Gay BBC presenter ‘was told to play down his sexuality’ by TV professionals

On the left: Dan O'Neill holds his bag strap in a grey t-shirt for a selfie. On the right: Dan O'Neill smiles against a wall that says 'BBC London' on it

Dan O’Neill, Britain’s first openly gay wildlife television presenter, has claimed he was told to “play down” his sexuality by industry peers.

O’Neill, who both presents and directs BBC Earth, explained in a first-person piece for the i how, in overcoming judgement, he hopes to become a role model for a new generation of queer biologists.

But his dreams came close to being dashed by colleagues who, he claimed, sought to coerce him into concealing his sexuality.

“Like most LGBT+ people, I’ve been called names all my life,” he wrote. “I’ve been advised by people in my industry to ‘play down’ my sexuality – and I have done.”

O’Neill said often he encounters people who don’t think him “masculine enough” to “hack through a jungle with a machete or sleep in a hammock for three months”.

“Once, I was in a meeting at a production company in London to pitch ideas for a new programme,” he wrote.

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“I guess I was getting excited about an idea and talking about it in an excitable way… I found out afterwards that one of the leaders of the meeting said: ‘He’s gayer than we expected.’

“I never got a call from them again.”

O’Neill reflected how each comment felt like a “huge blow”.

“You’re pushed back into thinking, ‘Maybe I do need to hide that side of me’,” he added.

O’Neill came out when he was 20 after meeting an openly gay biology lecturer at the university of Sheffield.

The filmmaker grew up watching David Attenborough documentaries and poking at worms, but said that at first, he couldn’t see a future for himself in wildlife programmes.

“The truth is, there has never been a clear role model for the LGBT+ community doing adventurous things on TV,” he wrote.

Years later, and O’Neill has become just that as he explores the world – from the lonely mountains of Kyrgyzstan to the rainforests of Guyana.

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