Gok Wan: You don't need to flaunt skin to be sexy
Jenny Lee chats to fashion guru Gok Wan about body confidence, underwear, wedding dresses and his monthly DJing gig in Belfast
"BODY confidence is the number one accessory anyone can wear." This is the message from fashion aficionado Gok Wan, who will be bringing his body confidence masterclass to Belfast this autumn.
Gok came to public prominence in his Channel 4 programme How to Look Good Naked, which first aired in 2006, where through a series of activities aimed at boosting self-esteem he encouraged women and men who were insecure with their bodies to strip nude for the camera.
Despite his cheery persona, Gok has opened up in the past about how he suffered with feelings of insecurity and inferiority as he grew up. Standing out from his peers from a young age, he endured bullying from other children due to the fact that he was mixed race, tall, gay and overweight, weighing 21 stone at one point.
In his autobiography he includes a section from a calorie diary he kept at the time, revealing he survived for weeks on end on as little as fruit and honey, and took up to 50 laxatives a day to prevent himself gaining weight from the little food he did consume.
I start our interview by asking Gok, what has been the secret behind regaining his own confidence?
"I'm in the happiest place I've ever been in my life, but to be honest I'm still finding my confidence. I suppose I found my confidence with what comes out of my mouth and the work I do helping people with fashion," the 44 year-old responds.
"Definitely the older I get the more confident I feel with the person I'm becoming. It sounds cheesy, but you have got to embrace who you are as a person. If you don't understand that person you will constantly be looking for another way to change. For a long time the number on my clothing meant the world to me. It was devastating when I was really big and then when I lost all my weight it was like an addition.
"As you get older and develop meaningful friendships, relationships and careers, that helps you feel confident about yourself and then clothing just becomes a way of expressing yourself."
And his advice to those people who struggling with their confidence and life path at the moment?
"Positive mental attitude is so important. Take one step at a time and focus in on the positives in their lives, no matter how small. Hopefully what that will do is give you some confidence to battle the other stuff."
Gok is renowned for his trademark thick-rimmed dark glasses and black clothes. I ask, does this reluctance to embrace colour reflect his own journey towards recovery?
"I wear colour all the time," he beams, explaining that he dresses dark for work. "I wear black as a tool in order to never upstage or overtake the people I'm dressing. It's like a uniform."
The other way Gok injects colour into his life is through DJing – which includes a monthly residency spot on the decks at Belfast's Kremlin nightclub.
"I also get confidence through my music. At the start people looked at me in clubs because I'm that guy off the telly, but now hopefully they come because I'm a decent DJ."
When it comes to Belfast and Irish style, Gok is impressed, though he does confess it doesn't matter what people wear to the Kremlin.
"They've a smoke machine, so I can't see anything," he laughs.
"The world is so much smaller because of the internet as everybody has the same inspiration and access to brands through online shopping. What I would say is that outside of London, where I live, people do tend to go home after work to get dressed up before they go out. I particularly enjoy walking around Belfast on a Saturday afternoon and seeing girls very dressed up," says Gok, who is bringing his fashion and style masterclasses to Belfast's Hilton Hotel in October.
With a mission of helping guests feel inspired and uplifted, the event will start at 11am with brunch and a glass of bubbly before two live runway shows featuring merchandise from local clothing boutiques.
The shows will be followed by Gok’s Style School – where Gok will break down the myths about this season’s biggest trends, body shape and control-wear – and a Q&A session. One lucky guest will also be chosen for a special Gok Wan make-over on the day.
"Body confidence is not about waking up and loving every part of you; it’s about waking up and not hating any part of you. I just want people to feel good about themselves. Clothing is just a vehicle," says Gok, who will sharing plenty of insider secrets at the event.
The most common insecurity women ask him about is "their boobs".
"I'm not anti-plastic surgery – though I wouldn't get it done personally – but it's not the first option women should look at. Getting the underwear right is the foundation to any outfit. Then you build on that look based on your body shape, " adds Gok, who credits Fearne Cotton as one of his style icons.
For those for whom the summer sunshine fills them with dread, Gok's message is "you don't have to bare all".
"Only show off as much skin as you're comfortable wearing. You don't need to flaunt skin to be sexy, rather dress for your shape."
As well as his regular fashion and style slots on ITV 1's This Morning, Gok can currently be seen on our screens hosting Gok Cooks Chinese on the Good Food Channel, and helping brides find their perfect outfit in Say Yes to the Dress Lancashire on TLC.
And his advice to stressed brides-to-be?
"It's virtually impossible to do on your own so when you go into a boutique talk to your stylist, give them as much information about your body and what you want for your wedding. More often than not they are going to have to order stock in for you – so don't be disappointed when you go to a shop and you can't find your dress.
"And there are millions to choose from out there – you just don't need to be afraid to ask for other options."
Gok Wan One Size Fits all comes to Belfast's Hilton Hotel on Sunday October 13. Book online at Gokfashion.com