Belper gay rights activist lifts the lid on the ‘secrets of the sauna’

Gay rights activist Narvel Annable
Gay rights activist Narvel Annable

A gay rights activist from Belper, who has just starred in a television documentary, says his passion for his ‘cause’ remains undiminished.

Narvel Annable, 70, of Dovedale Crescent, has appeared on Channel 4 documentary, Secrets of the Sauna, which lifts the lid on the secretive world of the gay sauna.

Gay rights activist Narvel Annable

Gay rights activist Narvel Annable

However, as well as being a somewhat reluctant TV star, Narvel is also a prolific author who has used his writing to fight for LGBT equality for the past 30 years.

He said: “The programme was made back in 2014 so it’s been quite a wait for it to finally appear - the people who made it came into our home to film and took us to all sorts of other places as well.

“They had my partner Terry playing (music) and were asking me to talk about how fun the saunas are - they’ve made us look really good.

Things were not always so easy for Narvel, however, with his childhood proving especially difficult.

He said:“I just didn’t fit in - a lad that couldn’t defend himself with his fists, kick a football or fancy a girl - what good is he?

“My mother and father were both ashamed of me and I was abused at school.

“As a result, a counsellor has recently told me I have post-traumatic stress and mental health difficulties and anger have been a feature of my life unfortunately.”

After spending 13 years in the United States during which time he became estranged from his family, Narvel returned to England in 1976.

But the Derbyshire of the mid-1970s was not an easy place to live as a gay man.

“The only place you could meet like-minded people was a little ‘cottage’ - it was all very clandestine.

“But that’s where I met Terry and we’ve now been together for 40 years.”

As evidence of their long-term commitment to each other, proudly displayed on the mantelpiece of their comfortable home is the couple’s marriage certificate.

They were married in November 2015 at Heanor registry office and spent some years as civil partners before that.

“Things are so much better for gay people now but we still have a long way to go - there are people who still have a problem with us,” he said.

“That’s why I always go to speak at events whenever I get the chance - groups like the young people in Worksop I supported recently are still so inspiring to me.”

Great yarns from gay Derbyshire

Narvel turned to writing after ‘gay hate’ ended his teaching career in the 1980s.

His best known work, Sea Change, was printed by a US ‘self-publishing’ company and has been praised by prominent LGBT campaigner, Peter Tatchell.

Set in the 1950s in Derbyshire, the controversial autobiographical novel details in brutally honest terms the horrors of the ‘Dickensian’ school he attended and how the unlikeliest person became his saviour.

He says he’s yet to make any money from his writing but that that’s not the point - enjoyment, catharsis and furthering the cause are much more important to him.

His latest book, Double Life, is the story of a relationship between two ghosts, which draws on his experience of teaching and has a plot twist that would not be out of place in a Hollywood thriller.

“I am getting on nicely with it but it isn’t finished yet.”