Caution, reservation and introspection — qualities not usually associated with the famously flirty and fun Tim Dormer, who won Australia over as the season 10 champion of Big Brother in 2013 and the runner-up on 2015's Celebrity Apprentice.
But in May, when Dormer was on the brink of making the grand final of Big Brother Canada, coming a step closer to being the first person to win the competition in two countries, Dormer's mind — and heart — was back in Sydney. "I have someone back home I love," he told prying housemates.
Now Dormer is ready to share that someone publicly. "I finally fell in love," Dormer tells WHO exclusively of bar manager Ash Toweel, 27. "I have always been fluid in my sexuality," he says, "I've dated girls, but have always been open to dating guys."
But Toweel, whom he met at a party in 2014, is his first same-sex partner. "I've always been about finding the right person," Dormer says. "It just so happens to be a man."
Although they grew close as friends right away and were "partners in crime," as mutual pal Lisa Dibley puts it, Dormer says he needed the four months away doing Big Brother Canada (he placed third) for him to think about how much he really cared for Toweel. "There was one girl I thought I was in love with but now that I've got this, I'm like, no, that wasn't love," he concedes. "It was special, but it's scary, I guess, because this is very meaningful and I want to protect it."
Looking at Toweel across the lounge room of their tiny apartment in Bondi, Dormer says he thinks he also kept his relationship with Toweel out of the spotlight because he grew up in NSW's Blue Mountains in a big family. "There were so many people in our household of seven," he says, "that you have to share everything and I hated sharing everything! I wanted all my own special things."
He points to the eclectic paintings and furniture around their flat. "It's very me, unusual," Dormer says. "I want everything to be stand-out me. It represents me and I was afraid if I shared Ash with everybody, I was sort of giving him up to everybody else." Dormer sighs and then smiles. "But now I'm a bit more mature," he adds, "and I'm like, you know what? It's good to share."
Toweel hopes their relationship inspires others as both become active in supporting marriage equality. "I think younger generations are lucky it's just getting better and better," Toweel says. "They will get to grow up where hopefully it isn't a thing and you can bring home whoever you want. It's just the person you love and it's such a positive thing."
Adds Dormer, "Everyone wants to find that special person to spend the rest of their life with. I'm lucky to have found that. Happens to be another man, but it's the same love as any other relationship that identifies as love."
To read more about Dormer and Toweel, their lives together and what's next for Dormer, pick up this week's WHO at newsstands everywhere.