Gok Wan’s autobiography THROUGH THICK & THIN is in stores now. Here’s a small extract so you can see what his amazing life has been all about.
The Big Time
The next six months were insane! The second series of How To Look Good Naked became one of the most talked-about TV shows in the country: we must have garnered more column inches than a Katie Price wedding!
The newspapers and magazines loved it, the online bloggers loved it; even some of the critics who had doubted the first series were now backpedalling and praising the programme.
Carol’s telephone was ringing off the hook. Offers seemed to come flooding in from every direction. Clients wanted me to open shopping centres, speak at charity shows, attend premieres and endorse washing machines, hair products, glasses, clothes and underwear. Carol and I would joke together that there wasn’t a part of my body that couldn’t sell a product. I trusted her judgement in the things that we chose to do: she advised me on what I should accept and what wasn’t right for me.
We remained selective about the clients we chose to work with, as we didn’t want to sell out to the industry and Iwanted to retain my integrity. I became a spokesman for SpecSavers, who sponsored the show, and wrote a book to tie in with the programme, also called How To Look Good Naked.
It wasn’t just the commercial market that wanted to speak to us. Paul O’Grady wanted me on his sofa, Gordon Ramsay wanted me in his kitchen and even the prime minister wanted me in his home. I couldn’t believe it. The fat, bullied kid from Leicester was now one of the most wanted boys in the country – how fabulous!
Along with all the excitement of success and the buzz of feeling wanted, I realised that my fame had hit a level no one could have expected. I would get stopped anywhere and everywhere I went and be asked for my autograph, a photo and, in many cases, advice. ‘What dress shape am I?’ women would ask. ‘I’m going to a party on Saturday, what do you think I should wear?’
It felt like the country had taken ownership of the show. How To Look Good Naked was about real people for real people, so everyone felt they had a piece of it. In many ways I agreed with them – it was their show! We couldn’t do it without our wonderful ladies, their friends and families and the members of the public whose opinions we canvassed or who attended the catwalk shows.
I think that my accessibility came from the fact that I didn’t put on a performance that turned me into a different person – I was simply myself. In theory this was a good idea, but in reality it had its drawbacks. For one thing, everyone who had seen the show felt as if they knew me. I loved meeting fans and talking to them. I didn’t say no to autographs and pictures as a rule, because I understood that I had a responsibility to the people who were my viewers – without them, I wouldn’t have my career – so I always tried to be friendly and approachable, and I often indulged in a bit of chitchat.
People were generally lovely to me – friendly and complimentary about the show and how much they loved it. The viewers had quickly picked up on my language. I’d always talked on the show as I would in real life. I called breasts ‘bangers’ and told my ladies we were going to use ‘knicker know-how’. This became the public’s way of communicating with me. I was standing on Oxford Street one day when a taxi drove past me with two women hanging out of the window, both with their tops pulled up showing their bras, screaming, ‘Grab my BANGERS, Auntie Gok!’ I laughed for about a week!
But fame had started to change the dynamics of my friendships. It was now impossible to go on a night out with mates and not be approached all evening for autographs and pictures. Rightly, my friends were frustrated with the constant attention I was getting. They weren’t jealous of the fame, they simply didn’t want to share the time we had together with the rest of the country.
While I tried to be polite and do what I could for people who wanted autographs and photos, sometimes it just wasn’t possible because I had a life to live as well. One night, E’lain and I had gone out for a drink and ended up having an argument as we stood on Shaftesbury Avenue. It was pretty intense and we were trying to work things out, both of us in tears, when a couple stopped and asked if they could have their picture taken with me.
They could see we were both upset, but it didn’t stop them. For the first time I said no, saying I was sorry but it was a really bad time. The man called me a wanker and as they walked off, the woman said, ‘I knew he wasn’t like he is on TV, what a fucking fake!’ I couldn’t believe it and was left even more upset than I had been in the first place. I realised that fame had now eaten its way into my personal life. After this episode, I promised myself I would do as much as humanly possible to protect my family and friends from this new world of mine.
For more information on Gok’s autobiography visit www.randomhouse.com.au