Gok Wan: ‘No-one expects me to be Sarah Brightman’

Gok Wan (The Fairy Gokmother), Kathryn Rooney (Cinderella) and Brian Conley (Buttons) during photo-call for  the panto Cinderella at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton this Christmas.
Gok Wan (The Fairy Gokmother), Kathryn Rooney (Cinderella) and Brian Conley (Buttons) during photo-call for the panto Cinderella at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton this Christmas.

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Gok Wan has been a very busy bee this year. He has been hard at work designing more clothes ranges, travelled to Australia to film a TV show and has recently started working on This Morning as a fashion consultant. In among his hectic schedule he has found time to put on the sparkles for another panto season.

Gok is in Southampton, finishing rehearsals for his part as the Fairy Gokmother in Cinderella at the Mayflower, which begins tomorrow.

He says: ‘I have filmed here before but it is my first time onstage here.

‘The theatre is incredible, it is absolutely vast – three tiers. These theatres around the country are just so gorgeous.

‘It has a really nice feel to it, which all sounds a bit feng shui, but it does it feel very warm and I’m looking forward to working here.

This is only Gok’s second foray into the wacky world of pantomime. His experience of rehearsing for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Birmingham Hippodrome was the subject of Channel 4 documentary Gok Does Panto.

He says: ‘It was terrifying and it was exhausting but I loved it, which is obviously why I am back again to do another one.

‘I kind of missed it all throughout the year. It is a completely different level of performance, a completely different discipline where you have to use different skills to make it work and I took some of that experience into my normal job. ‘

Gok says a panto’s success depends on who you are working with.

‘Last year Gary Wilmot taught me a huge amount, and Stephanie Beacham and John Partridge. This year I’m working with the legend that is Brian Conley and I’m hoping to learn more skills off him. Already he has been extremely generous so hopefully that is the case.

‘I have only met Brian once before and he is lovely and so funny, just adorable.’

Last year, Gok played the Man in the Mirror, which required him to don a bejewelled silver jumpsuit. He said at the time that it would be the closest he would come to drag, but has he succumbed to the lure of the lipstick?

‘I can’t say, but to be honest with you I have not had anything to do with it – I will just let the designers work their magic because I am here to be performing on the stage and I have to keep it very separate.’

When rehearsing for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gok struggled with a high note in his main song. Will history repeat itself?

‘I did no preparation at all before I started rehearsing, but I have done some singing lessons. But the thing is I’m not a dancer and I’m not a singer.

‘I kind of come on and just about hold a note so it’s fine – I don’t think anyone expects me to go on and be Sarah Brightman.’

When asked how he finds the time to learn all the lines, lyrics and choreography, Gok doesn’t know himself.

‘Oh my God you don’t... I don’t think you really know the show until you have done about 10 of them and then you know the show inside out.

‘Definitely when you open the show you are still learning it, without a doubt, and everyone’s backstage going over their scripts, rehearsing, all the way through it it is absolutely terrifying’

‘For someone who teaches women to be confident, Gok has to battle his own nerves when performing.

‘Well they had gotten better by the end of last year’s run but I don’t know whether they might come back again at the beginning of this show.

‘I’m hoping that every single time I do this I get better.’

A good audience helps.

‘The ideal audience falls into the narrative, and is a mixture of ages as well, because you want to hear the kids laughing and then you want to hear the adults laugh. The more they relax the more you relax onstage.

‘It is always typically the Friday night audience which are the hardest, because people have just finished work and they are tired.

‘ I don’t think there is any one person out there that can control 2,500 people single-handedly, and so you just play your role and go with it.

‘You know when you need to be slightly softer with an audience rather than going hell for leather, but from the first cheer at the beginning of the night you know what kind of audience it is going to be. ‘

Panto does come with its drawbacks.

‘That is the biggest downside of panto, that you miss Christmas with your family. And even if you get to see them for the day you are exhausted. It is just the build-up to Christmas – you miss all of that because really you are in rehearsals the whole of the beginning of December and then the show goes up so you don’t see any of it.

‘I love Christmas, but I mean it is a small sacrifice.’

Instead, his family will be coming to Southampton to see Gok working his magic.

When asked who is his biggest fan and why, Gok is uncharacteristically lost for words.

‘Oh my God - probably my mum.

‘Why is my mum my biggest fan? Oh my God that is the hardest question, how do you even answer that?

‘Because she gave birth to me? I don’t know... I suppose if you think about it she has given birth to you, she has fed you, she has raised you, dressed you, she has, you know, watched you develop and then she has let you go to a certain degree.

‘Then the minute your parents see you on stage and you are performing to lots of people and hopefully doing a good job of it, surely the only emotion they can feel is pride. Hopefully.’

Gok Wan is appearing in

Cinderella at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton.

Tickets: £15-£37.50, call the box office on (023) 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk for more information.