Hugh Sheridan’s essay about sexuality speaks to a bigger problem with ‘wholesome TV families'.

When Ben Rafter first graced our TV screens on Packed to the Rafters in 2008, we instantly felt like we knew him. 

He was the quintessential boy next door, a larrikin with laughing eyes and a cheeky smile. He reminded us of our high school crush, or the boy who grew up down the street. 

He fit perfectly into the Rafter family which - at the time - we felt reflected middle class, suburban Australia back to us. 

Australia quickly fell in love with the Rafters, with one in three of us tuning in each week to follow their story. Julie (Rebecca Gibney) and Dave (Erik Thomson) reminded us of our best mate's parents, down-to-earth and hardworking, but always welcoming when we stayed for dinner. 

 LISTEN: Packed to the Rafters and the curse of 'wholesome TV families". Post continues below. 

Nathan (Angus McLaren) was the older brother who took everything a little too seriously. Rachel (Jessica Marais) went through the same ups and downs many of us went through in our twenties. 

The series, which ran for six seasons between 2008 and 2013, dealt with some hefty topics - revenge porn, abortion, infidelity, gambling, divorce, miscarriage and one of the most devastating TV deaths to date. 

It served up some dark moments, while making us laugh, and providing us with a 'wholesome' TV show the entire family could sit down and watch together. 

But behind the 'wholesome TV family' were a group of real people who were going through their own struggles, struggles they largely had to keep private. 

Because that's the price of scoring a prime time role on Australian TV. You have to play a role both onscreen and offscreen. 

You need to be confident and charismatic, but not too confident or we'll think you've become too big for your boots. You need to be vulnerable and share your life with us, but not if it doesn't suit our narrow narrative of who you are. 

You need to fit into the neat little box we've assigned to you.

The Rafters. Image: Channel 7.   


Last weekend, for the first time, Hugh Sheridan spoke openly about his sexuality. 

The now 35-year-old, who was just 22 when he landed the role of Ben, has always kept his personal life private, despite the paparazzi constantly sniffing around for tabloid fodder. 

In a personal essay and interview for Stellar, Sheridan said when he was first starting out in acting he was encouraged by people in the industry not to be open about his sexuality, as women wouldn't watch a TV show if they thought the leading man wouldn't be interested in them romantically. They needed the fantasy to fully invest in the show. 

"The way it was explained to me was that women wouldn’t want to pay to see a movie or TV show if they knew they couldn’t have sex with the leading man," he said.

So, when he landed a leading role on one of the most successful Australian dramas of this century, Sheridan took on that advice, stayed quiet and let people come to their own conclusions. He was also hesitant to put a label on himself because he knew that label would be repeated after his name in every single news article about him. 

"When I did get the part, the show’s publicist asked, 'Do you want to talk about your private life?' I remember thinking, 'If I choose a label now, then that’s it. And if I choose a label that isn’t straight that label will be written after my name in every story.' So I said I’d rather not talk about it," he explained. 

For the next six years, Sheridan played the boy next door and women around Australia fell in love with him. 

After Rafters wrapped up in 2013, Sheridan continued to keep his personal life private and was rewarded with an acting career that could pay the bills, something that's not often a reality for gigging actors in Australia. 

While rumours swirled about his sexuality, he starred in a bunch of TV shows including House Husbands, The Real Dirty Dancing and Five Bedrooms

But 13 years after we first met him as Ben Rafter, we still didn't know the real Hugh Sheridan, and every day he had to take steps to keep the walls he'd built around his personal life standing upright. 


What a heavy burden to bear for most of his adult life. 

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This year, with time to reflect, Sheridan decided he didn't want to live like that anymore. 

“This is a slightly more important interview than ones I’ve done before,” he told Karlie Rutherford from Stellar over the phone. 

Last weekend, through the Stellar interview and essay, Sheridan came out as "human". While some may view that as a copout, Sheridan said he was still figuring things out and didn't want to put a label on himself. 

What he did want to do, however, is pave the way for younger actors who are just entering the industry and are wondering how they can be true to themselves and still make enough money to pay the bills. 

In the seven years since Rafters left our TV screens, Australia has done a lot of growing up. Our TV shows are more reflective of the diverse country we live in. Our celebrities are allowed to be more open and honest and real.

When Back to the Rafters returns to our screens later this year, we might be able to finally separate Hugh Sheridan from Ben Rafter, and see them as two separate "characters" who reflect the world we live in today. 

And, hopefully, Sheridan might be able to stop paying such a huge price for playing one of the most loved characters on Australian TV.