Last week I was lucky enough to interview stylist, author, TV presenter and all-round national treasure Gok Wan. Yes, I’ve been bleating on about this on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook since the day itself – I’ve finally got it written up and on the blog!
There was so much chat and interesting stuff we spoke about that I’ve had to split it into two parts rather than cutting it down too drastically into one… and believe me, I’ve already cut it down a lot.
Along with four other bloggers, I was invited by Activia UK as a VIP to their Feel Good From Within campaign event in Westfield, London where Gok was making a special appearance and did a meet-and-greet with the public. The four of us were given the chance to interview him (we also got to eat a lot of yoghurt).
Everyone had the chance to have their photo taken with Gok holding up their board declaring what makes them “Feel Good From Within” – as you can see from the photo mine was connected to my best features post and my newly-launched Accentuate the Positive Project on Facebook, so it tied in really nicely… Activia’s feel good message is actually very similar to mine.
Activia had originally offered us 15 minutes each with Gok (which would have been brilliant), but the man himself asked us if we’d prefer to all go in together, and I’m sure the girls would agree with me when I say that this was 100 times better. We had an hour with him in the end – which resulted in a lot of talking, a lot of laughing, and us finding out that yes, he is as warm, funny and honest as he seems on TV. I was a lucky girl to have been asked to take part…!
So without further ado – here’s part one of the interview! (See the photo below for the names of all the bloggers)
CATHERINE: What’s the most common question you’re asked in interviews?
GOK: It used to be Do you look good naked. The second thing is What part of your body do you not like. In interviews I get asked negative questions, because I’ve never done the negative. I never tell people the bad stuff, and I never criticize, and I only give information when they ask me. So a lot of journalists like the idea of turning that on its head, and of course I never did. So it tends to be something negative, and I always twist it around.
DANNII: So what’s your favourite feature about yourself?
GOK: Probably my lips, I like my lips.
LAURA: You famously lost weight from when you were younger. A lot of people struggle with maintenance – is that something you’ve ever struggled with?
GOK: Yes, always. I think that when you’ve been either obese, or morbidly obese, then you always have to maintain. We’ve done so much research to work out Are you prone to be fat, Can you be fat, and the problem is, it’s not necessarily that your body should be more fat than anyone else’s, but it’s just that you can probably accommodate more food than most people, and that you can exercise less, and your hunger becomes a massive feature in your life. So in that way you are more prone to being bigger, so I have to keep that in check. And I do, I gained two stone last year, and then I’ve lost it this year, so my weight’s constantly up and down.
I DON’T LOSE WEIGHT FOR VANITY’S SAKE, IT’S ABOUT MY HEALTH AND WELL BEING.
I don’t necessarily lose weight for vanity’s sake, it’s more about my health and well being. And I know that when I’m heavier, I don’t feel as healthy, I can’t go as fast with work, it slows me down slightly. I think we always do (anybody with any kind of eating disorder).
CATHERINE: My theory is that everybody has their own ideal shape and size – if you’re eating healthily and doing some exercise you will just end up the natural shape and size you’re meant to be.
GOK: I think that sometimes we don’t register as well that all our skeletons are the same, pretty much – it’s the muscle mass and the fat mass and genetically what’s attached to that. I’m prone to carry weight around my tummy, and prone to be very skinny on my shoulders and very skinny on my legs but I’m not the same as everybody else. What we are fools to try and do is look like everybody else. And if you think about how many models there are in the world and we do the maths against the general public, that’s one in 44 million of us that look like that.
L-R: Lauren of Lauren Ella, Tamsin of Little Glitter, Me, Dannii of Hungry Healthy Happy; Laura of Keeping Healthy Getting Stylish. (On the right are Gok and his make up artist Charlie.)
TAMSIN: What advice would give to a young girl of 14 or 15 if they have problems with their self-esteem? I read in the news yesterday that 14 year olds are at their most vulnerable and feel worst about school and their body image.
GOK: It’s about having a healthy perspective. I know that if you were to teach kids politics very young or you were to teach them about far more social issues, that those kids would develop ideas of their own. And those kids probably would turn round and say I don’t believe in what I’m reading, I don’t believe in what I’m seeing right now. But it’s giving them an opportunity to develop that opinion, because you know when something is bad, you know when something is really unhealthy, and a lot of the kids that we work with all come up and say I believe in what you’re saying, I like being individual, I like being unique, I don’t mind standing out.
