Gok Wan on love, fashion, eating disorders and overcoming demons - star speaks ahead of Birmingham and Stafford shows (with video clips shot from his living room)
From growing up on a Leicester council estate, to being a household name - Gok Wan has come a long way in his lifetime.
But the 42-year-old star is now taking on the ultimate challenge; one which he says will leave him ‘the most naked’ he has ever been in his whole career.
So much so, he doesn’t want his parents in the audience for the first tour because ‘they mean the world’ to him, and much of the show covers parts of his childhood.
He is also set to discuss the trials and tribulations of dealing with eating disorders; demons which the star was forced to tackle even while in the public eye on How To Look Good Naked.
“This show will be the first time I have ever discussed how having body confidence issues while filming How To Look Good Naked affected me - even to myself, let alone an audience,” said Gok.
“I haven’t spoken to my family about it. I haven’t spoken to the amazing people who made the programme with me - or even the contributors; those amazing women who shared their stories.
“But I was really struggling. I was very much anorexic when I was still making that programme - in the very early days, anyway.
“And so How To Look Good Naked wasn’t just an incredible programme that helped millions of people around the world, it really helped me.
“I went on those journeys with the women as much as they did.
“The producers didn’t know they were going to get that, Channel 4 didn’t know they were going to get that, I didn’t know I was going to get that; which is what I think the success of that programme was. It was real. It was the most real television that I can remember.”
And though he is nervous at the prospect of being so unashamedly open, Gok says he’s very excited about it too.
“Going on stage myself for 90 minutes is really daunting. I don’t have the security of an editor or anything else,” he added.
“This is probably the most naked I have ever been in my entire career really, which is scary and frightening, but also massively exhilarating.”
In addition to body confidence issues, Gok will also discuss his struggle with realising and accepting his identity, as well as his tendency at a young age to make things up in an attempt to make his life more interesting.
“I always suffered with my identity from a really early age,” said Gok.
“Whether that was gaining weight or losing weight, or being effeminate, camp and stuff; always standing out from the crowd.
“If I could speak to my younger self I’d say: ‘Shut up and stop panicking. Just be honest.’
“You know, I was a massive liar when I was younger. I think probably for 15 years of my life I never, ever told the truth.
“It’s because it always felt like lies were going to make me feel prouder of myself and better; a better person. And far more attractive and far more successful and far brighter.
“You know, believe it or not, when I was growing up, my biggest hangup wasn’t being 21 stone, gay and Chinese - it was because I felt stupid.
“And so, I would constantly try and create this weird world, this fairytale world around me that was full of princesses and unicorns and horses and dragons, because all of those felt far more exciting than actually who I thought I was.”
When Gok was asked what he would tell his younger self now, looking back, he added: “I would just tell my younger self ‘you don’t need to do that’. Because actually, you and how you feel about stuff, is good enough. And if you know that, then you will be far happier.
“Having said all of that stuff, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Developing a greater confidence in himself wasn’t just about appearance for Gok; it also allowed him to have conviction in his thoughts and beliefs - something which he says he doubted at points earlier in his life.
“I had about 10 years where I had a real relapse in my political anger. I personally became very afraid of being heard, I was worried what people might think of me,” he said.
“I do have a little bit of guilt about that because I think that I should have been more vocal.
“It’s only really in the last few years that I found my strength again; where I’ve gone ‘actually, I’ve got a job to do here’. I’ve got a profile and people will listen to me - whether or not they believe in what I’m saying - the minute you are on television, you are put in front of people to talk about stuff.
“In the last three - maybe four - years, I’ve really started to be vocal again. Probably more so this year than I’ve ever been in my entire life. And I feel very comfortable with that. I’m confident and I’m willing to take people on with it.”
Furthering his role in the LGBT community, Gok hosted Attitude Magazine Awards in July - an experience which he describes as ‘amazing’ and ‘incredible’.
“It was brilliant just to be around the winners. These people have gone through so much in their lives,” he added.
“People turn around and say ‘why do you need an awards system?’ ‘Why do you need Pride and stuff?’. We need that because these people are showing the rest of the world - especially in Chechnya, and countries where it’s illegal and there’s a death penalty - there’s still 10 countries in the world (that’s millions of people).
“It’s really important these people get recognised and are put on to a platform and a stage for the world to see. It’s very important.”
Though Gok says he is excited about the prospect of opening up, he does fear the possibility of upsetting those he cares about most - his close-knit family.
