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A Proustian Travel Guide: James Wharton

A Proustian Travel Guide: James Wharton

A Proustian Travel Guide: James Wharton

The author and LGBT activist opens up about dancing shirtless to Kylie Minogue, and his unabashed obsession with the Queen.

Name: James Wharton

Profession: Author, Columnist for Winq Magazine

Age: 28

Location: London, UK
James joined the British Army at the age of 16 and spent ten years in the ranks of the Household Cavalry. He was deployed to Iraq in 2007. While serving he played a major role in changing the culture towards the LGBT community in the military and advised Pentagon officials in the run up to the ending of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

He served with Prince Harry, escorted the Queen at the Royal Wedding of Will and Kate, and published a book entitled Out in the Army, detailing his experiences. Today he works for gay lifestyle magazine Winq.

What are three things you wish people knew about you?

1) Lady Gaga follows me on Twitter. It was around the time my book was released and there were a lot of headlines in the world’s media… I was eating a burger in McDonalds and my iPhone vibrated with a notification “Lady Gaga is now following you back”; I screamed! I’m forever DM’ing her saying how much I love her. I’m a Monster.

2) I am committed. If something grabs my attention and I buy into a reason or empathise with a cause, I will commit my everything to it. I have never failed at anything, but I am weary of what I do put that commitment behind. Since 2011 the core focus for me has been tackling homophobia in schools and supporting young people through coming out. I’m now exploring how I can help effectively at ending the stigma attached to HIV and how to encourage more people to find out their status; I’m a patron of a HIV charity based in Greater London.

3) I’m dyslexic. It was diagnosed early, around the age of 7 or 8 and I’ve never really let it hinder me, but on a daily basis it still can catch me out. I’m useless with numbers and sometimes my hand will write something different from what my mind wants it to. Stigma again is something that causes a lot of unnecessary stress for people who suffer a learning difficulty; people can be quick to think you are thick or stupid. I like to tell other dyslexic people that at the age of 26 I wrote a book which was acclaimed, or that at the age of 19 I learned how to drive a tank. I like to let younger people know that they don’t have to be academic to succeed.

What are you most proud of?

I’m really pleased that gay recruits into the army today can relax knowing the organization has their back. Some of us fought a long, patient battle to get the army as accepting as it is today for this to be the case. In 2008 I agreed to do an interview with the Army magazine ‘Soldier’ about being ‘out’ in the army; when it was published it actually turned out to be a front cover story. Every soldier in the army saw that front cover with its caption ‘Pride’ – a lot of hearts and minds were changed that day. It was nothing – as far as I’m concerned – for me to do that, I’d do it again tomorrow – but the impact is only just starting to occur to me. I think that single act of saying publicly ‘I’m here and I’m gay’ is what I’m most proud of and its without doubt the bit of activism which has had the biggest impact that I’ve done.

Where is your all-time favorite travel destination?

Berlin. I went there to get over the breakdown of my relationship last year and hoped it would offer me a distraction of culture and adventure in equal measure; it actually did so much more than that. It allowed me to check out another scene, to talk to and mix with other guys – the first time I’d done so in my twenties – and it made me realize that there was so much opportunity out there. I took my shirt off and danced like nobody was watching me to Kylie Minogue in the Berghain and let my self-consciousness go – I had a crazy time but it was awesome. It was a catalyst moment in getting over the breakdown of a long term relationship and it literally saved my life.

Describe the perfect weekend in London, England.

Weekends are my religion. I live for the weekend and I truly believe in the ethic of work hard, play hard – it’s simple.

A typical Friday for me starts off around 8PM when I will meet my group of friends. They are fairly new in my life and I like them a lot. We might hit a bar but inevitably we will spill back to someone’s place and a house party of sort will ensue.

Saturday mornings start off with coffee and newspapers in my favourite coffee shop in Balham, the trendy area of South London I’m lucky to call home. Following this I typically meet a friend – the same friend weekly – for brunch which can get a little boozy. Saturday evenings are preferably the opposite to Fridays’ for me – my big love in life is film and I plan my movie nights weeks in advance sometimes. Sunday’s are all about writing or reading, there’s always something I’m working on, a column, another idea for a book or even poetry. At the moment it’s all about Downton Abbey for me on a Sunday evening – nothing gets in the way of my hour in the 1920’s with Lady Mary or Carson – I will be distraught come the finale – it’s going forever!  

What is your favorite neighborhood in London?

There’s an area of London I will always be instinctively aligned to, and that area is Knightsbridge. At the age of 17 following basic training I received my orders to report to the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment – the group of soldiers honored with the ancient tradition of protecting the throne – and the regimental base in Knightsbridge. Situated opposite Harvey Nichols and next door to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel – the location for the forthcoming Winq Men of the Year Awards by an interesting twist of fate – the barracks is the most bizarre place to station 300 soldiers and horses. Surrounded by wealth, the barracks – called Hyde Park Barracks – is completely self sufficient and operates in the same manner it has done since the 19th century. As you walk along the affluent streets surrounding Hyde Park Barracks, the smell of stables (mostly horse droppings) takes you to another time; for me it sends me back in my mind to 17 years of age and being daunted by the prospect of London life – the place I have remained ever since having quickly fallen in love with the place after my arrival.

What do you dislike most about London?

I’m not a fan of the Tube. I appreciate fully how dependent Londoner’s have been on it for 150 years, but for me, in 2015 I prefer to use alternative methods of travel. It’s becoming very common for Tube workers to call strike action over what they see as unreasonable working conditions – only problem is nobody in London agrees with them and every time they strike they bring the city to a halt. I opt for Uber instead.

Alive, dead or fictional – who is your favourite Londoner?

There is only one Londoner who will ever take this – Her glorious Majesty the Queen. I respect nobody more or admire anybody – alive or dead – to the same high level as I do our Sovereign. May she reign forever.

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