Queer Careers – AJ O’Neill, Puppeteer
This is the first installment in an ongoing series looking at Queer Careers. We want to speak to gay men who’ve carved out their own career path, and want to share their insights on how to get ahead in the workplace. We’re interested to know what it’s like to be gay, where they live, and where they work. First up, we speak to AJ O’Neill, a puppeteer, dancer, fitness instructor, and actor, based in London.
What’s it like to be gay in London?
“Being gay in London is easier than being gay in 99% of the World. There’s a massive gay population and lots of gay groups for pretty much any hobby or interest. I worked with a gay rugby club – the King’s Cross Steelers – the other day and they get men from all walks of life joining. But a friend and his boyfriend were physically attacked for holding hands outside their apartment a few months ago, so it’s not safe, by any standard. Sadly, constant vigilance is still necessary.”
Has being gay had any effect good or bad on your career?
“Workwise, I’m a lucky guy because all of my interests and talents lie in areas, which typically have a high gay demographic, both in the workforce and on the client side. I choreograph music videos, ads, and TV. I dance, sing, perform, write comedy, do party entertainment, and work in fitness as a private coach and teaching classes. Being gay is absolutely no problem for me in any of those areas.”
Is the sexuality of a potential client or employee important to you?
“I don’t care about the sexuality of a client in any of my jobs. I’d prefer that they not care about my sex life either as it’s none of their beeswax. I have a lot of gay male clients, but that’s partially due to advertising on gay apps and my style of training. When I started out as a personal trainer I relied on word of mouth to advertise that I train using, ballet barre technique, yoga, and Pilates. I include high intensity training and weights, but I combine it with dance techniques. So, I often attract clients who are open to less traditionally masculine methods. Ballet barre is an absolute killer though – you want a toned arse? Do ballet. You heard it here first, kids. Oh, my friend just read this and said I got gay clients by wearing short shorts. Which… I can’t argue with.”
Would you consider yourself a gay entrepreneur, businessman or anything else?
“I definitely do consider myself to be a gay entrepreneur. I’ve had my own band, and run my own fitness company, which has been featured by Vogue and TimeOut as critic’s choice. I teach commercial dance at Pineapple dance studios on Thursday nights. I run a Wedding dance company, I’m writing a musical, and I’m also writing a puppet web series with my boyfriend. As a fitness instructor, I love finding interesting ways to help people get fit and perform with more confidence. I love helping people, making them laugh and generally making stuff up, so it’s never boring cause there’s always something new to try.”
Talk to me about your puppeteering, how do you start this and what is your hope/plan/ambition with it?
“The puppeteering is something I’ve always wanted to do and when my boyfriend Simon and I found the perfect puppet online we bought him, started filming, and Fad Monster was born. Currently, we’re putting up videos whenever we have free time and it’s just for fun, but 24,000 people have watched our Game of Thrones one in four weeks, so we are really happy with the response. It would be amazing if it grew and grew. Who knows where Fad could end up!”
Where can people find you?
“You can find me on Instagram or twitter. Alternatively, my puppet, Fad monster, has his own Facebook page with longer videos if you want to follow him. We are both very willing to travel and I’ve worked previously in Holland, Ireland, and Italy. I’m also available for personal training, dance lessons, and if you need choreography for a project (or a puppet), say hello!”
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Featured and final images by Ren Brocklehurst.