Sion Daniel Young: ‘I can’t believe it’s taken until 2024 for a Welsh bilingual drama on primetime’

Sion Daniel Young stars as Gabriel in new BBC drama ‘Lost Boys & Fairies’  (Pip)
Sion Daniel Young stars as Gabriel in new BBC drama ‘Lost Boys & Fairies’ (Pip)

If you’re a young, talented actor thriving in London’s West End, what could convince you to move back home to Cardiff? Sion Daniel Young starred as Albert Narracott in the National Theatre’s production of War Horse, and Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – then he returned to Wales. A first language Welsh speaker, born in Cardiff, Young believed in the appeal of stories from his homeland. Sticking by his roots, he played Gethin in BBC3’s 2019 drama The Left Behind – a rare TV role that allowed him to keep his accent. Now he’s set to star in BBC One’s first ever primetime bilingual English/Welsh drama: Lost Boys & Fairies.

“I just can’t believe it’s taken until 2024 until we’ve gotten to that point,” Young, 34, says over Zoom from his South Wales home as he rushes to grab a navy fleece to keep warm. “Welsh is a minority language, especially compared to English,” he says. “People are getting more interested in the minorities in a way that they haven’t been in the past. Watching subtitles. All of a sudden that frees you up as a creative. There’s an appetite to see different people’s lives on screen.”

Lost Boys & Fairies breaks ground in more ways than one. Drawn from the Welsh playwright and screenwriter Daf James’ own experience of adopting three children with his husband, the show marks BBC One’s first primetime gay adoption drama. Young’s character Gabriel and his partner Andy, played by Irish actor Fra Fee (Cabaret, Hawkeye), have their trauma rifled through by their social worker Jackie who is tasked with deciding whether they’re stable enough to have a child.

Sion Daniel Young and Fra Fee in ‘Lost Boys & Fairies’ (BBC)
Sion Daniel Young and Fra Fee in ‘Lost Boys & Fairies’ (BBC)

“Daf calls adopting ‘parenting plus’,” says Young, who researched his Lost Boys part by talking endlessly to the show’s writer about his own experiences of the adoption system. “You’re not really starting from a blank slate. You’re having to manage very young children coming from different situations – a lot of them traumatic – alongside being a parent,” he explains.

Young isn’t a parent. He’s also not gay. But despite the likes of Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies saying straight actors should not play gay roles, the actor sees the desire to start a family with somebody you care for as universal. “It’s just love between two people who are so desperate to root for each other and for everything to be OK,” he says. “If I wasn’t the person Daf James wanted, then I wouldn’t be playing the part. It’s really straightforward for me.”

Andy and Gabriel love one another with enviable generosity. When Gabriel buckles under the pressure of the adoption process and drinks to oblivion, Andy sits on the bathroom floor to rub his back while he’s sick into the toilet, without judgement. After Andy threatens to leave Gabriel if he doesn’t put effort into the adoption process, the latter takes the leap – despite his fears. They push one another over every unexpected hurdle with mutual exasperation, a side-eyed smile, and sex.

Above all else, James wanted irresistible chemistry between his lead actors – the kind of spark that casting director Lauren Evans knew Young and Fee had, despite the pair only meeting for the first time the night before their first script read through. “We felt it straight away,” says Young of their connection. “My favourite scenes were anything Gabe and Andy based. And I have such a lush relationship with Fra now because of this journey we’ve gone through.”

Young and Fee as Gabriel and Andy in ‘Lost Boys & Fairies’ (Simon Ridgway/BBC/Duck Soup Films)
Young and Fee as Gabriel and Andy in ‘Lost Boys & Fairies’ (Simon Ridgway/BBC/Duck Soup Films)

In March 2023, there were 83,840 children in care or on the adoption pathway, according to the latest government figures. Yet, in 2022, just 2,950 children were adopted. When Gabriel and Andy arrive at an adoption activity day – a mixer where potential parents try and establish a “connection” with a child – they’re handed a brochure of potentials. Young’s character quickly narrows their options down by dismissing all disabled children. “There’s no way we’d ever take her on,” he says of a small brunette girl with a visual impairment.

