BBC North West Tonight's Owain Wyn Evans: "Being gay doesn't define me, being me does"

Brits love to talk about the weather, so what better place to start?

Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 9:15 am
BBC North West Tonight's Owain Wyn Evans

"People want to know a few main things," says BBC North West Tonight's senior weather presenter Owain Wyn Evans, his charming Welsh lilt singing down the phone line. "They want to know if it's going to be sunny and warm or if it's going to be wet and they're going to need their freeze-hold hair spray - which I always apply dahling, of course."

You may know him as the drumming weatherman. You may know him as the man who taught Carol Vorderman to speak Welsh. You may know him for his three-piece suits, colourful pocket squares, and irresistible on-screen persona.

But there's a lot more to Owain from Ammanford’s story than meets the eye.

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Owain during his childhood in Ammanford

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"Ammanford is a small, ex-mining town in south-west Wales, so - without stereotyping it too much - it's a working class town and I grew up in a working class family,” says Owain, 37. "I knew I was gay from a young age, but I just didn't know what it was because, when I was growing up, there weren't any reference points for what it actually meant to be gay.

"It was a very masculine and heteronormative environment: the only cultural touchstones for gay people was them being the butt of jokes on TV or overly-flamboyant characters," Owain continues. "I literally felt like the only gay in the village, so I suppressed my sexuality. I put it in a box and thought 'this is a part of me I can hide'

"I didn't talk about it or understand it."

Owain Wyn Evans

Unable to properly express who he was inside, Owain says he disliked school, feeling as if he never quite fit in. Instead, he leaned into the more stereotypically masculine aspects of his upbringing as a smokescreen, cultivating a love of cars and drumming in bands who would play at rugby clubs and local pubs, to deflect attention away from his sexuality.

"If kids at school called me homophobic names, I could just say 'whatever, look at me play the drums; I can smash the hell out of this kit and do really fast rolls'," he says.

At the age of 17, Owain came out to two close friends.

"I just remember being terrified, but I knew this was a part of me and I needed somebody to talk to," says Owain, who adds that his friends were ‘amazing’. "Then I told my parents. They were surprised and I know they found it difficult initially, but they were willing to learn and I was lucky in that they realised that I was still me.

Owain with his drum kit

"There have been a few instances with people I used to know where they think that it's some sort of choice, but I see that as more of a problem that they have as far as education is concerned rather than anything to do with me,” adds Owain. “If they're not willing to educate themselves, you've just got to let it go."

It was around this time that Owain experienced what he calls ‘one of the biggest turning points’ in his life as a gay man.

"Seeing Queer As Folk on TV was like 'wow',” says Owain of Russell T Davies’ Channel 4 series chronicling the lives of three gay men living in Manchester. “Here were these gay people living their best life, which I'd never seen before - had I seen that earlier, it would have completely changed my life.

"Without a shadow of a doubt, it would have made coming out easier and taken a lot of anxiety away; anxiety which probably lasted over a decade in the back of my mind," he continues. "It plays into gay shame, which makes you feel like there's something about you which isn't quite right.”

Owain (right) with his husband Arran Rees

Quick to acknowledge his own privilege - “growing up as a cis-gendered, white, gay man made it a hell of a lot easier for me than it would have been for others,” he explains - Owain says that the difference between the ‘90s to the 2020s in terms of LGBT acceptance is night and day.

“Looking back, it does frustrate me a bit that I couldn't be me but, at the same time, it feels like a completely different world,” he says. "What with the overhang of the AIDS crisis and Section 28 (a British law that prohibited the 'promotion of homosexuality' introduced by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government), there was this demonisation of LGBT people.

"Watching It's a Sin really brought it home to me how gay men were treated by society,” Owain adds. "It was heartbreaking and the scariest thing was that it happened within my lifetime, which is terrifying. People were literally left to die.

“It's a lot better now and, if I'd have seen what we have now on TV, magazines, and online, it would have made life so much easier, but there's still a long way to go, unfortunately.”

Professionally, Owain was at something of a crossroads after leaving school.

Already working as a semi-professional drummer but keen to explore a burgeoning passion for lighting design, he went to university to study the latter, but never clicked with the course and so dropped out. Planning to dedicate himself to becoming a professional percussionist, Owain landed a somewhat out-of-the-blue audition for the S4C children’s news show Ffeil.

Owain last summer

Despite knocking over a bottle of water and swearing during his audition, he got the role, becoming one of the BBC’s youngest ever staff presenters at 18. But his first steps into the spotlight saw old defence mechanisms flare up once again.

"When I got the job with BBC Wales, I kind of went back into the closet," says Owain. "This was a time where there were still only four channels and it was a really big thing, so I thought 'oh my god, I can't let anything jeopardise this opportunity' and, because of gay shame, not talking about it was the default setting.

"It was normal to hide who I was," he adds. "But I was lucky to work with people who were supportive and I eventually told them and it was all okay, so I kind of came out again. Coming out was almost a staggered event for me."

Eventually going on to study meteorology through the Open University to start what has become a fruitful career as a weather presenter, Owain - who has been with his husband Arran Rees for 13 years - moved to Leeds to join BBC Look North in 2015 before then crossing the Pennines in 2019 to become lead weather presenter for BBC North West Tonight.

But embracing his now-beloved on-screen persona as the captivatingly upbeat and flamboyant weather presenter took time. After decades of tempering who he was, being unapologetically himself was something Owain had to come to terms with.

"For a long time, I struggled with being myself," he says, having gotten engaged to Arran in Las Vegas in 2013 before the couple married in London four years ago. "I'd been told by a lot of people at a lot of places where I'd worked to put a lid on it a bit, but - doing the weather - I remember getting lovely feedback for my flamboyant style.

"My persona on social media was always 'dahlings, dahlings', which is very much me, and then I'd have the TV me, which was a cranked down version of that," he adds. "At Look North, my bosses said they wanted to see the social media persona on TV, so I was just like 'you know what, I'm going to go for it and be me'."

Since then, the man who says he used to overcompensate for his sexuality by buying 'butch-looking' cars has flourished. And, what’s more, he has had a far more wide-reaching impact than he could have ever imagined.

Four years ago, Owain was presenting York Pride when he was approached by a young 14-year-old boy, who thanked him for making coping with his own sexuality easier just by being himself on TV whilst he and his parents were watching.

“I just thought 'gosh'," says Owain. "I never see myself as a role model, but it's the most flattering thing when people see you as one because if I can help even one person, that's lovely. I'm delighted that I'm able to be who I am and do a job that I love.

"Being able to be me on air is lush," he adds. "It's liberating."

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He's the drumming weatherman. He's the man who taught Carol Vorderman to speak Welsh. He's the presenter with the three-piece suits, colourful pocket squares, and irresistible on-screen persona.

But, at the end of the day, he's Owain from Ammanford.

"Being gay doesn't define me," he says. "Being me does."