Rylan Clark-Neal reveals he was bullied for being fat, ginger and gay on journey to success as Strictly It Takes Two presenter — after being X Factor joke act

Rylan Clark-Neal reveals he was bullied for being fat, ginger and gay on journey to success as Strictly It Takes Two presenter — after being X Factor joke act

April 28, 2019

WITH his mahogany tan, big white teeth and platinum hair extensions, he was the ultimate X Factor joke act.

It’s fair to say most people expected run-of-the-mill singer Rylan Clark-Neal to fade into obscurity after coming fifth on the show in 2012.

Yet the ridiculed reality TV star has become one of the BBC’s hottest male talents.

Speaking for the first time since it was announced he will be the new co-host of Strictly Come Dancing spin-off It Takes Two, even Rylan himself can’t quite believe he’s just landed a job on the biggest show on telly.

He told The Sun: “It’s full-on impostor syndrome.

“I was like ‘Are you sure they’ve rung the right person? They don’t think I’m someone else?’

“I genuinely thought I’d turn up for work and they’d be like ‘Hi Rylan, are you OK? Are you lost?’”

The flamboyant 30-year-old is one of the hardest working men in show business, but this kind of humility is very much part of his appeal and just one of the reasons he has proved such a hit with the public.

Yet on the flip side he isn’t afraid to be straight talking and freely admits he takes satisfaction that his unlikely stratospheric rise to the top will be a kick in the teeth for the telly “snobs” who told him he’d never make it.

Rylan says: “There’s nothing better than getting announced you’re doing a job, people slating you, then you do a job and having people go ‘he’s actually all right’.

“At the beginning it felt like a fight, but nowadays I actually expect it — and I sort of thrive on it a bit.”

And the Essex-born TV presenter is no stranger to flak.

Rylan, now married to former police officer Dan Neal, was mercilessly bullied at secondary school for being “gay, fat and ginger”.

Talking about one particularly brutal attack in a park, he previously said: “I was probably about 13 or 14.

“I got pulled from a rope swing and some boy kicked me in the head and fractured my skull. It was a horrible time.”

But Rylan, brought up by his single mum Linda, 66, eventually learned how to stand up to the bullies — courtesy of his now trademark sharp tongue.

He says: “I just got to a point where I thought ‘f***k off’, if anyone said anything to me I’d give it to them straight back.”

He has also spoken about his mum’s 30-year battle with Crohn’s, a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines which saw her in hospital for six weeks last year.

Rylan has said: “My mum lost her job because of the disease — it totally dictates her life.”

Now, thanks to his TV deals, the loving son has bought his mum a home near to his five-bed pad in Essex.

His road to success started with him modelling at 16, which saw him adopt the stage name Rylan because it was more exotic than his real one, Ross Richard Clark.

He performed in Take That and Westlife tribute bands in Ibiza before joining a Spanish boyband called 4bidden in 2010.

Rylan got bitten by the reality telly bug the following year when he became a finalist on the Sky Living modelling competition, Signed By Katie Price.

In 2012 he auditioned for the ninth series of The X Factor, dubbing himself a “borderline drag queen”.

His hilarious, over-the-top reaction to judge Nicole Scherzinger telling him he had made it through to the show’s live finals — uncontrollable sobbing for 23 minutes — was reality TV gold.

He recalls: “That will haunt me for the rest of my life. I hate it, of course I hate it. But I make sure once a year I sit myself down and watch it. Once I’ve watched it I carry on with my day.

“The reason I do it is because it’s the one thing that keeps me grounded to go, ‘remember how much you wanted this. Remember how much this means to you’. Yes, you might have an early morning and a really late night, but stop f***ing moaning and enjoy your f***ing life’.”

While he didn’t exactly have the strongest singing voice, he won over viewers who kept him in week after week and finished in the top five.

Shortly after he was invited on to Celebrity Big Brother — and won. Such was his likeability, bosses lined him up with his first presenting job, on Big Brother’s Bit On The Side, for the next series, which is where he met contestant Dan.

Rylan, who has also been announced as the ambassador for the Virgin Media Bafta Must-See Moment Award, says Big Brother was “the best apprenticeship anyone could ask for.”

The long-running show, axed last year, also paid for veneers on his famous teeth — an investment he says has been repaid several times.

He jokes: “They earn more money than I do. People take the p*** out of my teeth and whoever I meet they sit there and go ‘oh my god, your new teeth looks so much better than the ones you had before’. I nod along. They go ‘I’m glad you got them re-done, ’cause they really look lovely now’.

“But they’re the same set of f***ing teeth that everyone took the p*** out of. The fact is now everyone’s got used to them, I’ve grown into them.”

Big Brother led to a five-year stint on ITV’s This Morning, including hosting a show alongside husband Dan, returning to the X Factor to host ITV2 spin-off Xtra Factor in 2016 and a cameo that year in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.

He was so in demand, he confessed last year to needing a break for the sake of his mental health.

He quit as the resident showbiz correspondent on This Morning, saying at the time it was “for my head, for my body, for my peace of mind”.

But he didn’t stay out of work for long, and in January took over from Zoe Ball on her Radio 2 weekend afternoon show when she replaced Chris Evans at breakfast time.

His warmth made him an instant hit. He credits his 2015 stint on Celebrity MasterChef, in which he reached the final, for helping get his foot in the door at the BBC.

Image obsessed Rylan — who once admitted he would “rather spend my money on make-up than food” said of the cookery competition: “I got so much abuse. It was ridiculous, people were saying, ‘What’s this idiot doing on here?’ And then I came second and everyone was like ‘oh my god, he’s actually not an idiot’.”

Rylan is aware his new role on It Takes Two — to help ease 48-year-old Zoe’s workload — won’t be plain sailing though.

He says: “There’s a massive part of that BBC audience that either won’t know who I am or won’t have seen any of the shows I’ve done. So for me it’s a challenge but it’s a nice challenge.”

Bosses first approached him at the start of this year to be a contestant on the show. With a glint in his eye, he adds: “But they’ve got me hosting it instead.”

He seems an obvious choice for the job as he jokes he’s already got “15 tans a week” written into his contract.

Rylan, who tied the knot with Big Brother contestant Dan in 2015, hopes his involvement in the show could even swing bosses to start introducing same-sex couples to the line-up. He says: “I’m all for it.

People should be able to dance with whoever they want. If two guys or two girls want to dance together, that’s great.”

And while he may have made a name for himself on The X Factor, he’s clearly a fan of Strictly, which has become known as much for its dreaded curse as it has for the dancing. He cheekily admits: “That’s the whole reason I’ve taken the job, for the inside drama.

“I think Strictly gets a lot of the press because it’s the biggest show on telly. I can’t wait.

“I love a bit of drama. I’ll have my earhole in every orifice.”

And if anyone can find out all the gossip and goings on, it’s Rylan — and he’ll do it in style.

RYLAN is an ambassador for the Vigin Media Must-See Moment Award at the Virgin Media Baftas. Voting is open until Wednesday. Nominees are Bodyguard, Queer Eye, Killing Eve, Dr Who, Peter Kay’s Car Share and Corrie.

  • You can vote at virginmedia.com/bafta

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