The Michele Hewitson interview: Gok Wan

By Michele Hewitson

Can I say I shook your hand? said the woman on the street, as she took Gok Wan's hand and shook it. You don't get a choice, if you are Gok Wan. In a shop, a woman slapped him on the back. "I f***ing love you!" she said.

He thinks these invasions of his person are, mostly, amusing. He could hardly complain now, could he? His telly show, How to Look Good Naked, got women to take their clothes off. He has a penchant for squeezing breasts, which he calls "bangers".

Still, aren't people forward?

"Can I poke your hair?" I found myself saying seconds after meeting him.

"Of course. Go for your life."

What astonishing hair he has. It was like patting a Brillo pad.

"I'm obsessed with why Kiwis love my hair!" he said.

I thought I knew. It's like cartoon hair.

"It is!" I have never had the urge to poke anyone's hair before. Who would? So it must have to do with his cartoonish persona. This is a very clever disguise: it makes him completely unthreatening despite being a very famous person.

Meeting him is like meeting a cartoon character come to life. This is not the most flattering thing you can say to a celebrity. Did that offend him?

"Well, I've always been quite experimental with how I look. I like to play with it. I love clothes but I don't take it too seriously. So the hair is a bit of a parody of what hair should look like. The glasses are a bit of a parody."

So he might be a parody of himself?

"Oh, do you know what? I don't think so."

Then he said, "Actually, that's a lie. I think it has to be to a certain extent because of course television's two-dimensional and everything has to be heightened. I think the job I do isn't a parody, but I think parts of my personality are obviously more exaggerated."

I was glad to hear it because on the telly he's always bouncing about, talking his quiffed head off, calling everyone "gorgeous".

The idea of an hour with him would have been exhausting. If he was real.

He likes to say he's thick, but that's just more play-acting. And it's quite clever to pretend to be a bit dim because it makes people feel smarter - which is not a bad thing when you are persuading them to go naked on telly.

"You're not thick at all, are you?" I say, and he says that compared to his sister, he is.

"Good try," I say, and he almost chokes on his latte, laughing.

For a silly person, he gives as good as he gets. I was being prudish about people taking their clothes off in public because, "Come on, nobody looks good naked really, do they?"

He said, "Think about your language there, madam," meaning I was pretending to be prudish when really I was having a go.

Then he gave me a long, evangelical, expletive-punctuated lecture about "a global epidemic of self-loathing" and the "pumped, sucked and cut up" cult of plastic surgery and how the concept of the show was to "get these women who hated their bodies to feel good about themselves through fashion which has always been their worst enemy".

Which is all very well, but seeing naked people is disgusting.

He said, menacingly, "I'm going to get your kit off in a minute."

You can tell a bit about a celeb by the people around them. He's with his agent and a PR person and a nice lady from Specsavers, who have cannily got Wan's famously bespectacled face aboard to be a sort of roving spec stylist.

The snootier celebs have even snootier minder people, and there are all sorts of rules about what you must and mustn't ask the celeb about.

There was none of that.

The nice Specsavers lady asked ever so sweetly whether there was any chance that I might possibly mention their celeb's reason for being here - to hold a glam spec styling session. So, there I have. I don't mind giving nice polite people a plug. And we did forget to talk about specs, I'm afraid.

We were a bit busy talking about other things.

I wanted to know what he'd meant when he said that his campness is at least partly deliberate.

"I realised I could affect how people treated me by how I acted. I do have a camp side to my personality, but I also have a Top Gear-loving, football-loving side. I only play up to the camp side [on the telly]."

It makes him safe - the cartoon character women trust. He can, and does, play it up in interviews if that's what people want. He'll say incredibly rude things I am far too prudish to describe about what he'd like to do with, for example, Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay. And how he fancied Tony Blair.

"You're taking the piss," I say.

"F*** off! He's gorgeous. He would get a large portion of Chinese takeaway f***ing delivery."

Serve me right for asking. You can ask him almost anything. He was shocked, but not sniffy, when I asked how much money he had.

Nobody had ever asked that before. Being asked made him speechless (for a couple of seconds; a world record for him.) He was so shocked (one of his great talents is for playing an exaggerated version of his already flamboyant self) that he said he didn't know if he'd answer or not. He'd tell me what he decided later, but he didn't. He just went on saying how shocked he was.

I tried to make him say something bitchy about Trinny and Susannah - the British papers have tried to make them rivals for years - but he's not thick, you know.

I told him there is a photo of T & S looking at me as though I was something nasty on the bottom of their shoes.

He said, "Really? But did you like the reaction?"

I said, "Which one's the most awful?" He said, "The thing is, I don't know. I met Trinny once when she came on Celebrity Apprentice and she came up to me and said, 'Gok! I don't hate you at all.' I'm like, 'well, I don't hate you. I don't know you.' But they have no bearing on my life whatsoever."

Perhaps that was the tiniest bit bitchy.

For some reason (more playing it up for effect and to keep himself entertained, I suspect) he decided I didn't like him.

He spent a good bit of the interview analysing the interview. In anyone else this would have driven me nuts, but he was very amusing about doing it and who can blame him for amusing himself?

He says he can get very bored with being interviewed because he gets asked the same things over and over and the main things he's asked are: When did you come out? And did your parents (his mum is English; his dad Chinese) mind? I didn't ask, but the answers are: He was always, rather obviously, gay. And, no.

I say, "What a strange life you're having". But he said, "No, and to be honest with you, it's because that isn't my life, it's my job. And if I think about it too much, I'd have to stop, because it would drive me insane. I woke up at 1 o'clock this morning in a hotel room in a country where I don't know anyone and then I did a radio interview, then I had to go on live television and be funny and informative. And if I think about it like that, I would go bonkers. Anyone would."

Well, but did he go a bit bonkers? He's had counselling.

"No, I think I caught it. I got fame late in life. I was 30. I'd lived enough to develop as a person. I knew what I liked, loved and hated. I'd loved and lost, I'd formed an adult relationship with my family. Now, if I'd been 18, I'd be as mad as Britney."

I say I've read that after his relationship of seven years broke up, he'd go home from his fabulous life and eat Pot Noodles and watch telly. This sounded sad.

"Oh, my God! You're joking, aren't you? I would absolutely love that. I work 100 hours a week. The idea that I can sit around and not have to talk about myself or fashion or people who self-loathe ... To me that's just like a holiday."

He is the sanest celeb I've met. He loves his family, and loves talking about them. He has them - mum, dad, sister, brother - tattooed as stick figures on the inside of his right forearm.

He was enormously fat, 127kg, not because he was unhappy, but because he liked eating (and still does: he's had two breakfasts today.) His dad's thin but the rest are big. He says, in his family, everything revolves around food.

He's a workaholic control freak but he says what he most likes doing is pleasing people and making cups of tea for them and buying presents and I believe him.

He is, as I say, clever. So he had probably figured out that I might have arrived thinking he would be a bit silly: all that camp bouncing about calling people "gorgeous".

I might have. I left thinking he was, and smart and generous - and, oh all right, gorgeous.

But there was no way he was getting my kit off.

- NZ Herald

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