It never really occurs to people that Gok Wan had a past, let alone a childhood. Wan is one of those television personalities who appear unexpectedly downloaded on to the cultural retina directly from Planet Celebrity. This needle-thin extrovert in graphic-designer glasses had barely existed previous to 2006 and How to Look Good Naked.
Too Fat Too Young proved that no man truly invents himself. Like the rest of us, Wan was a product churned out by his childhood. For years, he tells us, he had been ignoring part of his life. Now, he promised, he would confront memories he had tried to “bury for ever”. For Wan had a terrible secret. The incredible truth was that Wan had once weighed 21 stone.
So he returned to Leicester where he had grown up on an unpromising council estate where being fat, Chinese and gay were hardly recommended as ways to fit in. Nostalgically he walked around its parks, each bush recalling an illicit feast. Wan visited his old school and reeled at the sight of the very same dinner tables at which he had once sat and gorged. By 11 he was too fat to wear a school uniform. Once he wet himself at the thought of a forthcoming PE lesson that would require him to strip in front of his schoolmates. He was isolated, he was lonely and he was bullied. “I hated it so much here.” He arrived at drama school, the fat kid from Fame, and dropped out. But then something happened. He went on a diet in an attempt to fundamentlly change his life, and over the course of eight months he had lost nine stone.
His personal experience of obesity made him a good listener to the overweight teenagers who appeared in the film, and possibly an inspiration, though it could easily have gone the wrong way and made them even more depressed. The message, as always, was the same – eat less, exercise more – but it was gently and sympathetically delivered.