“I’m really worried about mum and dad being in the audience because they mean the world to me,” said Gok.
“When I wrote the biography in 2009, at the time I thought I was being the most honest I could be. Not that there are any lies in that book. It’s just that I chose certain stories that I felt very comfortable at the time talking about.
“Cut to 2017, eight years later, and I’m almost writing the second autobiography but I’m putting it on stage now.
“There is stuff in there that I just didn’t even know I had the confidence to talk about - or even think about, or admit. All of this stuff in my brain that has now come to the foreground.
“So that stuff’s going to be very difficult for my parents to hear, because it’s going to be stuff that really does involve them, it involves my childhood, how I felt about myself, and all the really dark stuff.
“And also stuff that’s really funny that I’ve never told them that I’ve done. And some of those stories are not good… So it’s going to be very interesting.
“I’m sure they will come, but it would definitely be when I’m ready for them to see it.
“Maybe not in this run. If it does well this tour, then we will go back on tour next year and maybe that’s a good time for them to go and see it.”
While Gok will be exposing himself and laughing at some of his experiences, he has also revealed he will give out a little gossip about the TV industry - and some of its stars.
“When I first agreed to do the show, I said ‘you are not doing an exposé about the business’,” he explained.
“But you know, you sit down and start writing it and all of a sudden, you start gossiping with yourself and so it’s full of stories of people that I’ve met, people that I’ve dressed.
“You know, they say never meet you idol - we’ll leave it there...
“We actually re-enact quite a bit of it as well, so there are actual genuine conversations in the show that have happened real-time. I’ve tried to include stories that have happened that people then would recognise a moment that I’ve been on television - they might have seen it. “So, for instance, there’s this one story in there about the first interview I did on Jonathan Ross and so, it you ever watched that, then I tell you exactly what happened before I went on camera. So it’s quite interesting and funny because you really do start living it.
“It is quite an exposé really… I’m going to get sued....”
Being as he is a renowned fashion expert, people may think Gok doesn’t commit fashion faux pas - but his opinion is quite the opposite.
“Every single day I commit another fashion faux pas. My approach to my personal fashion is I really, really genuinely don’t care what people think I look like. I don’t worry about it all, so if I like something I’m going to wear it. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
“So faux pas for me are a daily thing. And they’re not really faux pas, they’re ‘faux goods’ because they assist me.
“There was once I wore head-to-toe beige and I looked like an artificial limb... That wasn’t a great day.”
Gok Wan Naked & Baring All is coming to Birmingham Town Hall on November 12, and the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on November 20 - and Gok’s super keen to return to the Midlands.
“I know Stafford, but I know Birmingham very very well,” said Gok.
“I think I probably spent more time in my youth in Birmingham than I did in Leicester.
“It was the better clubs and better shopping.
“I love Birmingham. It’s an absolutely massive city. It’s full of art, it’s full of fashion - and great clubs and bars. I mean, for any righteous gay man, it’s a place you must go.
“I mean, I’m from Leicester. And Leicester was always the smaller, younger sister of Birmingham. So if we wanted to do anything at the weekend, whether that was go out clubbing, or spend the day shopping, when I was younger The Bullring was a really new thing - I know it’s enormous now. But it was a real landmark in the Midlands.
“And as it turns out, over the years, going into television and filming, we spent a lot of time in Birmingham filming How To Look Good Naked and, in fact, the production company was in Birmingham.
“The first panto I did was in Birmingham - and it was the first time, really, properly doing a performance since drama school.
“And it was wonderful because the audiences are loud, they scream and shout and get involved; they’re almost Celtic in their behaviour.
“A very dear friend once said to me ‘the final character in a play is always the audience’.
“And so, if you get that great audience, then you know you can do it - because it’s quite nerve-wracking doing a one-man show, standing up there for 90 minutes and telling a story.
“If the audience doesn’t get involved, it can often feel like you’re talking to a wall.
“You don’t want it to do that, you want it to be animated and loud.
“I’ve got friends from Stafford. And they’ve got some of the most beautiful countryside, I think, in the whole of the UK. Absolutely stunning.”
As well as organising his tour, Gok is the resident fashion expert on ITV’s This Morning - a role which he has held for around three years.
“I love working on This Morning,” added Gok.
“It really is a whole sense of family there, so when you go into work, it is like going to see your mates. It doesn’t actually feel like work at all - and often I forget.
