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Saturday, 26 June 2021

Nathan Graham interview: James makes a big decision about his future

After footballer James Bailey told Bethany Platt he was gay, he shortly developed feelings for Danny Tomlinson back in 2020. However, their relationship was short-lived as James wasn't ready to have a public relationship. We chatted to Nathan Graham about how James feels when Danny returns to the street, and what ultimately leads James to tell the truth about his sexuality. 

As it stands, James's inner circle are the only people who know he's gay. Nathan said: "It's just his family and his close friends that know. He's still definitely living part of a lie. He's still hiding away from the general public." 

Until Danny's return, Nathan told us that James is happy with a limited amount of people knowing. "I think that he's at a point where he's kind of just comfortable in that space. The people that know, I think that's what matters to him the most. After that, it's not really a problem or an issue for him. I feel like he's in a very good space."

This week, Danny is the last person James expects to see, and while he's shocked to see him, past feelings are brought back to the surface. "He clearly has strong feelings for him because he wanted to be with Danny," Nathan told us. "But then obviously, Danny kind of gave him a dilemma, a deal-breaker type situation, and he wasn't ready for that, so he just had to keep those feelings tucked away and try to forget about him." 

After James and Danny catch up, it's clear they still have feelings for each other. When James suggests they give their relationship another go, Danny still isn't happy about keeping it under wraps, but James is insistent. "I think it's just the fear of the backlash of how people might respond. He doesn't want that from the fans and the general public. I think that just weighs very heavily on him.

"Even though he's in a good space mentally, he's not necessarily ready for that added pressure that might come with being in a relationship that's out there, and then everything else that comes with it. You have to navigate your way through the relationship, and if this is all on top, then that might affect the relationship as well." 

With this playing on James's mind, James has a lot to think about regarding his future. "I think he's automatically fearing the worst of the worst situation. He does have the support of his friends and family, but it's just the fear of what will happen. Obviously, he knows the club are not going to get rid of him, but then, with the fans and stuff, he feels there's too much pressure there. Would he still want to play football himself; would he still want to be in that environment? There's lots of different things that weigh on his mind."

Danny makes it clear to James that he doesn't want a secret relationship, and this again is a cause of conflict between them and their differing opinions. Nathan said: "I think he understands to a certain point because, I think he wants to be like Danny in the sense of not having a care in the world about what anybody thinks and cares about if they were out and seen together.

"But, there's also that thing where: 'You have to see it from my point of view, I haven't been fully out there as long as you have.' There's a lot at stake that maybe Danny doesn't quite understand." 

As well as dealing with Danny's return, James is elated when Tommy Orpington announces his retirement, and James is promoted into his position. However, James is faced with invasive questions about his personal life during a football press conference. "I think it's a case of someone keeps asking and asking, and everybody's chipping away at you and it's a point of, how long can you, as a person, deflect and not answer these questions. In his mind, he's fully at a crossroads in that moment in the case of: 'Which way do I go, what do I do here? Do I keep sticking to my plan, or do I just think, I'm just going to do what needs to be done and see what happens after that.'" 

It's at this moment where James decides to tell everybody the truth. Nathan explained: "I think Danny definitely has a big part in that because he's come back and they still have feelings for each other, and then Danny sort of says he can't do that, so then it's a point of, what is more important to James at that point. Does he hide away and the potentially not have something with Danny, but then if he does come out, then are him and Danny going to get together and be happy?"

While Ed took a while to come to terms with the fact that James is gay, he's now very supportive of his son, and this is a huge comfort for James. "Having that support and that foundation, no matter what happens, you're still surrounded by the people that love and support you. It's really uplifting for him, and it gives him that inner strength more so that he can do it, and if anything does go south, then he's got his family to protect and help him through those moments." 

It's important to highlight the issue of homophobia in football, and Nathan said it was also important to show that it was James's decision to come out. "Whenever it's a big decision, it should always be your own decision," he said. "Even if people do put pressure on you, ultimately, we have to follow our gut instincts and go down the path that we think is right for us, and I think that was very important for James to go down his own path and not be too influenced by other people." 

From James telling Bethany Platt he was gay in 2019, this storyline has been two years in the making, which Nathan says, "brings an element of truth to it." He also said: "Sometimes, if some things happen one after the other straight away, for the character arc, he wouldn't have fully digested all the situations and all the scenarios that he's been through in terms of coming out to certain people. It's a process. People might go: 'I thought he already came out', but that was just one hurdle.

"There's so many hurdles and different people to tell. I'm guessing this is the final hurdle, the biggest one. It's like the high jump for him. He's going to take that leap and we'll see where he lands." 

Sophie Williams

I'm on Twitter @sophie_writer1

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