Ahead of his Naked & Baring All tour landing at The Apex in November, TV's fashion guru Gok Wan talks about style, bullies, studying magic and not being able to sit still
So Gok, this autumn you are off round the country with your new show, Naked & Baring All. Without giving too much away, tell me a bit about what audiences can expect.
I describe the Naked & Baring All Tour as the truth behind the truth – all the stuff I haven’t talked about in the past. The show will be full of surprises and will be quite
In 2009 I wrote my autobiography Through Thick And Thin. I put it down and walked away for nearly a decade. Then, when I was asked if I wanted to do the stage show, I picked it up and read it back and realised that there was a lot about my life that I had not revealed and I felt it was time!!
Will much of the material you discuss be new to your fans?
I haven’t discussed a lot of the stories with friends and family and actually some of it I haven’t discussed with myself before! They have been locked up in a file in my brain called memories which had been mislaid over the years. Naked & Baring All will give audiences the chance to learn a huge amount about who I really am. It’s going to be really funny, emotional and ridiculous and packed with anecdotes. There will be laughter and tears – a real mix of emotions.
Are you going to talk about your whole life or just specific parts of it? What will the structure be and will the audience have a chance to ask you questions?
Myself and my director Owen Lewis, who is brilliant, funny and actually quite hot, came up with the idea to use the different tools that I’ve used in my career as the basis for Naked & Baring All. So there will be lots about fashion, body shape, style, cooking, that kind of thing but there will be other surprises.
There is a lot to cover –you’ve done so much! How will you condense it all?
If I did my whole life I’d be on stage for a week! We’re still devising it and as I work visually, at the moment I’ve got this massive spider graph with way too much stuff on it. Owen and I will pick stuff out that either makes him laugh, cry or wince and that’s the stuff we need.
But as you say, how do you cover someone’s life in 90 minutes? At the moment I’m trying to hit four buzz points. Firstly it needs to be more honest than I’ve ever been. Secondly, it needs to show a side of my personality that I have never given out on screen before – which is 'who is the real me'. Thirdly, it has to be inspiring – there is life after anorexia, the bullying and so on. And finally, it has to be fun – it’s got to have all the humour in there, because you know, life is really funny. Every single day stupid and ridiculous things happen to us all and I think they are sometimes the most valuable anecdotes to give out to people because it’s the stuff that people can empathise with straight away.
So will there be any gossip in the show?
Yes lots of gossip and lots of secrets but you’ll have to come along to find out! I have had a very colorful life – let’s put it that way!
What do you hope audiences will take away from it?
I hope audiences will have a lot of fun, and get a real sense of anything is possible in life.
Tell me about How To Look Good Naked. You inspired thousands of people and helped them feel good about themselves in all sorts of ways. It really catapulted you to the big time and made you a household name.
It was really successful, incredible, just a great show. We did six series and I loved it. We went out on a massive high as we were still getting great figures and if Channel 4
said let’s do some more, I would make it again in a heartbeat. The show still regularly runs in the UK and overseas.
Was it a career highlight?
Of course it’s been one of my career highlights, but I have been very lucky and worked on so many different and exciting projects – Gok’s Fashion Fix, Gok’s Style Secrets, Gok’s Clothes Roadshow and lots of others, such as Gok Cooks Chinese and the documentaries.
Originally you wanted to be an actor and went to Central School of Speech and Drama. How did you make the leap from acting to being a stylist and being on TV?
I realised I wasn’t cut out to be a classical actor. When I was training I wanted to do Shakespeare, Chekhov and Brecht and be out there performing at the Globe and the National, but over the years I realised it just wasn’t me. I have a skill at doing a different kind of performing on stage, which is often centered around humour and cheekiness, which fits perfectly with panto and you see that on TV a bit.
You settled in London – what jobs did you do before you landed How To Look Good Naked?
I did lots of different jobs. I was a recruitment consultant, worked in restaurants, bars, lots of different things and then I fell into hair and make-up – which is a big part of the show so I won’t tell you now – you’ll have to come along and find out!
Did being a stylist come naturally?
I think taste comes naturally, but styling is like any art form. It is entirely subjective. But you have to learn the technical side of styling – the relationship you have with PRs and designers, understanding how far you can push it with a client and understanding the logistics of building a business around it. Also, learning social media, your personal brand, accounts and how you do get repeat business, or a new client, all of that stuff you don’t get taught at college. I had taste, and I think I’ve got taste, but had to learn the other stuff as well.
