ANDREW PIERCE: I know from experience how hard it is to come out, and I salute Phillip Schofield 

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Tears pouring down my cheeks, I signed the letter to Mum and Dad, posted it and wondered if they would speak to me ever again.

It was 1982 and I was 22. I was writing to explain to them why I had been so distant from them for six months — I had finally owned up to myself that I was gay.

I had a boyfriend and, shock horror, he lived up to all the hackneyed stereotypes about homosexuals — including the fact that he was a hairdresser.

My parents were staunch, working-class Catholics who had lived on the same Swindon council estate all their lives after moving out of the East End of London after the war.

There were no gay people on our estate — at least, not that we knew of. My parents never met anyone who was gay, which is why the subject never came up at home.

Nor was homosexuality ever a topic discussed at my Roman Catholic comprehensive school. Or at the first newspaper I worked on, aged 18, in Cheltenham, which, ironically, was where I had spent the first few years of my life in a Catholic orphanage. To this day I have cold sweats worrying what the nuns would make of how I turned out.

However, I shouldn’t have worried about the letter. My parents were fine about my confession because they loved me.

Mum convened a family conference (I wasn’t there) with my brother and two sisters and their partners and revealed that I had made an important announcement.

One sister burst into tears: ‘Is he going to be a priest?’ She cried even more when Mum said: ‘Not exactly. He’s queer.’

No one in my family would call me queer today. We’ve all moved on and I’ve never looked back. I’m still friends with the hairdresser. In 2013 I entered into a civil partnership with the love of my life.

I recall interviewing Phillip Schofield when he was in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in the West End. My gay radar (gaydar) went into overdrive.

I’m glad he’s finally done it and understand why it took so long. Not all parents and friends react like mine. I’m still abused on social media. I hear people hissing homophobic abuse on Tube trains, in pubs. I couldn’t care less.

What I do care about is that the bigotry makes it so hard for many younger gay people to come out, let alone the fear of letting down their families.

I know men who have been estranged from their parents for 30 years or more because they were honest about who they were.

As for Phillip, I hope he won’t regret not taking this step much sooner. He has been in a long and loving partnership with the mother of his two daughters and enjoyed a close family life. As for his fans, they won’t abandon him — I’d wager he will gain many more.

So welcome to the club, Phillip. I promise you will never look back.

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