Friday 25 November 2016

A display of photographic portraits to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967 opens at the National Portrait Gallery this Friday 25 November.

Marking the advances in gay rights in Britain over the past half century, Speak its Name! is the first in a year-long programme of special displays and events at the National Portrait Gallery exploring sexuality, gender, art and identity.

In Speak its Name! portraits of fashion designer Alexander McQueen and journalist Isabella Blow, politician Angela Eagle, actors Ben Whishaw and Saffron Burrows, poet Jackie Kay, diver Tom Daley and singer Will Young are accompanied by quotations from the sitters who share their experiences of coming out. These range from coming out to friends and family, to wanting to be honest to an audience of fans and the media.

The title of the display is derived from ‘I am the Love that dare not speak its name’, the last line of a poem by Lord Alfred Douglas that was quoted as evidence of ‘gross indecency’ at the trial of his lover Oscar Wilde in 1895. Wilde and Douglas, along with those whose portraits appear in the display, are among 150 prominent figures that feature in an accompanying book, also titled Speak its Name!, which covers a variety of issues, including equality, bullying, homophobia, love, sex and marriage, through a collection of moving, amusing and inspirational quotations by a wide range of people from King James I to Sandi Toksvig.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘We are proud to be marking the fiftieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in this country with a thought-provoking and inspirational book, exhibition and series of displays and events which survey the ongoing and ever-more relevant discussion over identity, tolerance and equality from a panoramic and international perspective.’

Christopher Tinker, author of the Speak its Name! book, curator of the display, and Managing Editor at the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘Through the moving and inspirational words of LGBT people past and present, Speak its Name! highlights the enormous advances in gay rights over recent decades and assesses the continuing fight for equality for all.’

Actor Simon Callow, who has written the introduction to the Speak its Name! book, says: ‘This extraordinary and profoundly affecting book pays witness to the transformation in attitudes to homosexuality in my lifetime, celebrating the contribution of the remarkable men and women and people of fluid gender who enabled that revolution. Beautiful and profound and touching, Speak its Name! is a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed.’

The season continues in February 2017 with David Gwinnutt: Before We Were Menadisplaythatchroniclesthe 1980s London art and club scene of Leigh Bowery, Derek Jarman, Ossie Clark and Gilbert & George. Gwinnutt photographed directors, writers, designers and artists who together formed a vibrant and influential underground gay culture.

In March 2017 the Gallery will show the work of the contemporary Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari who has selectively appropriated images from the archive of the Lebanese studio photographer Hashem el Madani, active in Saida, Lebanon from the 1950s, and presents them in new contexts. The display features a selection of Madani’s images, in which two people of the same sex kiss or tenderly embrace, to explore the strict moral codes of Lebanese culture.

The Gallery’s spring exhibition, also opening in March, Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask will draw together over 100 works by French artist Claude Cahun (1894–1954) and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing (b.1963). While they were born seventy years apart, they share similar themes around gender, identity, masquerade and performance.

 I am me
A season exploring art and identity at the National Portrait Gallery:


Speak its Name! Balcony Gallery, Admission Free (25 November 2016 – 6 August 2017)
David Gwinnutt: Before We Were Men
Room 39, Admission Free (9 March – September 2017)
Akram Zaatari  
Room 33, Admission Free (27 March – 3 September 2017)

EXHIBITION: Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, another Mask
Lerner Contemporary Galleries, Admission charge (9 March – 29 May 2017)


A programme of events exploring gender and identity takes places across the whole of 2017 at the Gallery. The programmes takes its inspiration from portraits in the Collection and the exhibitions and displays taking place at the Gallery including In Conversations with Gillian Wearing and David Gwinnutt; video projection and DJs from the Blitz Club; film nights; tours exploring gender and sexuality through the Collection.  The programme aims to engage all audiences including families, young people and adults.

PUBLICATION: Speak its Name!

A book of portraits and quotations by and about gay men and women with an introduction by Simon Callow and edited by Christopher Tinker. 336 pages Hardback.  £16.95
Published by National Portrait Gallery, London

For further press information and image requests please contact: Neil Evans, Media Relations Manager, National Portrait Gallery, London Tel: 020 7312 2452 (not for publication) Email: [email protected]   

Press images: 

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place WC2H 0HE, opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am – 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am – 9pm  (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross General information: 0207 306 0055 Recorded information: 020 7312 2463   


Will Young b. 1979 

‘I feel it’s time to tell my fans I’m gay. It’s totally no big deal, just part of who I am. For me it’s normal and nothing to be ashamed about. …I really don’t know what the fuss is about.’

From an interview in the News of the World, 10 March 2002

Singer Will Young won the first series of ITV’s Pop Idol in 2002 through a telephone vote in which nearly nine million people participated. A month later, pre-empting press speculation, the 23-year-old revealed his homosexuality in an interview with the News of the World. A few years earlier the revelation might have extinguished his career before it had begun. However, Young’s gamble paid off: he became a gay role model and an inspiration for a generation of young people. His first single was an instant number one and since then his popularity has continued. Young frequently speaks out on gay issues.
By Alan Olley, C-type colour print, 2003  NPG x135365

Jackie Kay b.1961

On coming out to her adoptive mother:

‘I came out to her when I was 17. The language I used was conditional. I said, “How would you feel if I were to tell you I was a lesbian?” and she said, “I would be very upset.” I asked, “Why?” and she said, “You would be becoming something I don’t know and understand. You wouldn’t be Jackie any more.” She’s very relaxed about it now, though.’