TAMSIN: We noticed there that were a lot of younger kids today who made the effort to queue and that was really obvious that it meant a lot to them.
GOK: These kids are really bright, they’re very clever, because the kind of young – and I hate this word but there’s no better way of describing it – fanbase, or loyal viewer that I’ve got tends to be the geeky kids, the kids that stand out, the kids that are a little bit more unique, that don’t fit into the mould.
THE YOUNG FANBASE I’VE GOT TENDS TO BE KIDS THAT DON’T FIT INTO THE MOULD.
These kids are really bright because they’re turning round and saying, I don’t believe in this philosophy that I’m being taught. So I would say to a 14/15 year old: Develop your own opinion, truly believe in what you know is right and wrong, and argue it! If someone tells you, This is the right thing to do and you don’t believe in it, stand by your guns and inform your own politics. As long as you feel committed and you invest in that I think that you’ll come up with the right thing.
CATHERINE: On the flip side to that, I’m a 40+ blogger, and there seems to be this “thing” about the age of 40 that women get to and they think, Oh right that’s it, I have to start dressing like a frump! My message is just because you’ve turned 40 overnight doesn’t mean you can’t wear the things you like and that suit you. What do you think is a key message to women who worry about their age and their self esteem?
GOK: The research that we’ve done – women in their 40s, 50s, 60s plus – a lot of them have had children, a lot of them have had at least one relationship, a lot of them are out of a relationship, they’ve had homes, they’ve got jobs, they’ve started careers. They suddenly get to this age in their life and they’re going, F*** – who am I, I’ve been so many different people for the past 40 years. I call it the “second puberty”. Women go through this stage of having a second puberty, where all of a sudden you have to get to know yourself again.
If we talk about style in a broader term: personal branding, how you represent yourself, how you tell people a story – you give your narrative out to people. Now if you have been a mum, and a partner, and a clerk, and a home keeper for all those years and all of a sudden you have to find that person, that is when you turn round and say Right, all of a sudden I’ve got rules in my life, I’m not allowed to look this way, I’m not allowed to have my hemline up, I’ve got to have my hair cut short. That stuff isn’t a social thing, it’s a personal thing, because it’s where you feel that you should fit in. A lot of those ideals have been created from things like films and TV – films and TV predominantly are fairy tales, they aren’t even real, and it’s when a director or costume designer is creating these images we look at. A lot of it came from the theatre, even before we had television.
So if you think about it like that, I would say to any woman above 40: Stop trying to be a character of what you think you should be, and be the person that you want to be.
TO ANY WOMAN ABOVE 40: STOP TRYING TO BE A CHARACTER OF WHAT YOU THINK YOU SHOULD BE, AND BE THE PERSON THAT YOU WANT TO BE.
Because if you’ve worked very hard to get to this stage where all of a sudden you’ve got your first disposable income in 40 years, if you’ve found a confidence with what you’ve created for 40 years, then you must have the confidence in your own personal branding. And whatever that message is, whether you enjoy frumpy clothes (I quite like frumpy clothes – my mum looks incredible and she’s the biggest frump out there!) – or whether you want to dress head-to-toe in Topshop or you want to be a dominatrix, it doesn’t matter.
Whatever you want to be is absolutely fine, as long as you stay committed to your own personal branding. And it mustn’t ever be the dream of somebody else – a director, or a costume designer, or a magazine, or whoever.
STAY COMMITTED TO YOUR OWN PERSONAL BRANDING.
LAURA: Whenever I tell people that I’m going to meet you, there’s never a negative word about you – everyone loves you – then when we meet you you’re just as you come across on TV. How do you find staying true to yourself and your personal branding?
