Neil Darish is all about self-reliance. Known as the unofficial “Mayor” of McCarthy, Darish is the biggest land owner in a ghost town that rests, literally, on the edge of the Alaska state line. In the winter, McCarthy has a population of about 40 residents. Completely off the road system, Darish is McCarthy’s local entrepreneur, (the Lisa Vanderpump of the Arctic, if you will). He owns the only bar, the only store and the only hotel in town (if you can call it a town). And soon, once his master plan is complete, he will be the only supplier of electricity to a community that has long since been off the grid. It is no wonder that Discovery Channel snapped him up as a lead character for Edge of Alaska (airing Fridays at 10 p.m.), part of their growing repertoire of Alaska themed reality shows. The only thing they forgot to mention is: Neil Darish is gay. Queerty contributor Clark Harding flew to Anchorage, drove 10 hours down a dirt road in to the wilderness; then hiked across a footbridge and stayed in a cabin with no running water. Just to talk with Darish about what it’s like to be, possibly, the only openly gay frontiersman.
Queerty: When I think of deep wilderness or Alaska bush communities, I honestly have some stereotypes of my own. Like small mindedness and rampant homophobia. Has being openly gay in the wilderness ever been a problem?
Neil Darish: Never for me. Look, self reliance is a critical similarity between every Alaskan on these shows. It’s a core value. It has nothing to do with your political or religious views. We aren’t redneck, Republican, gun toting anarchists, because we live in an outlaw town. We live in a place where we can take care of our own. So [McCarthy] doesn’t attract people who are intolerant, it attracts people who are self reliant enough that they can be tolerant.
Really? The Alaska Dispatch News recently reported some dude came after you with a gun.
That had nothing to do with me being gay. As you’ll also read in that Alaska Dispatch article, the people of McCarthy came to my rescue. McCarthy is very different than the outside world. As we are an isolated community, we have few options for government protection that would normally be found in any other town. While most can call 911, run inside, lock their door and wait for help, we sometimes are put in the position where we are forced to confront danger and resolve it on the spot. A gunman coming after me brings out the entire town and shows how much of a close-knit community we truly are — one that takes care of their own. Regardless of how someone feels about me, they will protect their fellow citizens against danger, coercion or lawlessness.
No. I’ve been out since my 20s. I came out when I found a partner, who brought me here. So coming to Alaska actually jived with coming out. And as long as I’ve been in Alaska I’ve been out. Ironically, though, it’s this town [of McCarthy] that kind of destroyed that relationship.
I’m curious to know why your sexuality isn’t a plot point on the show?
Mostly, I think because I don’t have anyone in my life. I mean if I had a significant other, then that would raise the question of why aren’t they on the show. But I’m single so…
But did it ever come up with Discovery when they were considering you as a character?
When I was first approached by Kate Purcell who is a casting director, one of the conversations I had early on was like “Just so you know I’m a gay guy and as far as I know there really are no gay people on Discovery, and I hope you’re not asking me to be someone I’m not.” And they were like “No no no we don’t care!” And then I pointed to a bunch of other publications in which I am out. Namely The Road To McCarthy which describes me and my ex partner, two gay guys building a lodge in the middle of nowhere. And then another called The Pilgrims Wilderness, a very tragic story about McCarthy’s history and I am outed very early on in the book.
You’re not from McCarthy. Why did you choose McCarthy and how did you get here?
When I grew up on the East Coast my dad had a salvage yard. And I loved it, all this cool old stuff. Fast forward when I met my partner, he actually grew up here in McCarthy. Within the first year of our relationship we made a visit and I looked around and was like, “Woah! Look at all this cool old stuff.” And this was before there was an Antique’s Road Show. Plus you got this cool ghost town, surrounded by mountains, in Alaska? I was just over the top enthralled.
Watch a clip from Edge of Alaska below.