From an interview in the Telegraph online, 5 June 2010

 The poet and writer Jackie Kay was born in Edinburgh to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father and adopted as a baby by Helen and John Kay, a white couple from Glasgow. Her work explores complex themes of identity, race and sexuality. In The Adoption Papers (1991), the first of several volumes of poetry, she tells of the racism she encountered as a child, while in the memoir Red Dust Road (2010) she recounts her search for her birth parents. She was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 2006 and appointed as the Makar (national poet for Scotland) in 2016.

By Caroline Forbes (b.1952)  Digital bromide print, 2007 NPG x131833

Angela Eagle b.1961

On coming out: ‘All the straight men I’ve told haven’t been in the least bit surprised. Most of the gay men were gobsmacked. I suspect that the straight men realise that you are not flirting with them; gay men, bless them, don’t notice.’

From an interview in the Independent online, 10 September 1997

Angela Eagle, Labour MP for Wallasey, came out as a lesbian in the press in 1997. An active Labour Party member since the age of seventeen, Eagle was elected to Parliament in 1992 and re-elected with an increased majority in the Labour victory of 1997. She was a junior Home Office and Social Security minister during Tony Blair’s premiership, moved to the Treasury under Gordon Brown and has been shadow business secretary in opposition.

By Victoria Carew Hunt (b.1952) Bromide fibre print, 1998 NPG x88088

Alexander McQueen 1969–2010 and Isabella Blow 1958–2007

McQueen: ‘I came out really young. I was never in. I was sure of myself and my sexuality and I’ve got nothing to hide. I went straight from my mother’s womb onto the gay parade.’

From an interview in The Face magazine quoted by Vogue online, 16 August 2002

Alexander McQueen knew he was gay at the age of eight – and, as a result, he suffered at the hands of bullies. Born in Lewisham, he resisted his taxi-driver father’s desire for him to become a plumber, determining instead on a career as a fashion designer. After demonstrating considerable skill as a tailor’s cutter in Savile Row, he studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art. In 1992, the fashion journalist Isabella Blow bought his entire graduate collection and promoted him as an original new talent. After working at Givenchy, he established his own label, combining craftsmanship with shock tactics, such as his buttock-exposing ‘Bumster’ trousers. He was awarded a CBE in 2003. A history of mental fragility and the successive deaths of Blow, his mother and his aunt are thought to have led to McQueen’s suicide at the age of forty.

By David LaChapelle (b.1963) C-type colour print, 1996 NPG P1403

Ben Whishaw b.1980 as Hamlet

On finding the courage to come out:

‘I had a lot of fear in doing it for a long time. … It takes courage and people have to do it in their own time. … It’s hard to have a conversation with people you’ve known your whole life about a very intimate thing ...’

From an interview in The Sunday Times Magazine, 3 August 2014

Ben Whishaw decided on a stage career after attending youth theatre as a teenager. In 2004, shortly after graduating from RADA, he played the lead in Trevor Nunn’s production of Hamlet at London’s Old Vic. Film roles have included those of a young gay Londoner dealing with the untimely death of his Chinese–Cambodian partner in Lilting (2014), and the role of ‘Q’ in the James Bond films. On television he played a TV news reporter in The Hour (2011–12), and recently, in London Spy (2015), he played a man drawn into the world of espionage after falling for a male spy.

By Derry Moore, 12th Earl of Drogheda (b.1937)  Bromide fibre print, 2004 NPG x126968

Saffron Burrows b.1972

‘When I started to have relationships, I didn’t think about what I wasn’t “allowed” to feel, or who I wasn’t allowed to love … There’s no coming out to do because I’ve always just followed my heart and I was lucky enough to have parents who didn’t impose any bigotry on me.’

From an interview in The Guardian online, 1 December 2014

Saffron Burrows modelled for fashion houses including Chanel in Paris before embarking on an acting career. Her film debut in the drama In the Name of the Father (1993) led to a starring role in Circle of Friends (1995) and subsequent film and TV work in the UK and USA. In 2002, Burrows made her stage debut opposite Fiona Shaw in Deborah Warner’s adaptation of Jeanette Winterson’s lesbian-themed novel The PowerBook. Openly bisexual, Burrows had a long relationship with the director Mike Figgis and in 2013 married scriptwriter Alison Balian, having given birth to their daughter the previous year.

By Derrick Santini (b.1965)  Bromide fibre print, 2001 NPG x127322

Tom Daley b.1994

On coming out in a home-made video on YouTube earlier that week:

‘It was a terrifying decision to make. I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be like. …But I wanted to be honest and open about my life. Right now, I couldn’t be happier. The support and the reaction has been just amazing.’

From an interview on The Jonathan Ross Show, 7 December 2013

When diver Tom Daley came out in an online video in 2013 it was front-page news. He wanted to go on record after a newspaper claimed, wrongly, that he had denied being gay. Daley started diving at seven and became the youngest gold-medal winner at the European Championships at thirteen. At fifteen he became Britain’s youngest world champion in any Olympic sport. At sixteen he won two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, gaining an Olympic bronze at London 2012 and another at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. In 2015, Daley announced his engagement to the American filmmaker Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk (2008), about the San Francisco gay-rights campaigner Harvey Milk.

By Bettina von Zwehl (b.1971) C-type colour print, 2010 NPG P1728