GOK: I don’t sit around with my friends in my chair and go, Right, this is my opinion – it’s far more conversational, and at home of course it is. I’ve never wanted to be anything different on television, and when I first went on television, I had a massive argument with a TV exec who wanted me to slag a bird off, basically… And I said to myself when I walked out that audition (because I could have had that job, it was a huge job* and I decided that I didn’t want it) I didn’t want to be someone I wasn’t, and I remembered that moment in my career. And whenever I get into a position when I’m doing something that I don’t particularly agree with, or it doesn’t feel right, I just make sure that I turn round and say, Do you actually believe this, and I think that everyone should stay true to that as well. It’s an instinctual thing as well. And sometimes I cock up, and sometimes I get it wrong, and sometimes I completely bolt in the opposite direction and maybe I should do it, but you can’t always get it right, but at least I’m respecting who I am.
* In Gok’s autobiography he talks about this incident with the TV exec – it was an interview to find a replacement host for What Not To Wear after Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, a pair of stylists famous for putting women down and being, er, bitchy! left to go over to the other channel.
LAUREN: can I ask you what do you think about programmes like Supersize vs Superskinny?
GOK: I don’t hate them. I don’t watch them…! I think it’s really good to talk about weight, and I think television’s a really good medium for us to have social discussions and we wouldn’t probably talk about it before. And I think it’s very good to see how people live their lives differently. So I don’t personally have a massive problem with it.
I don’t have a problem with plastic surgery, either. People think that I do, but I don’t promote it, and I don’t think that women should have it as a first option, but I’ve got nothing against it.
I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH PLASTIC SURGERY. I DON’T PROMOTE IT BUT I’VE GOT NOTHING AGAINST IT.
A lot of my friends have got plastic surgery. And I have no idea at all, one day I might want it, and so it’s just a different way of living, isn’t it.
LAURA: I think it’s a matter of having a standard intolerance of either people’s choices…!
GOK: I say f*** it, it’s your body, you can do whatever the hell you like with it! But if a bunch of middle aged men sat there in offices in Los Angeles and said, Women will only feel beautiful if they have this work done – I disagree with that. But if a woman wants to go and have her body done, it’s completely up to her! You should do what the hell you like.
You’ve got to look at the reasons behind what you’re considering. Whether you’re doing it for yourself or you’re not, it’s got to be from you. If your husband or boyfriend turns round and says I think I’d prefer it if you had bigger tits, can you have a job done, or if your husband says I’ve bought you a pair of boobs… (If a guy said that to me, I’d cut his knob off.) My thoughts on plastic surgery are that it’s got to be for the right reasons. If it’s for you, and it’s an option in your life, and you can have it done, then no-one’s there to tell you you can’t. But if you’re doing it for somebody else – or not doing it for somebody else, then it is for the wrong reasons.
TAMSIN: If you could do a body makeover for any other person in the media or a celebrity, who would you pick? It can be anyone.
GOK: I wouldn’t pick anyone, I’d let them pick me…! I never give information out unless people ask for it. I never turn round and go, blah, blah, blah [he waggles his finger up and down] – never done that. Ever. If they asked me to do it, then I’d do it, but I’d never offer up the information. How mean is that? To go up to someone and say, I’m going to give you a makeover, aren’t you the lucky one?! [laughs]
LAUREN: I’ve been watching the Stripping for Summer show, and that was a live show: do you get nervous before things like that?
GOK: Yes, I shit myself! Yes, it’s the scariest thing, because there’s a mirror on the other side of the doors where we do our reveal – that’s open, so I can see myself, and the director in my ear goes, Right, we’re live on air; I know I’ve got literally a minute before the doors open, then I have to carry a show for an hour in front of millions of people and a live audience. Yes, it’s the most awful thing you could ever do in your life..!
IT’S THE MOST AWFUL THING YOU COULD EVER DO IN YOUR LIFE.
CATHERINE: Does it change once you’re out there, and you start? Are you then okay?
GOK: That’s me with everything – I dread everything before I do it, and the minute I start doing it I love it, but I’m a natural worrier, and I worry that I’m going to get it wrong, and I think to myself Is this going to be possible? And you do it, and the minute you scream Hello, Manchester! and the audience go mental, that’s it, you’re in it then. You can’t stop and go, No, I’m not doing it anymore. Like… if you really didn’t want to do this interview now, you could just walk out and be done. It’s only when you’re in a false state of reality that you can’t switch it off – you have to carry on with it.
(To be continued)
So that’s the first part – the second part will be at the weekend. I hope you’re enjoying it so far!
I’ll have an outfit post up next, showing off a new pair of faaabulous heels 🙂