WALES’ first physically disabled Mr Gay winner has opened up about the discrimination he faced when he was younger and how his career gave him the confidence and motivation to stand-up for those who are under-represented in society.
Having always dreamt of a future in the creative industries, Paul Davies, originally from Treherbert, Rhondda Cynon Taf, started his career as the first disabled Redcoat entertainer with a physical impairment at Butlin’s.
Paul said: “From a young age, I always knew I wanted to perform and have a career in showbiz. I loved acting, being creative and making people laugh – it’s my passion and it’s what I’m good at. Appearing on S4C shows as a child sparked my excitement for the industry, and I then went on to become a Butlin’s Redcoat after I left college.
“At the time, I don’t think I realised just how important a moment like that was because I was one of the first disabled Redcoat entertainers with a physical impairment that Butlin’s had hired. Standing in front of a crowd of over 2,000 people every night and making them laugh takes a huge amount of confidence. I was so proud it also gave me an opportunity to break down stigmas about disability by using my stump in my performances, which I still do now in pantomimes.
“Performing has also helped me to break the ice over some of the questions that people – especially children who are always curious! – have around my disability. Since then, I’ve tried to use my artform to make the world a better place for those who are underrepresented in society, and this has motivated me through all the ups and downs of my career.”
Now an equal rights advocate, Paul is championing the new Welsh Government employment programme ReAct+, which provides a personalised package of support for people who are out of work or under a notice of redundancy.
“Until I became Mr Gay Universe, I hadn’t realised how bad sexual discrimination was outside of the UK, so this motivated me to begin challenging stereotypes and make a difference. Being a news reporter for an LGBTQ+ outlet also helped me with this as the people who I worked with truly believed in me and gave me a voice.
“I wanted to use my confidence and everything I’d learnt in my performance career to show people that you should embrace what makes you unique. Whether that’s your sexuality, something about your personality, a skill you have, or a disability like limb difference, being unique is a great thing.
“I was so lucky to be able to use my platform to campaign for equal rights both in the LGBT+ sphere and as a disabled person, and I continue to do that still. Supporting a programme like ReAct+ is important to me, because it’s all about approaching career support in a really individual way. People have different barriers stopping them from achieving their goals, and a one size fits all approach just doesn’t work for everyone.
“For me, I’m a very confident person now but I wasn’t always like that and having specialised support would have really helped me when I was starting out.”
Despite facing discrimination in his early life, Paul has gone on to achieve his dreams of becoming an actor and presenter and he now wants to use his platform to encourage people to celebrate what makes them unique and to follow their passions.
“Growing up was difficult sometimes, and I’ve faced my share of discrimination and stereotyping. At school I wasn’t like everyone else, even though the pupils and peers I grew up with were so diverse,” he said.
“One moment that has stuck with me was a teacher telling me that my disability would hold me back from achieving my life and career ambitions. Rather than let that comment get me down, it motivated and pushed me to prove everyone wrong, as I don’t see my stump as a something that holds me back.
“I’m not going to sit here and say life is easy, because it’s not. One of my favourite mottos is ‘never stop being you’, but I understand that this can be one of the hardest things that you can say to someone who has low confidence or is uncertain of what they want to do in life.
“Focussing on your passions and what makes you unique is a great way to carve a career out for yourself which you’ll love. My stump is the best thing that ever happened to me as without it, I’d never be where I am now. It makes me different, and this has inspired me throughout the entirety of my career.”
Discussing the one piece of advice he would give his younger self, Paul said: “I wasn’t very academic growing up, but I was very creative. Looking back, the one bit of advice I’d give to my younger self was to focus on what I was good at and enjoyed when it came to choosing a career path – even if it felt like a non-conventional route. It’s never too late to find and follow your passion; you just have to go for it and believe in yourself and your abilities.
“That’s why I’m supporting the launch of ReAct+, because it’s so important for anyone regardless of what stage they are at in their life of career to have access to free employment support and advice to help them achieve their goals. Whether it’s funding towards training, alongside one-to-one coaching to improve your confidence or help in finding and applying for jobs, ReAct+ offers a personalised support package built around your needs and motivations to help you find and get a job you’ll love.”
ReAct+ supports those who are out of work or under a notice of redundancy by providing them with a free personalised package of employment support that could include advice, training or funding. For employment support as unique as you, search “Working Wales ReAct+” or call 0800 028 4844.
The ReAct+ programme is part-funded by the Welsh Government and European Social Fund and delivered by Working Wales.