By his own admission, John Barrowman has always been notorious in showbusiness circles. ‘I’m known for my jokes, my sense of fun, my high jinks,’ he says.
But those ‘high jinks’ have come back to haunt him recently as a result of serious allegations against his former Doctor Who co-star Noel Clarke.
John’s role as Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who began in 2005 and the character was given his own spin-off series, the far more adult Torchwood, a year later.
It launched a hugely successful career for John on both stage and screen, taking in leading roles in West End musicals, big-budget US TV shows such as superhero series Arrow, and homegrown light entertainment favourites like All Star Musicals and most recently Dancing On Ice, where he’s one of the judges. He was by anyone’s measure a family-friendly favourite.
John Barrowman, 54, (pictured) issued an apology following a video that came to light in May that brought into questions his behaviour on the set of Doctor Who. Historic footage emerged on YouTube in which former co-star Noel Clarke said [John] exposed himself ‘every 5 seconds’
Then a couple of months ago the sky fell in. Following accusations of sexual harassment against Noel Clarke, who played Mickey Smith – the boyfriend of Billie Piper’s character Rose – in Doctor Who from 2005 until 2010, historic footage emerged on YouTube of a sci-fi convention, Chicago Tardis, in 2014, released by The Guardian newspaper which had investigated Clarke’s behaviour on the Doctor Who set.
In an interview in front of a live audience, Clarke is seen regaling fellow cast members Annette Badland and Camille Coduri with tales of John’s behaviour on the set of Doctor Who, exposing himself ‘every five seconds’. Clarke then jokes with the audience not to do this at their workplace or they might go to prison.
The allegations levelled against Clarke are extremely serious. At least 20 women have come forward to accuse him of sexual harassment and bullying, ‘inappropriate touching and groping’ and secretly filming naked auditions before sharing the videos without consent.
He denies all the allegations, but BAFTA has since suspended the Outstanding Contribution award it bestowed on him just weeks earlier, and the BBC has shelved any future projects he was working on with them.
Today he has decided to speak exclusively and candidly to Weekend to give his side of the story. Pictured: John relaxing in the pool at his Palm Springs home with his dog Captain Jack
Now John’s behaviour on the sets of both Doctor Who and Torchwood has come under scrutiny once again. The furore has led to a video of Captain Jack Harkness being expunged from the current immersive Doctor Who theatre show Time Fracture, a planned Torchwood audio production featuring John and former Doctor Who lead David Tennant being scrapped and doubt about whether he will be invited back to the Dancing On Ice panel.
ITV will announce the line-up for the next series in September. John immediately issued an apology following the emergence of the video back in May, but today he’s decided to speak exclusively and candidly to Weekend to give his side of the story.
‘The moment has come to set the record straight,’ he says from the Palm Springs, California, home he shares with his husband Scott Gill. ‘This is the first time – and the last – I will address this subject. And then I plan to draw a thick black line under it.’
Firstly he says it’s important to set the scene. On the set of Torchwood, which followed a team of alien hunters and explored themes of sexuality and corruption, he had what might be called a ‘relaxed’ attitude to nudity, and would wander around in an open robe. But it’s claimed that he was well known for flashing and mooning at cast and crew alike on both the Doctor Who and Torchwood sets.
John said his actions were designed to defuse any awkwardness before nude scenes. Pictured: A 2008 Doctor Who cast picture with John as Jack Harkness, front right, and Noel Clarke as Mickey Smith, second left, as well as David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Billie Piper
‘As Captain Jack Harkness I was the star of Torchwood, so I felt it was down to me to lead the company and keep them entertained,’ he explains. ‘When I was doing a nude scene or a love scene it was clear in the script I’d be naked and everyone would have known about that at least 48 hours in advance. So I’d be waiting in my trailer wearing just a robe with a sock over my “parts”. Then, if I were standing waiting to film a scene where I needed to be nude and someone came into view, I’d make a joke to put them and myself at ease. My actions were simply designed to defuse any potential awkwardness among the cast and crew.