You’ve styled a huge number of people over the years, is there anyone you would like to style?
When I was younger working as a stylist I always wanted to dress people. But I don’t really have those thoughts anymore. I really enjoy makeovers. They are the things that I get a lot of buzz out of, dressing real people with real bodies and real self-confidence issues. For me, it’s far more empowering than dressing a celebrity as they can afford any of the clothes they want, they have a body a trainer has given them and they eat nothing but dust for months on end. So for me, it’s not as fulfilling and I’d much rather be with Barbara from Bolton – it’s great because you get to meet real people. All the stuff that comes out of a makeover is just gold. A lot of them are terrified though as it’s a really intimidating thing. Most people I dress are worried and afraid, but it’s my job to show them it’s for the best. It’s also my job to show them how to use these new tools and how they find the confidence with them.
You’ve recently been to Graduate Fashion Week -– do you get inspired by the next generation?
I love going to Graduate Fashion Week. The students are the best part of the fashion industry. They are the next generation of talent with their creativity. It’s amazing to be part of their ambitions. A lot of them come up and say how I’ve inspired them, so it’s great from a mentoring point of view too. When you are surrounded by 1,000 fashion students just about to embark on the most exciting part of their career, I love being part of that. It makes me feel great and reminds me of where I’ve come from so it’s wonderful.
Who were the people that inspired you and who are the people who’ve been most influential in your life?
I’ve had a lot of mentors in my life. My agent Carol is amazing and taught me about business, about standing up for what I believe in and a lot about doing the jobs I don’t want to do. Also Linda Leeming, who sadly passed away two years ago. She was a stylist, though originally a fashion PR back in the day, and was brilliant. She shaped my career. I worked for her as a make-up artist on a lot of her shoots and she taught me the ropes on styling. She was a great inspiration for me.
But the biggest influencers have been the bullies. You know I thank every single one of them because had they not done all of that stuff and made me feel that way, I would never have found the confidence I have now. It drove my success. Absolutely – my biggest inspiration has been my bullies. I credit them with everything I have achieved.
You are going to do panto again this year, in Milton Keynes.
Yes, I’m doing Cinderella, working with Brian Conley again. We are a little bit like the ultimate panto duo, which is a bit of an odd one really! He’s incredible and genuinely one of the most talented people I’ve ever met in my entire life. His comedy control and audience control, his timing, energy and charisma are unbelievable. It requires a real skill set to do panto and the masters, the likes of Brian Conley, their skill set is so enormous and so brilliant I have got nothing but absolute respect
With so much going on in your life with all the things you do and the projects you are involved in, how do you find time to relax?
I hate rest, sleeping and days off! I’m not keen on holidays but I do try and have one night off a week to relax and I will run a bath, light some candles, put the TV on, then I will get a book – I’m quite a restless person and find it really difficult to relax.
I’m really fortunate that I still love my job, it drives me nuts sometimes but I still love what I do. I also have hobbies, stuff that I’m really interested in, though I’m not very good at just having a hobby because it always turns into something bigger. For instance, some people are quite happy buying a lump of clay and make an ashtray for their living room. I’m not happy with that as I’d want to create a vase to go into Tate Modern! I’m just one of those people who is very proactive and I’m very ambitious. And that keeps me very busy as well. There will be another project next week that I’ll start doing and set myself a ridiculous goal of getting it somewhere.
So what are your hobbies?
Fashion is my job, DJing, painting and magic are my hobbies. I have always drawn and sketched and I find it very relaxing. I am also studying with a magic teacher and learning some card tricks. I have lessons whenever I can fit them in.
So what’s next after the tour and after panto this Christmas?
I’ve got a couple of goals next year. I am in talks for a new fashion project which is being developed at the moment. I’d like to take the Naked & Baring All show out to more places next year, including internationally – places that we’ve worked in already like Poland, Holland, Australia and Canada and Asia.
I think the next thing though will be a business – I really fancy a restaurant or nightclub. If it’s a restaurant it will be Asian food, though I’m not sure where it will be. All I know is I’m starting to get those butterflies about it and once I get them I know it’s the right thing to do.