For PEOPLE’s 2021 Pride issue, Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness and Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan open up about chosen family
Jonathan Van Ness and Nicola Coughlan are major #FriendshipGoals.
For the 2021 Pride issue, PEOPLE spoke to LGBTQ stars about their chosen family, and Van Ness hopped on a Zoom call with Coughlan to open up about their deep bond that quickly transcended friendship.
Before they became friends, the pair were fans of one another. He loved her work as Clare Devlin on Derry Girls, and she — like the rest of the world — was instantly enthralled by the benevolent, non-binary super-hairstylist on Queer Eye.
“Queer Eye had just come out, and I was like, ‘I don’t know who that person is, but I love that person,'” Coughlan, who was so taken with the new self-care guru that she got his face screen-printed on a sweatshirt, recalls to PEOPLE.
After Coughlan tagged Van Ness in a photo of the sweatshirt, the stars, both 34, became fast friends on Instagram in 2018.
“Our friendship really is just so special to me because Nicola’s been in this industry for a minute, and I haven’t, and there’s just been so many times where I had questions and didn’t know what to do, and needed feedback,” Van Ness says. “She’s helped me navigate all sorts of situations that I never thought I’d find myself in.”
The duo finally met in person a year later when Coughlan visited New York City, where they went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child together on Broadway. During the play’s intermission, Van Ness — who was working on his memoir at the time — told the Bridgerton actress that he wanted to publicly reveal his HIV diagnosis.
“A lot of folks in my orbit were like, ‘Are you sure?’ But Nicola has consistently been so supportive,” Van Ness says. “We are consistently there for each other.”
Adds Coughlan: “It felt like we had met before. It just felt like we’d been friends forever. Then our friend groups just sort of melded together.”
Indeed, while COVID-19 kept them physically separated (he in the U.S., she in the U.K.), Van Ness and Coughlan’s bond has only grown stronger during the pandemic.
They stayed in touch with regular Zoom catch-ups and game nights, which included Van Ness’ husband Mark Peacock, his aunt Julie (the “original JVN,” whom Coughlan calls “the most legendary person in the world”), Coughlan’s sister and various friends.
“The fact that our friends and family know one another and have love for one another — that’s incredibly special, and it’s rare in the world. It just means so, so much, honestly,” Coughlan says.
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