My best teacher - Gok Wan

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
Two years after quitting school at 15, the formerly fat TV star's life was transformed at college

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 there was something remarkable about her.

I had left school at 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 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, 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.

I wasn't very academic and I didn't know how to write an essay. I saw myself as a lost cause, to some degree. But Ms McQueen didn't see me like that. She allowed me to make mistakes. I didn't 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 and I don't think I would ever want to change that. She had a perfect role in my life.

Had she not accepted me onto 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 programme will tackle teenage body confidence, helping participants to overcome problems ranging from anorexia to acceptance of their sexuality. He was talking to Adi Bloom.

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