“Often it will get to 12pm and I’ve got to do the fashion item, and I’m like ‘right, OK, I’m working now’. Because I’ve just spent the last three hours talking about boys with Holly, or talking about wine with Philip, or just talking about rubbish with Rylan... Rylan, I love you.
“It’s just one of those things. I really enjoy going in there.
“Especially when you’ve got a hangover (but I never said that).”
Despite working in what could be seen a materialistic industry, Gok remains grounded and down-to-earth - something he says he has his parents to thank for.
“My parents were quite humble about money. It was amazing, because so long as they had enough food to feed us, and enough money to put petrol in the car to get to my nan’s, it kind of didn’t matter.
“It was catering. Not from a tax point of view; but it was a cash-in-hand business, so if the restaurant’s busy then you have a great week. If it’s quiet then you pull it back. It’s as simple as that. So to grow up in that environment was very liberating and very humbling.
“And then, all of a sudden, to then work in a world which is seen as materialistic… You know, my world isn’t that materialistic.
“Even though the fashion industry is about buying stuff and product, and clothes and shoes and accessories, and beauty and it’s worth billions and billions of dollars every single year, actually the part of that world I live in isn’t actually that materialistic. It’s because it’s the sensitive, psychological side.
“So it’s me turning around to a woman who hates her body and showing her how not to hate her body.
“Actually it’s not about those clothes. It doesn’t matter if that piece of clothing is worth £10,000 or it’s worth a fiver; it’s about how that person presents themselves and their own personal branding. So in a weird way, the world that I grew up in is actually no different to the world I work in now.
“It isn’t about money. It’s about happiness and self confidence and self esteem. It’s just a different way of using it.”
But there are downsides to having such aspirational parents; and though Gok clearly adores his parents, and is very close with them, he says their tremendous relationship as a couple can be daunting.
“It’s that level of love and commitment and care - it’s so aspirational. And this is after 152,000 years that they have been together that they’re like this,” he smiled.
“It’s more than holding hands. It’s more than a glance over the kettle. It’s more than silence that feels really comfortable. It’s so overwhelming, their love for one another.
“It’s this desperate need to be together as one, and the moment they’re not together it’s almost as if all of the wires are pulled out and it just goes nowhere.
“They were persecuted by our community when we were growing up, when they got together, with the racist comments. You know, it was back in the day when mixed race relationships weren’t that common or visible.
“The fact that he was Chinese and she was English - people just couldn’t get their heads around it.
“So they went through all of this - with their families as well. They’ve got a lot to prove; their love for one another. And they’re not afraid to show it either, which is amazing - massively aspirational. But hideous for us, because how do we ever have a relationship that compares? Ever?
“There’s not a single relationship I know of in my life as strong as theirs. And so what’s the point of me even trying? I might as well just go and get a couple of burgers, sit in my pants and watch TV - on my own, with the dog.
“It all feels slightly too magical. It’s quite remarkable actually; their relationship.”
Being so into fashion, Gok unsurprisingly has a few pet hates - and though they are small, he is rather passionate about them.
“I’ve got several pet hates. I hate people that wear mobile phones on their belts. I know I’ve spoken about this before, but it’s quite a powerful hate. I might land myself on someone if they’ve got it. My dad does it and I can’t bear it,” he laughed.
“I’m also a little bit funny about a fleece. I don’t know why I’ve got a hatred for a fleece, but I don’t like them. Fleeces annoy me. They carry static, they go bobbly, they’re not attractive. “They’re actually quite useless really, because you can get other product that’s going to keep you warmer than a fleece. It’s just that I hate a fleece. Quite passionately.”
Looking ahead to the show, Gok urged fans to see his tour - adding that it’s full of a whole range of interesting topics.
Fancy a giggle? See Gok's outtakes video here:
“Quite a lot of people have asked me ‘why should you come and see Naked And Baring All?’
It is really, really funny because we don’t hold back. We tell the stories as they are. It’s really informative,” added Gok.
“Also, whether you are interested in the celebrity world, food, fashion, social behaviour, LGBT, rights… Literally, the show is full of everything.
“It’s really weird because I’ve lived quite a large life so far and we’re trying to cram as much in as possible.
“But mainly because it’s a right old laugh and it’s really, really cheeky. It’s probably a little bit blue for anyone below the age of 16, I would say.
“But it’s just really, really fun.
“I’m really proud of it so far and I think putting it on to the stage will be a real experience.”