First, if you don’t immediately recognize the name Chris Egan, I won’t hold that against you. Sure, close readers of this blog would know that he has been a Top Twenty staple on the Sexiest Males Alive list, and maybe even remember him from his brief cameo in this post about Eragon’s Ed Speleers a year ago. Generally, though, while he has landed credits in a couple of short-lived American television shows (in 2007 it was Fox’s Vanished, and this spring he has been seen in NBC’ dud Kings, alongside former Deadwood star Ian McShane), he is still best known for his role as the initially troubled heartthrob Nick Smith on the Australian soap Home and Away. This alone may prove the point that although American pop culture is usually assumed to hold something close to global hegemony, we are really talking about the absolute triumph of Anglo-American culture. Australia still holds deep formal and informal ties to Britain, and th guysis influence seems to have spilled over into the scheduling of Norwegian television networks.
This, then, is the reason why Home and Away may be a more common reference in Europe than it is in the U.S., but it’s not meant to underestimate the cultural influence the show has had on me personally. Singling out one actor for an EGA post on Home and Away would do grave injustice to that very long line of hot people that inhabited the fictional town of Summer Bay over the years I followed the show most closely (for some largely undefinable reason, I’m no longer following it regularly), so in this instance Chris Egan is more like a symbol of something much broader than himself. Apart from being the H&A guy I had the longest and most passionate crush on – I suppose I still do, in a way – he is chosen here because his post-H&A credentials are at least remotely impressive. He is the closest thing to a breakout star the show has ever come, not counting Ryan Kwanten, who went from playing Vinnie Patterson on H&A in the early 2000’s to the role of surfing manboy Jay in WB’s Summerland and currently HBO’s True Blood.
But Home & Away had, to borrow an Australian phrase, brought heaps of both guilt and pleasure long before the blond boy wonder Egan entered the Bay. I didn’t make too much of the kind-of-cute Zac Drayson, but almost immediately after I started watching the show at age 15, I made a mental note-to-self that young Ryan Clark was reason enough to keep tuning in. My gratitude toward him actually still is so great it secured him a spot on the SMA not that many months ago. And like I said when I wrote about the paradoxical hotness of the supposedly desexualized and family-oriented 7th Heaven a while ago; when you’ve struggled to find a more or less coherent and defensible reason for watching show, you eventually come to appreciate even the less-correct reasons for your interest. In Home & Away there were several over the years, from Drayson, Clarke and Daniel Collopy, to more fleetings acquaintances like Brett Hicks-Maitland, Steven Rooke and Sam Atwell.
If Ryan Clarke’s presence was important for getting me sold on the show to begin with, that interest was further consolidated when Cameron Welsh – later a director on the show – hit Norwegian television screens as Mitch McColl, circa 2001. When I’ve talked to my brother about him and other hallmark H&A hunks in retrospect, I’ve realized that we were both secretly drooling over this guy. We of course had more than enough with coming up with a rationale for how we were feeling privarely to ever admit anything of that sort at the time, but perhaps sensing that our common interest in the show ran a little deeper (a somewhat odd choice of words, considering it was, however secretly passionate, essentially shallow) than we dared to admit, we silently agreed never question our common interesting in an Australian soap.
By this time, at the age of 15 or 16, I was more than old enough to read all of this as clear signals of homosexual tendencies, had I only dared to. For some reason, though, and perhaps as a coping strategy, I insisted that there was no correlation between the fact that I had my first serious couple of gay crushes in school about that time, and the visual satisfaction I so eagerly took away from H&A every afternoon. But whether I accepted it or not, my list of H&A crushes just kept getting longer. The beautiful Beau Brady was a welcome addition, and when Chris Egan eventually teamed up with young Mitch Firth, playing the shyly sexy Seb Miller, it was almost too much. Egan may have been the more obvious heartthrob material of the two, but Firth, who just like Egan has been a regular on the SMA list, was a just as natural addition to my list of unconventional cuties. Also, it didn’t exactly hurt that the producers took every possible opportunity to make them stroll around shirtless. Over the course of their run on the show, which in Norway has always been several years behind the Australian schedule, I grew closer to the age of 20, but I still nurtured the homosexuality I still hadn’t brought myself to embrace personally, in the company of these two guys. When in a nostalgic mood, I still do, only without the shame and self-doubt.
Like I said, I have drifted away from H&A over the last couple of years, but that has very little to do with the guys still gracing the frames of the show. For someone with a relatively diverse taste in men, like me, it still has something to offer my every sensibility, from the tenderly adorable Rhys Wakefield and Geek Squad contender Jason Smith, to Mark Furze or Bob Morley. While it may sound cliched, bordering on cheap, for a gayer to attribute part of his queer awakening to a soap opera (it feels almost like saying showtunes, or Madonna or David Beckham), it nevertheless is true. If I were looking for early signs of my homosexuality, my devotion to Home & Away in general, and Chris Egan in particular, would be a natural place to start. That I will be forever grateful for.