Me, Myself and I: Steve Wardlaw of Emerald Life

Steve is is the chairman of Emerald Life, the first insurance company set up to offer equality to the LGBT+ community. He loves watching the 1956 film, The Court Jester while eating cheese Doritos and taramasalata and did drag for the first time at his 50th birthday.

Where are you from originally?

Not far from London – Shepperton – home of the studios. But I think it was more glamorous in the 60s when people like Sean Connery lived there.

And where do you live now? 

In Hackney and in an oast house in Kent, with my husband Ian and our two dogs Calvin and Jasper (who sometimes appear in Emerald ads). We lived in Moscow for eight years from 2004, and after that we needed somewhere surrounded by fields just to decompress.

What do you love about London and why?

It’s unique – I’ve worked in various cities in my time (New York, Moscow, Riyadh, Istanbul) and there’s nothing like the community spirit that you see in London – it’s 20 years since the Admiral Duncan attack and I remember work colleagues and friends all pulling round and making sure everyone was safe.

Can you tell us what Emerald Life can offer LGBT+ people, that other companies don’t?

We are the first insurer ever to be set up to offer equality to the LGBT+ community. From policies, to call centres, to imagery, we make no assumption as to gender, sexuality or family structure. Last year we were the first travel insurer where you don’t have to declare your HIV status without paying more for that ‘privilege’. And we are still the only insurer to include discrimination cover in policies. The whole sector is run by straight white men and we need to change that.

And about the new charity you have set up? 

The Emerald 50Fund was set up to provide support to grassroots LGBT+ and women’s groups globally – our first program is in Southern Africa, working to empower LGBT+ groups in townships in Cape Town. And customers can help for free – when you buy a policy you can just ask for 5% of the premium to go into the fund. Just write in 50FUND and we do the rest. We’ll post more after the program’s launch in the summer.

What was the last theatre show you saw, where, and what did you think of it?

Maggie Smith in A German Story – 100 minutes of amazing monologue. She is still a tour de force and I’d never seen her live before. 

What is your guilty pleasure and why?

Watching Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester, a 1956 film. I can’t watch it with Ian in the house as I must have watched it 30 times. And of course, while eating cheese Doritos and taramasalata….

Biggest extravagance?

Flying business class – I was too spoiled when I ran a law firm.

Best gift you’ve ever received?

From my husband – a bunch of flowers after we first met with a card that had some Celine Dion lines and his name. I still have the card. The office manager was SO embarrassed giving me flowers sent by a man. But it was 1994; things were very different then.

What has been the highlight of your career so far and why?

Career? Can I alter that and say winning a silver medal at the Gay Games in Amsterdam (1998) for Latin American ballroom dancing? If it has to be a career highlight, then launching Emerald Life of course, when almost the whole insurance sector said it wouldn’t work and there was no need for it.

If you could go back in time which year would you choose and why?

I would love to have been in the court of Louis XIV – all gold and wigs. Except they used to shit in the corners of rooms. Nice. 

What’s the best party you’ve ever been to and what made it so good?

My 50th earlier this year – for the first (and only?) time, I did drag, and sang with a band. I know I enjoyed it, not sure what my friends thought. At least I was enthusiastic.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Don’t give up – and learn why you failed.

Who is your LGBT+ hero and why?

Michael Cashman. He shows how easy it is to be a campaigner all your life, in many different guises. Those of us who are, ahem, slightly older lived through a period of dramatic change for LGBT+ representation and rights, and Michael was at the forefront, both onscreen and offscreen.

Who are the most entertaining people you follow on social media? 

For fun, James Barr (@imjamesbarr) – one half of the podcast A Gay and A Non-Gay, and Tom Hayes (@positivelad) – HIV campaigner, mixologist and lover of cruising. For serious stuff Wes Streeting MP and Jess Phillips MP – can they please run the Labour Party?

Where in the world would you like to visit before you die and why? 

We already have a place in Cape Town, where we go spring and autumn. It’s the most beautiful country I have been too, and that’s what the Emerald 50Fund’s first campaign is in townships there.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

Two sets of winning lottery numbers, but all in all just that, mostly, the LGBT+ community is a force for good when we come together and fight. There will always be those who are against us but together we are truly something to be reckoned with.

Get more information on Emerald Life and the 50Fund at

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