‘I’ve never been someone who’s embarrassed about his body so it didn’t bother me if anyone saw me naked,’ he adds. ‘The motivation for what I’d call my “tomfoolery” was to maintain a jokey atmosphere. There was absolutely nothing sexual about my actions and nor have I ever been accused of that.’ Whether this sort of behaviour would defuse any awkwardness, or actually foster it, is debatable.
WHY I’VE GONE INTO THERAPY
This scandal has clearly not left John unscathed. ‘It was upsetting my mental health,’ he tells me. ‘My husband Scott suggested I talk to somebody. I won’t discuss what I’ve said in therapy sessions – that’s a matter of doctor/patient confidentiality – but I don’t mind admitting it’s helped me a great deal.
‘It’s made me aware that despite how much cancel culture may talk about respecting people’s mental health, too often they don’t respect the mental health of the people they’re trying to cancel. So I needed to understand what was happening, which is why I went to speak to somebody.’
Has he had more than one session? ‘Yes. It’s a conversation that’s still going on,’ he says with a wry laugh. ‘Seriously, whatever the situation, if you feel you need to reach out to someone it’s very important to keep talking.’
‘If what happened had taken place in the changing rooms after a rugby match it would be regarded as no more than a prank,’ he continues. ‘On the other hand, it’s never going to happen in an accountant’s office or a supermarket. But my job is not a regular nine-to-five, we’re a family working long hours and in close proximity to each other.’ Again, one has to bear in mind that a rugby changing room would be an all-male environment. There were many women in the cast and crew of the TV shows.
‘In the theatre quick costume changes happen in the wings all the time, with everyone stripping off to get into their new outfits in time for the next scene,’ he says. ‘Girls might be braless, boys only in jockstraps. That’s just how it is and no one gives it a second thought. But I accept that my behaviour at the time could have caused offence.’
Although John’s recollection is that no one complained at the time, and he says that no one has complained since, at one point he was called in for a private conversation with Julie Gardner, an executive producer on Doctor Who and Torchwood. She has confirmed to The Guardian that she did receive a complaint.
‘My antics had come to her attention and she told me I should rein in my behaviour,’ he recalls. ‘In blunt terms, she had just two words of advice: “Grow up!” That struck a chord. I did as I was told and my behaviour changed overnight. I’d still be full of jokes and fun, but no more naked pranks. I can see now my actions were pretty juvenile but this was a different time and it’s something I would not do today.’
When these rumours were swirling back in 2008, it’s also said John exposed himself during a Radio 1 interview in which his behaviour was being discussed. He denies this today.
‘I was being goaded by the presenters about my reported behaviour on the Doctor Who set. I went along with it but I didn’t actually do anything inappropriate in the studio. What would have been the point, it was on the radio? Still, it created such a stir that the following day I decided to make a full public apology and get on with my life.’
And that might have been that, but for the accusations against Noel Clarke coming to light. ‘It seems to me that I’ve become collateral damage to a much bigger story,’ says John.
Given his and Clarke’s high profiles and the severity of the allegations against Clarke, this is hardly surprising. Has he spoken to his former co-star since the balloon went up?
‘I have not.’ Does he plan to? ‘I do not. But listen, I’m not trying to cast myself in the role of victim here.’ That said, he clearly resents these stories re-emerging, although he has had messages of support.
‘In fact many members of the cast and crew have been in touch since this latest storm blew up giving me their support,’ he insists. ‘I won’t name them because I don’t want anyone to find themselves in the firing line.’
John (right) with Emily Atack and winner Harry Redknapp on I’m A Celebrity in 2018
However, Gareth David-Lloyd, who played bisexual Jack Harkness’s lover Ianto Jones in Torchwood, has chosen to go public about working with John. ‘In my experience John’s behaviour on set was always meant to entertain, make people laugh and keep their spirits and energy high on what were sometimes very long working days,’ he said.
