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'I had to acknowledge that I needed help': It’s a Sin star Olly Alexander powerfully opens up about therapy, antidepressants & homophobia


It’s a Sin is hands down one of the most powerful TV shows not just right now, but ever. The Channel 4 show is a heartbreaking – and at times humorous – dramatic look at the queer community in 1980s London as the HIV and AIDSepidemic hits.

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WATCH: Olly Alexander powerfully opens up about his journey with his mental health, homophobia and accepting himself.

At the heart of the show is Years and Years lead singer’s Olly Alexander’s epically amazing performance as Ritchie. Ritchie moves from his sheltered upbringing on the Isle of Wight to the heart of London to pursue his dreams and explore his sexuality. In the process, his eyes are opened and his journey of self-discovery has heartbreaking consequences.

Here in the latest episode of GLAMOUR UNFILTERED – our bi-weekly chat show hosted by GLAMOUR’S Josh Smith – Olly opens up about the aspects of his research into the 1980s that shocked him the most, the homophobia he has experienced in his life and he also powerfully discusses his mental health, taking antidepressants and attending therapy. Olly Alexander is truly a hero both on and off screen…


It’s a Sin is a heartbreaking portrayal of the AIDS and HIV epidemic in the 1980s. When you first got approached about this and you did the research around it, what shocked you the most?

Oh my gosh, so much. What I was really struck by was how much misinformation and misunderstanding there was when this mysterious illness arrived in the UK, because people just had no idea what it was, where it came from, what it would do, but something started killing people. It was literally a death sentence, this illness and when it first appeared, the hysteria, the panic and the fear that it created you just can’t underestimate. It’s so different to now, with all the information we have at our fingertips and yet the misinformation and misunderstanding is still so prevalent.

But there was so many things about this period of history that’s so shocking, you couldn’t get a mortgage if you were gay, like people would ask you, ‘have you slept with another man,’ and some even asked, ‘if you’ve had sex with an animal.’ They thought that might be an indication you have this illness – it’s crazy! In one case, a boy got locked up because people didn’t want to go near him or go near this potential virus.

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When you watch the show you then think about the COVID-19 outbreak. At the time the government didn’t actually do anything to help those suffering with AIDS and HIV. That almost makes it more tragic when we are watching it during a pandemic as well. Do you find that?

Yeah! I couldn’t believe the parallels that were there. It’s hugely heartbreaking to think it took decades for effective treatment for people living with HIV. Now people living with HIV can have full, healthy, normal lives and that’s really amazing. We’ve come so far, but it’s taken so long to get there but it’s still hugely prevalent across the world and in different communities. Watching how this pandemic has unfolded – obviously it’s different and it’s affected people differently – but the world has found a vaccine within a year!


It’s a Sin also powerfully discusses the personal impact of homophobia. Living in this world today, what kinds of negativity or everyday homophobia have you had to face personally in your own life?


I definitely struggled at school. I was bullied at school and people would call me gay and a perv. I wasn’t out, I didn’t even know I was gay, but I was quite feminine and I would wear makeup sometimes to school on non-uniform day. So I made myself a bit of a target without really knowing what my sexuality was or understanding why I wanted to dress the way I wanted to dress. When I got older I would occasionally when I was walking down the street get people calling out, ‘batty boy,’ or whatever. I remember, I would always be really scared to kiss in the street because one time I did and someone was driving by, they screamed out the window and threw something.

It’s A Sin is receiving an outpouring of praise with viewers hailing it ‘the best five hours of television they’ve seen in years’

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But for the most part, explicit homophobia is considered quite socially unacceptable now. But there’s an insidious, like you say, everyday homophobia, that’s so entrenched within us and within our society. I think it’s drummed into us from the TV shows we watched, the newspapers we read, the books you read, the culture we live in, and it adds together to make homophobia a thing that’s almost invisible. It’s still there. It’s been a journey just for myself to accept within myself who I am. I always think, a lot of gay men or a lot of gay people understand homophobia because for me, I didn’t want to be gay. That was my homophobia to myself, but I’ve come past that.


Coming out is still such a tricky process for so many, exactly for that reason…

Yeah. It’s really tough. I came out to myself, to my friends and my family, my mum, when I was about 19. I’m still figuring out how to feel comfortable and truthful. It’s because once you come out it doesn’t undo the way that you feel about that word gay or that identity. It takes years to really like understand what it means and to feel comfortable within it.

With Years and Years, once the band kind of took off, I felt like it was a relief because I felt like people knew I was gay. I didn’t have to announce it to people. It was like I’m already out to everyone now. But I remember a taxi driver asking me if I had a girlfriend and I didn’t correct him. I was just like, “No.” I was like, “this is embarrassing. I’m actually a singer in a band, but I’m very gay. I’m very openly gay. I’m shocked when people don’t think I’m gay,” but this taxi driver asked me the question and I was just embarrassed. I was just like, “No, I don’t have a girlfriend.” Then I felt ashamed about that and then the next time it happened, I like was like, “No, I’m gay.”

The emotional portrayal of the mental health implications of homophobia and in fact just understanding your identity are so powerfully shown in It’s a Sin. What has your own relationship with your mental health been like and how have you learnt to look after it?

I have a list of things that I do. Some of them are really big ones. I still take antidepressants. I’ve taken them for like 10 years. I call it an antidepressant, it’s an SSRI, which is a type of just antidepressant. I find that really helpful and it’s taken me years to get the right dose and the right drug. I’ve seen so many different doctors, but I think I’ve found works for me now. And I still Skype my therapist once a week. Those are two really big things. Not saying that everyone needs them, they absolutely don’t need those things, but that’s what I use.

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Talking about the show and my character Richie he has a lot of fear and he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he’s struggling. For me, I had to learn that lesson a bit in my life. I had to acknowledge that I needed help and that it’s okay to ask for support and it’s okay to lean on your friends. I like to be happy, fun, Olly all the time with my friends. But actually just being able to say, “Oh, I feel a bit upset about this, or I need to talk about this,” is so simple but it’s so effective.


I feel so much pressure to be the ‘fun, happy,’ person all the time too! That can be so damaging can’t it…

Yeah! I think a lot of queer people relate to this because they used to putting on a mask or appearing in a certain way. I can relate to that myself because I do it for living, I go on stage and I love it. I get a lot of strength from that but it also can be exhausting. It can be like you’re always trying to play a character. You’re never authentically yourself.

It’s so important that we get to a point where it’s totally acceptable for people to be honest about going to therapy and taking antidepressants, isn’t it?

I’m glad you say that because sometimes I think, “Is that okay for me to even say or should I keep it to myself. Is it okay for me to share that I take antidepressants?” We’re in a place now where people can have a conversation about their mental health like this and it’s respected – that’s amazing!

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It’s a Sin is streaming on All4 now



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