I had arrived in London in the mid 2000s, a lonely young man with a lot of issues. I was young, handsome and enthusiastically sexually active, living in a capital city in an unsatisfying relationship with someone I did not love. I looked for affection – usually settling merely for attention – in low places. I drank too much. And I lied to everyone, all the time. Because I was ashamed and contemptuous of my family, every time someone asked me about my background, I made up a new story. I didn’t realize at the time that these people would one day meet each other and compare notes – nor that my claims were so amusingly improbable to those who had seen the world and could tell when a troubled young man was spinning tall tales.
Damian offered to save me from all this. He reined in my worst habits. He taught me how to write well. He screamed at me when I behaved in a gauche or insincere manner around his friends. It was a trial by fire, but it made me a better person. Damian hammered out the affectations and fake mannerisms in my character that were getting in the way of my career and preventing me from writing clearly and effectively.
Before I had even heard of Breitbart News, the American website at which I would eventually become an award-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author, Damian Thompson groomed me for stardom, nurturing my waspish instincts, helping me to craft a bitchy and devastating way with words and teaching me that ridicule was the most powerful weapon in any social commentator’s arsenal.
Damian took me for dinner with politicians at Brooks’s, a gentlemen’s club in St James’s. He loved to show off his connections and the fact that despite being a grammar school boy from Reading he had managed to get into rarefied social circles in London. He gave me experience as a research assistant on a book he was writing. He got me a job as an assistant and speechwriter to a brilliant but unstable celebrity. He got me a job writing for the Telegraph about technology, and advising the paper on digital strategy.
He even coached me through family dramas, such as when I gave up my mother’s maiden name and chose to go by Yiannopoulos, my father’s name, because at the time I loathed my mother and wanted to sever any connection to her. Some decades my senior, Damian was in many ways a surrogate father.
But my chaotic relationship with Damian took a dark turn. I began staying in his Notting Hill apartment for long stretches of time and noticed that he would use Valium late at night before making long, conspiratorial phone calls.
Damian was and is a powerful and influential figure with an intimidating personal network – he is on first name terms with everyone a young conservative journalist might idolize – but he had bizarre fetishes which, then, in my naïveté, I didn’t fully realize were sexual in nature. Most strikingly, he had a thing for younger men in glasses. He showed me a website called the Eye Scene where other older men, most of them gay, shared this particular fetish.
Men with this sexual preoccupation refer to spectacle prescriptions as though they were bust measurements, enthusing over high diopters and discussing optical effects such as “power rings” (the white parallel lines that appear toward the edges of high-index lenses) and “cut-in” (when you can see the wall behind a person in their glasses due to bending of the light).
Sometimes, Damian would make me get on my hands and knees and pretend to look for my glasses on the floor of his living room. I didn’t dare look back over at him while I was complying with his wishes. Like the posters on the Eye Scene, he got a kick out of seeing young men helpless without their glasses. Afterwards, he would insist that I stayed the night. He had one bed; we shared it.
Over the years he asked endless, repeated questions about his appearance, especially his weight, and was proud that his hair transplants had left him with such a “natural look.” It seems absurd now, but, at the time, it didn’t even occur to me to say No or to step back and realize I needed to get out of this destructive interpersonal dynamic.
Damian would fly into rages if I alluded to any kind of sex life or personal life, if I hung out with people he didn’t approve of or expressed the wrong opinion, or if I gave the impression of relying emotionally or professionally on anyone except him. He would stare at me for hours late at night while he played Beethoven and Bach and buy me white wine from the local supermarket, encouraging me to guzzle bottles of the stuff well into the early hours of the morning “so I was nicer to him.” When I was very drunk, he would try to kiss me. Meanwhile, he would brag about his rich and famous friends, including members of the Royal Family.
By day, Damian was my boss at the Telegraph. What was I supposed to do? Quit my job and lose everything? There was never any full sexual contact between us, but other things did occur late at night on his side of the bed. In the twilight of our tempestuous relationship, he tried to ply me with Valium and cocaine, in the hope, I now realize, that it would loosen me up and I would return his advances. He gave me money and drip-fed me career advances at the newspaper, but he always made sure I knew he could snatch it away at any time. I was alone in London, knew no one and at the time he felt like my only route to success, and my only escape from a desperately unhappy childhood and a miserable relationship. It was terrifying.
