Gok Wan

8th July 2011 at 01:00
A college head of performing arts shaped the fashion icon's career and taught him to respect and empower women

I hated all my teachers. Every single one of them. That was, until I got to college, and I met the head of performing arts. From the minute we met, I knew that there was something remarkable about her.

I had left school at the age of 15, without any qualifications, and then bumbled around for a couple of years, doing crappy, shitty jobs. Then I decided that I needed to make something of my life, not waste it. So I walked into the college - cold-called, really. And that was when I met her.

Her name was Deane McQueen, and she was the first person in authority I had ever respected and trusted. She pretty much shaped my late teenage years: gave me all the right information, gave me confidence, put me on the right path.

I was 17 years old and I was very confused, very angry, upset with everyone and everything. I was anti-establishment, never conforming to what I should be. But I had been working for a long time in the family restaurant, and my job was counter-facing. So that was the role I had to play.

I knew I didn't want to work in a restaurant for the rest of my life, so there was a certain amount of desperation about me. I was desperate to make something of my life.

Teachers before hadn't really understood me. But Ms McQueen was warm and accommodating. She saw that I was quite a troubled teenager, and she liked that. The subject she taught needed someone who was quite emotional, passionate, could wear their heart on their sleeve.

Her hair was spiky and dark, and she wore a full face of make-up all the time. And she was always in black: heavy layering, with jersey and sweats. Everything about her was black: her pencil cases and pencils were all black. She embraced her physical presence - really occupied and filled the physical space.

My handwriting was terrible. My spelling was terrible. I wasn't very academic, and I did not know how to write an essay. I saw myself as a lost cause, to some degree. But Ms McQueen didn't see me as a lost cause. She allowed me to make mistakes. I did not have to play a character in front of her.

She was quite strict, but she allowed me to develop into a person. She just listened, and didn't judge me. For the first year she allowed me to adjust and relax, and feel confident enough to interact positively with my peers.

I didn't know her on a personal level. She was always my teacher, my lecturer. She was a figure in authority for me. It was good enough that she changed my outlook on things - I don't think I wanted to know her personally. I had her on a pedestal in lots of ways. I don't think I had ever wanted to change that. She had a perfect role in my life.

Had she not accepted me on to that course, I'm 100 per cent sure I would not be sitting here, doing what I'm doing. Before, I hadn't met any women who were career-minded, or in a position of power. Ms McQueen taught me to respect strong women, and to want to help women.

I never emulated her. I didn't want to be her in the slightest. But she has shaped my attitude to women.

Gok Wan's new TV series, `Gok's Teens: The Naked Truth', will be screened on Channel 4 in September. The show will tackle teenage body confidence, helping participants to overcome problems ranging from anorexia to acceptance of their sexuality

Personal profile

Born: 9 September, 1974

Education: Babington Community College; Charles Keene College of Further Education; Central School of Speech and Drama

Career: Working in the family restaurant; boosting the confidence of people nationwide through his show How to Look Good Naked, and now with Gok's Teens: The Naked Truth.

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