There was a time when being LGBT in Soapland was something scandalous, worthy of newspaper stories and hundreds of complaints. EastEnders was the first soap to feature a gay couple when Colin and Barry made TV history in the 1980s. Brookside made headlines when Beth and Margaret locked lips in the 1990s, while Todd Grimshaw made a move on Nick Tilsley in Corrie in 2003.
Thankfully things have moved on leaps and bounds since then. Now all of the primetime soaps have LGBT characters, and their sexuality is no longer cause for angry letters to newspapers.
EastEnders fan and all-round soapie Jess Newbold has chosen her top five LGBT pairings that she thinks have made the biggest impact in soap:
Christian Clarke and Syed Masood in EastEnders (#Chryed)
This tragic love story in EastEnders was absolutely genius, and surprised the viewers who had no idea it was coming. The idea of Syed bringing shame to his family and betraying his faith was explored in a way we hadn’t seen before. It was the first time religion and sexuality had been brought together in a storyline – something we saw again with Kate and Rana’s romance in Coronation Street. Syed eventually made the choice to be himself and be with Christian, and Chryed were a fan favourite until they left in 2015. They still have a huge fan following now and I’m one of them!
Vanessa Woodfield and Charity Dingle in Emmerdale (#Vanity)
Putting the friendly village vet with the village gold digger was a surprise, but this odd couple won the audience’s hearts from day one. They went from a drunken fling in The Woolpack cellar to falling fiercely in love with each other. They’ve been through a lot together from Charity’s abuse and the arrival of Ryan, Vanessa’s cancer diagnosis, and most recently Charity’s strange roadside snog with Mackenzie. But they always come back to each other in the end – at least, I hope they do because their fans were devastated when they split up. Both women – especially Charity – have been through a lot, and to see them find true love warmed fans’ hearts. Fingers crossed for a Vanity happy ever after.
John-Paul McQueen and Craig Dean in Hollyoaks (#McDean)
Talk about a flashback for this one! This is the first LGBT story I remember in Soapland, back in 2007. Watching two best friends fall for each other, but go about it in two ways was eye-opening. One – JP – embraced who he was and was accepted by his family, the other – Craig – denied it until it was discovered, during a party celebrating his engagement to Sarah Barnes, and even then he couldn’t put a label on what he was. This clash meant their first romance was destined for heartbreak when Craig left for Ireland, though fans got their resolution in the end. This story did wonders in helping young boys recognise that it’s okay to be with another guy. It’s also one of the most exciting and most real love stories to ever come out of Hollyoaks.
Robert Sugden and Aaron Dingle in Emmerdale (#Robron)
My heart breaks for the Robron fans right now who still aren’t over the sad end to their fave romance! What a roller-coaster of a journey Robert and Aaron had in their five years together: A secret affair, two deaths, prison, infidelity, and a baby, to name a few. I only started watching Emmerdale when Aaron was revisiting his childhood abuse, but it gripped me immediately and it was already apparent Robron had a huge following. The pairing is probably the most popular I’ve ever seen in Emmerdale and that’s because they were two characters from opposing families that were kindred spirits. They each found something in the other they were lacking, a sense of belonging and true love.
Ben Mitchell and Callum Highway in EastEnders (#Ballum)
These two have been dubbed the most exciting soap couple in recent years, and I can see why. Callum had never openly spoken about his sexuality and viewers had been watching his romance with Whitney. But when Ben came back to the Square last year, he recognised some of himself in Callum. The inability to get close to his partner, the awkwardness, the self loathing, the denial, and the desperation to keep a lid on what he really was, all struck a chord with Mr Mitchell. A year on, they are very much together and in love but it was the journey of 2019 that catapulted them into our hearts. Two boys from broken childhoods – the criminal and the soldier should never have worked but they bonded over their dads and they found themselves by finding each other. I’m a huge Ballum shipper and this storyline reminded me of my own journey to coming out. I think that’s why so many people love them – because people see themselves in their romance.