One afternoon, Damian took me to his therapist, whom he referred to as his “shrink,” who informed me: “Damian is in love with you.” I had no idea why I’d been taken there in the first place. At that point, I was just doing as I was told. The whole thing felt like a set-up or a bad joke — to what end, I didn’t know. I was by no means the only boy on the scene at that time, but being the least well-connected of the young men he took interest in, I was the one he focused on and humiliated most and kept around him in his flat and in the office where we worked alongside one another.
It has been a long time since I even thought about Damian Thompson and the weird indignities he subjected me to, but hearing about Harvey Weinstein in recent months and considering the imbalance of power between Weinstein and his accusers, it occurred to me that I should tell my story. In particular, I’m sympathetic to how Weinstein’s victims thought he could destroy their careers. I experienced the same anxieties about my harasser. They have been with me for a decade.
When, after years of feeling confused and embarrassed by Damian’s obsessive behaviors, I finally told him there was no hope of a romantic relationship with me, he became uncontrollably angry and set about trying to destroy my career with vague “warnings” to anyone who would listen not to work with me, paranoid allegations that I was lying about who I was and that I could not be trusted — in short, that I was “trouble.” I have never felt more hopeless, more helpless or more alone.
He threatened and insulted me via email and text message, complaining that I had “betrayed” him, and called everyone I had ever met or worked with in London, delivering late-night rants about how I must never be allowed near a newspaper or magazine again and listing my supposed sins. Months after our friendship came to an end, I received calls from people who had been on the receiving end of a two-hour phone call from Damian about me. They told me he sounded unhinged.
I recognized in his repetitive, obsessive attempts at character assassination the personality of the alcoholic: Damian was some years sober, but never wasted the opportunity to draw attention to his past as an addict. He had even written a book on the subject, which I had enthusiastically helped him draft.
Some of what Damian told people was true: he had pounced on me at a time I was immature, emotionally vulnerable and unstable and I had behaved badly. But five years later, I had straightened myself out and was on the path to success in journalism — until I crossed him.
By 2012, I was experiencing professional resistance in Britain, in a media environment that does not readily accommodate iconoclasts. Damian had effectively torpedoed my career in London, as revenge, because I finally plucked up the courage to say No. Suddenly, I was plunged back into the obscurity and loneliness from which he had plucked me. It took me years, and a startup media company of my own that almost bankrupted me, to get my reputation back.
In the years that have passed, I have gone on to terrific success in America, but the main reason I drifted from London in the first place was that Damian Thompson systematically alienated every publication I might conceivably have worked at. Recently, as I’ve been planning a UK leg of my tour, having just sold 10,000 seats in Australia this December, I’ve heard that he has renewed his efforts to drag my name through the mud as he is apparently still seething at the rejection.
Writing this, I am risking Damian’s wrath — further aggressive and repeated attempts to destroy my career, my reputation and my friendships. These days he has set aside alcohol only to become addicted instead to feuds, jealousy, bitter recriminations and character assassinations. But sexual harassment and controlling behavior was a constant feature of my life, in and out of the office, for half a decade, thanks to him. Now I’m free from it, and in a happy marriage, safely pursuing my dreams on the other side of the Atlantic, I feel better about sharing my story.
I’m speaking up now because Damian abused his power over me and then took cold, calculated revenge for the indignity of being turned down sexually.
I don’t think I’m alone. I happen to know a half-dozen young men working in prominent positions in London media who have experienced much of what I did with Damian. I don’t know if any of the others got as far down the rabbit hole of control and manipulation. But I’m sure they all share my shame and disgust at allowing a powerful and much older man to subject me to his odd proclivities in exchange for professional favors and money.
Even though many people I’ve confided in privately say Damian’s behavior is an open secret in London, he is still associate editor and music critic of a respected conservative magazine and editorial director of a prominent Catholic newspaper.
As anyone who has ever heard the name Milo Yiannopoulos will know already, I’m hardly a paragon of saintly virtue. But I know the difference between sin and evil. Sinning separates us from God; I’ll be working on that my whole life. But evil is the attempt to control other people, especially the vulnerable and powerless, and especially to satisfy something as undignified and frivolous as carnal desire.
Milo Yiannopoulos is an award-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author. He is Editor-at-Large of DANGEROUS.
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