queer icon?

People like Sylvia Rovero, Marsha P. Johnson, Peter Tatchell, Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde, Terrence Higgins who have made an incredible difference.

I keep mentioning these people, but to me they are just pillars of our community that everything else stands on. If these people didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

Peter Tatchel
Peter Tatchel

Gareth Cattermole via Getty Images

Who is currently a queer public figure that excites you about the future?

I love Olly Alexander, I think he’s a really progressive exhibitionist and I love that he can be fabulous and queer and wonderful and uncompromising.

I also have so much respect for trans pioneers and the trans community and I hate that they are under fire and attack right now. Every night on tour, I always said: “No T, no LGB”. And that with a lot of applause.

It’s a small minority who are fanatics… we should just celebrate and welcome and support our whole community. And we celebrate humanity, we are all human.

Olly Alexander on stage at Glastonbury
Olly Alexander on stage at Glastonbury

Shirlaine Forrest via Getty Images

Why do you think Pride is still important today?

We are very fortunate in this country that we can live our best lives in safe spaces – and now even outside of safe spaces. Queer people are very mainstream and I love that there is visibility and inclusion. But there are countries in the world that don’t have those privileges and we can make noise and we can shout loud and proud and hopefully those voices will be heard. Small waves are making big waves and many countries are not where we are and it is a very scary time for many people.

And I honestly think that the time that Trump was in power had a massively detrimental effect on the world, and those views, that hatred, that bigotry that trickled down, those seeds were sown, and we’re suffering from those Consequences and the effects thereof.

H on the red carpet at the British LGBT Awards 2022
H on the red carpet at the British LGBT Awards 2022

Mike Marsland via Getty Images

What is your message to the next generation of LGBTQ+ people?

Live your life loud and proud. Be exactly who you are. Love. Celebrate. Laugh. Life is for living.

The new Steps album Platinum Collection will be released on August 19th. Check out their official website for more information on where to catch them on their 2022 summer tour.

Read the full article here Steps’ H Watkins On How He Found A Safe Space In Pop Music: ‘I Want Everyone Else To Feel That As Well’

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