“There’s some people that will find that a bit uncomfortable, how dismissive Gabe can be,” Young, who trained as an actor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland​​, acknowledges. “He is being fairly cutthroat. But Gabe is scared. He’s being really honest about what he genuinely feels he’s capable of… I think it’s brave for Daf to put that in.”

Young’s character has his own demons to contend with: internalised homophobia, the trauma of losing his mother as a child, recovery from intense drug use and alcoholism, a strained relationship with his father, and a string of dark sexual encounters. Despite the show comprising just three taut episodes, its plot is packed. “Gabe is really flawed,” Young says. “We don’t shy away from that. That’s the journey. Where he starts is hopefully a very different place to where he ends up.”

A “coming of middle-age” story, Lost Boys hopes to show how easily even the most progressive people can become sticks in the mud. In one scene, Celyn, a non-binary character who works with Gabriel at the club Neverland, schools him on the semantics behind the Welsh term for gay after Gabriel claims the language is homophobic. During the discussion, he repeatedly gets their pronouns wrong. “You can’t just be stagnant and say I’ve learnt all I want to learn, this is me,” says Young. “It’s that acceptance that things will continue to shift. You make a choice whether you batten down the hatches and go, ‘No, I’m good’, or if you’re brave enough to be open and embrace new experiences and the way young people want to live their lives.”

Young as Gabriel at the Neverland club in ‘Lost Boys & Fairies’ (Simon Ridgway/BBC/Duck Soup Films)
Young as Gabriel at the Neverland club in ‘Lost Boys & Fairies’ (Simon Ridgway/BBC/Duck Soup Films)

Another of Gabriel’s biggest learning curves comes when he eventually agrees to meet his adopted son Jake’s birth mother Becky (Gwyneth Keyworth) who lost her son as the result of domestic violence. “Look at you,” she says to him through tears during a 13-minute long scene. “Look at your kind face.”

“We shot that scene all day. Just that one scene. In full,” says Young of his most emotional time on set. “You don’t get scenes of that length on telly. People get scared of it. They think it’s too theatrical. They think the conversation should be short and sharp. Daf isn’t afraid to let characters talk. Days like that are really special but also really tough. You have to try and practise to let stuff like that go. But it does linger with you.”

Many of Young’s previous parts have had the propensity to linger. In 2021, he was cast in Channel 4’s Deceit as the man accused of murdering Rachel Nickell in 1992. Colin Stagg’s life was destroyed after a honey trap investigation concluded he had stabbed Nickell in front of her three-year-old son on Wimbledon Common, South London, in 1992, despite a severe lack of evidence. Stagg was later acquitted, with Scotland Yard issuing an apology over the conviction.

“I never really concentrated on whether he was likeable,” says Young of taking on the role. “I just saw a man who had gone through something unimaginable and horrific. Pre-social media, if your face was on the papers, you were the most famous person in the country. Imagine going through something like that,” he adds. “[Stagg] is a remarkably strong individual with the strength to carry on when other people would have tried to find a way out.”

Young as accused killer Colin Stagg in ‘Deceit’ (Channel 4)
Young as accused killer Colin Stagg in ‘Deceit’ (Channel 4)

With the release of Lost Boys & Fairies, Young’s career has reached a satisfying full circle. The 34-year-old’s first job, nearly 15 years ago, was as the star of another of James’ projects: Sherman Cymru: Llwyth (Tribe) – the first play about gay characters written by a queer person on a Welsh-language stage. When James contacted Young about Lost Boys over a decade later, he leaped at the opportunity because “they are genuinely the best scripts I’ve ever read”.

Young wants the biggest takeaway from his latest project to be empathy. “Every character is affected by what’s come before,” he says. “People can be very quick to judge without knowing someone’s history. Hopefully, this show will make people go, ‘Maybe I should open up a bit more.’ Stay open. Welcome change. Engage with change. Get to know how you feel about something, rather than dismissing progress out of hand instantly.” Looking past the camera and cupping his chin in thought, Young says, “Gabe’s biggest issue is that he rejects it all. Equally, he pushes his past down and down and down. At some point, of course, it’s going to come to the surface and blow up.”

Lost Boys & Fairies is coming to BBC One and iPlayer on 3 June at 9pm