From fighting for equality, to interviewing Sydney’s biggest names, and documenting our LGBTQI scene, William Broughman is an activist, broadcaster and YouTube sensation. Rita Bratovich reports.
William Brougham may have been born and bred in England, but he is one of the proudest Australians you’ll ever meet. In October last year, Brougham and his partner of 15 years, Donal, took the Pledge of Allegiance to Australia while clutching their freshly minted citizenship certificates.
“[It was] the first time in public that I can remember as an adult I actually burst into tears,” says Brougham, who had dreamed of moving to Australia ever since he received a divine whispering in his ear as a child.
“So, 1990, I was 12, I was standing in my backdoor garden. Suddenly I heard this disembodied voice in my head saying: ‘William, you’ve got to go to Australia‘.”
It began an irrepressible obsession.
Down under dreaming
“After that I started having all these very vivid dreams about Australia, and one of my most vivid dreams was … I was standing on Sydney Harbour at Circular Quay. The Opera House was behind me. There was a ship leaving port with the Union Jack, and behind me was a band playing Waltzing Matilda, and I was waving goodbye to the ship.”
At 18, Brougham took his first trip Down Under to spend Christmas with a great aunt who lived in Sydney. True to the filmic narrative that began his obsession, his plane flew over night-lit Sydney Harbour and he knew he’d come home.
“I love Sydney. I think it’s an amazing place.”
Cutting his teeth
Brougham is a journalist and presenter, highly-respected and well-recognised in Sydney’s LGBTQI community. He cut his teeth as a reporter and newsreader at various stations across the UK before emigrating.
Journalism was another calling that beckoned from an early age.
“When I was a young boy I always wanted to be either in radio or TV,” says Brougham.
“I studied journalism in London when I was 18, and there was a radio station for Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans living in London. They were looking for journalists and newsreaders so I applied and I got a newsreading job – I was the token Pom!”
Much of what Brougham does now revolves around the culture and social issues relevant to the queer community; and he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and brandish a placard when he feels strongly about a cause. It’s a sense of righteousness that was instilled in him from a very young age.
The activist awakens
“As a boy, one of my earliest memories was early ’80s, on the news there was a report on South Africa and they showed these white police officers beating up some black people – and I must have been about three or four, but I remember feeling so angry watching it.”
Brougham was living in London during the UK same-sex marriage campaign, in which he became actively involved. He interviewed Peter Tatchell who founded Equal Love, the original same-sex campaign in England and Wales.
“I would say it was around 2013, when they were passing the same-sex marriage laws in England and Wales, that I took a step up and got more involved in queer politics,” says Brougham.
Prior to this, Brougham was not very active in the LGBTQI community. He was a relatively late starter on the gay scene.
“I didn’t start going out on the gay scene in London until I was almost 22,” he explains.
“It wasn’t that I was in the closet – I never struggled with my sexuality. I was just very much focused on my work and studies.”
Once he started getting involved he was all in. By the time Brougham returned to Australia, the same-sex marriage campaign had also reached our shores and he immediately signed up.
Brougham attended rallies and gathered signatures, but knew his media skills and experience could make him even more effective.
William the Chronicler
“I started filming the rallies, I started interviewing the people who go to the marriage equality rallies – tried to use the media side to give people a platform.”
It’s arguably here that Brougham found his true north; that is, interviewing people and recording biographical histories. In fact, he has earned himself the moniker ‘William the Chronicler’. He can name check a long list of celebrities and notables with whom he has had an in-depth chat.
“I’ve been really honoured by some of the people who’ve let me interview them; people like Tanya Plibersek, Clover Moore, Alex Greenwich, Jenny Leong.”
When asked to nominate any interviews that stand out, Brougham cites two that had a powerful emotional impact: one he did with a survivor of domestic violence and another with a survivor of the Holocaust.
“I often am able to stay detached, but occasionally you’ll have an interview and it kind of affects you,” reflects Brougham.
“I think the interviews I like best are learning about people’s history. The [Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras] ’78ers … amazing to hear their stories. I’ve probably done about 20. They’re from across the political spectrum and they’ve all had their own experiences … Just to hear their stories, their perspectives – they’re probably the ones that stay with me the most.”
Brougham takes pains to point out that he is not an historian. He is much more interested in the human story, the recollections and musings, rather than the stone cold facts. His interviews are predominantly conducted on video and uploaded to his popular YouTube channel.
“I like video, because I think facial expressions can tell you a lot as well. I think a lot of it’s in the eyes.”
Queen of the Valleys
Brougham has just completed the equivalent of a marathon interview – the biography of Stan Munro – one of the original comperes and performers in the legendary Les Girls.
“Like a lot of my life, I kind of fell into it,” Brougham laughs, explaining how he came to be involved in the project. About five years ago, he went to a birthday event for an ex-Les Girls performer at the Midnight Shift. He took photos, uploaded them to Facebook, then noticed a comment from Munro describing his own connection with Les Girls.
“Next thing I know, we’re on the phone and he talks me into writing his biography,” says Brougham.
“And I’m glad I did because it’s been a real education, and it’s been wonderful getting to know someone – he’s turning 80 next year – and he’s got so many stories. He’s originally from the UK, so we’ve got a lot in common.”
The book is titled Queen of the Valleys, referencing Munro’s home ground in South Wales. They are currently seeking a publisher. Brougham would love to have the book launched while Munro is still healthy and active.
Happy Down Under
As for his own goals, Brougham feels he has already achieved the big one (becoming an Aussie!) and is not sure what is next.
“When you achieve your dreams you almost have this feeling of emptiness and you think ‘Oh shit! What dreams do I have now?’ So I’m trying to find those dreams.
“I want to keep doing interviews. I want to get this book out there as soon as possible. And I’d like to maybe soon get more involved with politics again and activism – because we’ve got this Religious Freedom Bill and that’s going to be a big issue.”
He’s not, however, about to throw his hat in the ring.
“I do know politicians and I speak with them and sometimes I feel that you get more done when you’re outside the actual political party or elective.”
For now, his ambitions are humble.
“I just want people to be happy and to have a better world; that’s all I can really ask for.”
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