‘There’s a myth once you no longer have anorexia you’re fixed, but eating disorders lie dormant in you like parasites’
Fashion expert Gok Wan tells Gabrielle Fagan about his passion for work, his health battles and why he no longer worries about what other people think of him.
Fashion expert Gok Wan is one of the nation’s most popular TV personalities, best known for presenting How To Look Good Naked. Cheeky, charismatic and versatile, he’s demonstrated his expertise on a host of programmes on weight, cooking and self-confidence. He also recently toured his one-man stage show, Gok Wan Naked & Baring All, and will appear in panto in Cinderella this Christmas.
The Leicester-born 43-year-old, whose parents ran a Chinese restaurant, has spoken openly about the bullying he endured in his younger years and his subsequent struggles with an eating disorder.
Given those past battles, what concerns him most about his health today?
He is typically frank: “My biggest failing is being a workaholic. I push myself too much because I love what I do, but it means looking after myself comes bottom of the list until I get ill. Then I panic and try to be better.
“Five years ago I had seven operations on my back because of slipped discs. My back’s much better than it was, but I don’t think it will ever be back to what it was. I still have good days and bad days.
What does he do to keep himself in good physical shape?
“My new year’s resolution is to slow down a little — mind you, I say that every year. Walking my bulldog, Dolly, is both exercise and pleasure and, of course, shopping is my therapy.”
He always seemed super-confident on television, but that was far from the truth as he actually had issues with how he looked. So was there a light-bulb moment when he decided to needed to change his attitudes and care more for himself?
“Leaving my career working as a stylist in fashion and music and moving into television for How To Look Good Naked,” Gok says. “I was anorexic while I was filming the programmes.
“Filming them made me realise I needed help and made me question why I had this dysfunctional relationship with food. So I was going on a journey with my body confidence issues, just as much as the women on the show. Sharing their problems about body image really helped me to confront my own.”
So does he now think he has overcome his issues with anorexia?
“In the darkest moments of my life I was definitely battling anorexia, but now I’ve come to live with it,” Gok replies. “In a way, I’ve almost made with friends it. I’ve come to terms with the fact it could come back, but I know now that I have the right skills to control it if it does.
“There’s a myth that once you no longer have anorexia you are ‘fixed’, but eating disorders lie dormant within you like parasites.
“Anorexia is part of my tapestry. The only times I’ve really struggled with it was when I tried to get rid of it or ignore it. It’s important to help get rid of the stigma around these sorts of illnesses by talking about them.”
It has been a long journey from his darkest days, but he admits he is now in a much better place, and his relationships have improved as a result.
“I’m in the happiest place I’ve ever been in my life and I feel I’m a better friend and family member these days,” Gok says. “I regard my biggest achievement as my relationship with my family. I really love them and work hard to keep those relationships — which has been hard with my lifestyle of working and travelling.
“My parents were totally accepting about me being gay. They went through so much social persecution themselves when they first got together, as my dad’s Chinese and my mum’s English.
“The biggest problem for them came when I became well-known, because they had to share me with the rest of the world, which was hard for them. They’d always thought of me as the baby of the family, and suddenly I wasn’t around any more and the world intruded on our close unit. I’ve missed loads of family occasions and sometimes I’ve even been too busy to speak to them, but they’re massively supportive and understanding.”
It might seem then that Gok harbours regrets, but that is not the case.
“I’ve worked hard at not having regrets as it’s a waste of time,” he insists. “Life’s short so it’s very important to take opportunities and see what happens.
“I never think of myself as a celebrity — that lifestyle doesn’t appeal to me at all. I’m just a fashion stylist who works on TV sometimes.
“I have my values and beliefs and nowadays I don’t need everyone to agree with those to reassure me. I’m confident enough in who I am.
“I have a very fulfilled life. I think I probably won’t have children now because I’m 43 and I have a lot on my plate as it is. I actually have more godchildren than shoes, which is lovely.”
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