CBB star Bradley Riches on importance of neurodiverse and LGBT representation

Celebrity Big Brother star Bradley Riches has said he feels it is “really important” to represent neurodiverse and LGBT communities within storylines to help young viewers understand themselves and the world around them.

The actor, 22, best known for for playing James McEwan in LGBT+ drama Heartstopper, has openly spoken about his autism and recently announced his engagement to his boyfriend Scott Johnston.

He will star in a new coming-of-age musical, titled Babies, which follows nine classmates as they navigate school and the pressures of teenage life, while having to look after a fake baby as part of a project for the sex education programme.

Reflecting on the musical, he told the PA news agency: “I think it’s really important to tell these stories because obviously growing up you always wonder who you are and where you fit into the world and these stories really enhance and help your understanding of yourself as well as the world, as well as who you are as a person.”

He added: “That’s why I like the shows I’m doing like Babies and Heartstopper … a lot of the time you question your own existence growing up, you don’t know where you fit, you don’t see yourself.

“Especially the autistic community and the neurodiversity community, and the queer community back even 10 years ago, there was like no representation.

“I never watched something, I never read something and it was like, ‘Oh, my God, this person acts the way I do or this person is a tiny bit similar to me’.”

In the new show he plays Toby, an openly gay character whom he describes as “fun, vibrant, and is authentically themselves the whole time”.

For the fake baby project, his character is paired with the popular boy and as they spend more time together, they begin to understand each other and wonder if their feelings are more than friendly.

Reflecting on the role, he said: “The character is me in many ways, the outgoingness, the fun, the enjoying being with people, speaking with people.

“Year 11 I wasn’t very accepting of who I was and it is quite cathartic to play a year 11 in both Heartstopper and in this show Babies and play this year 11 who’s authentically themselves.

“I’ve gotten to the stage now where I’m myself, but if I could go back I wish I was me then.

“So having this character for other people they can be like ‘Oh my God, there’s just two guys kissing on stage. That’s normal. If I like a guy, that’s normal’.”

The show also sees the teenagers deal with other personal problems including their sexuality, gender and family relationships.

“I think there’s so many journeys and characters that are a real representation of what teenagers, Years 11s feel”, he added.

“And that’s the main thing because everyone wants to see themselves portrayed, even a little bit, to make themselves feel seen and more accepted and proud of who they are.

“And I think this is what the musical does. It’s a coming-of-age story and celebrating everyone’s differences.”

Riches has been navigating a lot of changes in his own life of late after rising to fame after joining the cast of the hit Netflix show Heartstopper.

Celebrity Big Brother 2024
Bradley Riches was a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother 2024 (Ray Burmiston/ITV)

He became more of a household name earlier this year after he took part in Celebrity Big Brother alongside famous faces including former X Factor judges Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh.

The actor was praised for openly speaking about his autism with other contestants while on the show.

He said: “I’d never really seen someone speak about neurodiversity or autism on a reality TV show in my life so I wanted to go on there mainly just to be that and just to live.

“I knew it would come with its challenges, especially being in a house 24/7, but there were things in place from production to make my experience more enjoyable and it was just a really positive experience and I loved every moment of it.”

Riches revealed that after coming out of the show he received a lot of “positive messages” from members of the public thanking him for talking about his autism.

Babies – A New (Born) Musical will run at The Other Place theatre from May 31 to July 14.