And how Elton John, George Michael and Ian McKellen inspired him.

By Hayden Wright

In a new interview with The Times, Sam Smith discusses the journey of being openly gay in the public eye. Smith says he shied away from the “gay singer” label early in his career—but he’s proud to wear the title in 2017.

Related: Sam Smith Shares Intimate Look at the Making of ‘The Thrill of It All’

“Looking back on it, it was the fear of saying the wrong thing and offending,” he said. “And I was 19 when I started writing the first album. I’d just moved to London from a village—I was literally the only gay in the village. I didn’t know what I wanted to say…I remember, at the beginning of my career, being called a ‘gay singer,’ and I didn’t want that. I wanted to be seen as a singer first, before people spoke about my private life. And now it’s changed—I’ve changed. I realize that maybe I don’t mind that title.”

Smith says “fairy godmothers” like Ian McKellen, Elton John and the late George Michael helped him navigate life in the spotlight. Over the years, he’s gotten in touch with his feminine side and said, “I feel just as much woman as I am man.”

“I love a heel,” Smith told Wise. “I’ve got loads of heels at home. … People don’t know this, but when I was 17, I remember becoming obsessed with Boy George and Marilyn, and all that. There was one moment in my life where I didn’t own a piece of male clothing, really. I would wear full make-up every day in school, eyelashes, leggings with Dr Martens and huge fur coats — for two and a half years.”

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