Celebrity-obsessed tabloids are a big part of popular culture in the United Kingdom. Papers like The Sun and Daily Mail have for decades been known not only for being even more aggressive and salacious, but also for being far more influential and widely-read than their American counterparts.
One family from England has been living in Tampa for nearly three years, but still can’t escape the gaze of their native country’s tabloid media, even as they go relatively unrecognized in the U.S.
“A VERY MODERN FAMILY: Britain’s first gay dads have split after 32 years together — after one fell for their daughter’s boyfriend,” reads the customarily sprawling, recent headline from The Sun, referring to Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow who until recently lived on Bayshore Boulevard with their five children. The story has also appeared in Metro, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and tabloids written in Italian, Spanish and Dutch in the past few days.
Barrie and Tony first came into the public eye in England when, after a legal decision, they became the first same-sex couple in Europe to appear together on a birth certificate as parents. They used an egg donor and a surrogate.
Saffron and Aspen, non-identical twins, were born in 1999. Four years later, another surrogate gave birth to Orlando, who is Aspen’s identical twin, despite being four years younger. The fertilized egg that led to Aspen’s birth split into two eggs, and one was frozen and used later. The men also have two younger twin boys.
The couple met in 1987 when Tony was a dermatologist engaged to an heiress. The Drewitt-Barlows are reportedly now worth tens of millions from their business ventures, including Princeton Consumer Research, a consumer cosmetics testing company with locations in three countries and a headquarters in St. Petersburg. They own several properties in the Tampa area, including a 10-acre estate in Lithia.
Barrie said over the past 20 years the family has appeared in five documentaries and a reality series aired on Sky TV in the United Kingdom, and that in Europe the family is recognized almost everywhere they go. In Tampa it’s limited to encounters with “British holiday makers” who spot them at Tampa International Airport when they go to pick up friends arriving from Europe. He said it’s especially bad "if one of the flights has been showing a repeat of one of the docs or the reality show.”
Barrie also told the Tampa Bay Times the family doesn’t take pleasure in reading the tabloid articles, or send tips to the newspapers themselves.
“No, we don’t all sit together and read them," he wrote by email. “Most of them are boring as hell and only say the same as the last boring article! ... What do I get out of you lot hanging around my front door and hassling my kids?”
He also said the family, which maintains a website with bios of each family member, links to their social media pages, and a contact button for the media, isn’t actively trying to be famous in the U.S.
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“We moved to the U.S. to get away from most of that s--t. But it does follow you wherever you go,” he said. “But not as bad, and the kids are able to do so much more here than in the U.K. in terms of not being recognized locally. Which we like at the moment.”
He said that the family loves living in Tampa, which is less pretentious and has less “stuck up morals” than England. “I always thought becoming a multi millionaire would get us into that society but the truth is, nobody is ever good enough in England,” he said. “They are envious of success not happy for you to have it. So here we are. Living the life.”
The family often participates in the stories that appear in the British tabloids, which in recent months have included pieces on Tony’s cancer diagnosis and on Saffron, dubbed by the papers as “the ultimate daddy’s girl,” and her lavish lifestyle and $6,000 allowance.
Barrie said he talks to reporters because the stories are going to be written regardless of whether they participate. He said the recent Sun story, which details his split from Tony, and his new relationship with Scott Hutchison, 25, who it was reported had previously dated his daughter Saffron, came after he was contacted by a reporter who said they’d been given a tip.
“There were a lot of untruths in the information she had, and they were going to run a story anyway,” he said. “It made more sense to actually work with her to get the truth out.”
Barrie, 50, said the family has moved out of the Bayshore mansion, but they still all live together locally. The household includes his boyfriend Scott and his still-legal husband Tony, 55, who has given them his blessing. A post on Saffron’s Instagram said, “Scott told me he was gay years ago, and I agreed to help him keep his secret by pretending to be his girlfriend.”
Barrie said a new reality show is “in the pipeline” and will feature the whole family, “including my sick ex-husband.” He sent a link to what appears to be a pilot for the show.