‘It may be because we were so close as a cast that professional lines were sometimes blurred in the excitement. I was too inexperienced to know any different but we were always laughing. The John I knew on set would never have behaved in a way he thought was affecting someone negatively. From what I know of him, that is not his nature. He was a whirlwind of positive energy, always very generous, kind and a wonderfully supportive lead actor.’
In the weeks following this new public scrutiny John has had time to reflect, and has come to the conclusion there are two issues. One is the aftermath of the #MeToo movement; the other is cancel culture.
‘I’m a supporter of #MeToo because no person should ever feel that in order to succeed in their career they can be coerced into doing something sexual against their will.
‘My problem with cancel culture, on the other hand, is that it can take the form of intolerance and prejudice. It’s a culture with no shades of grey. There’s no leeway for forgiveness or room for recognising any change in someone’s behaviour. Cancel culture tends to talk at you or past you or through you, rather than listen to you. Dialogue is extremely rare.’
He sounds upset now. ‘Look, I’m in a good place,’ he insists. ‘I’ve got a great husband, a great family, a great “fan family” around me. But I’ve found it difficult. And yes, some of the things that were being said have been hurtful.
‘Scott and I would go to bed on a Saturday night dreading the stories in the Sunday papers. And then I’d wake up to lies. One newspaper printed as fact that I’d been dropped as a judge by Dancing On Ice. Well, apart from the fact that the new panel isn’t decided until the autumn, no one from ITV had spoken to me or my agent about this latest upset.’
Ashley Banjo, leader of dance troupe Diversity and a fellow Dancing On Ice judge, has only worked with John for the past couple of years so did not know him during the time of the behaviour he’s now being scrutinised for, but has publicly spoken out in support.
‘I’ve told John I’d readily work with him again,’ said Ashley. ‘He’s always fun on Dancing On Ice and he’s been very respectful and considerate. I’d like to see him come back. The impression I get from this story is it’s something small and historic, something blown out of proportion. What I’m not a supporter of in regard to cancel culture is when the speed of allegation is much faster than the speed of investigation. Before I make a judgment I want to see and understand the facts.’
It remains to be seen later this year with the announcement of the line-up for Dancing On Ice whether John’s career too might be put on ice. Pictured: With Ashley Banjo (L) on Dancing On Ice
There has been outrage on Twitter, with many users pointing out that John’s ‘tomfoolery’ could be regarded as indecent exposure, and that the fact it happened among work colleagues is no excuse. ‘You don’t do that in work. You don’t do it full stop. If you did it in the city centre you’d be arrested,’ posted one user.
So does he regret the way he behaved? ‘You can’t wind the clock back,’ he says.
‘They were different times, which is why I wouldn’t do now what I did then. I’ve acknowledged that by the way my behaviour has changed. The trouble is that certain cancel culture enthusiasts are not allowing me to acknowledge it. I’ve always believed that the reason I was put on this planet was to bring joy to people, make them laugh. How I do that has evolved over the years. I’m still using humour, just in a different way than might have been the case ten or 20 years ago.’
Now, he says, he wants to move on, both personally and professionally. Many years ago he bought a house for his parents down the street from where he lives with Scott.
‘They’re getting on now and I’ve been their primary carer throughout the pandemic, doing their shopping, getting their prescriptions from the pharmacy and so on. My mother broke her pelvis at one stage but she’s on the mend now. I’m just thankful I can keep an eye on her and my father. I’m thankful too to the scientists for coming up with the means by which we can combat Covid via vaccinations, and the healthcare workers for administering them and looking after us so selflessly. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.’
What about professionally? ‘Well, I’m at the early stages of putting together a show full of anecdotes and songs that will tour throughout the UK when restrictions are finally lifted. As far as I’m concerned, it’s back to business as usual.’
But it remains to be seen later this year with the announcement of the line-up for Dancing On Ice whether John’s career too might be put on ice.