Stanford-le-Hope’s Rylan Clark-Neal on his rapid ascent to TV stardom
PUBLISHED: 10:30 05 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:30 05 May 2020
Rylan Clark-Neal’s television career is nothing but a dream come true for the former model who had his eyes firmly set on stardom. Denise Marshall caught up with the fast, and sometimes furious, funny man from Stanford Le Hope
After winning Celebrity Big Brother in 2013, Rylan Clark-Neal was soon snapped up to present spin-off chat show Big Brother’s Bit on the Side leading to his role as a key player on This Morning.
Last year alone saw Rylan interview Madonna on The One Show, appear on Channel 4’s Celebrity Gogglebox with his mum, co-present Strictly: It Takes Two on BBC2, land his own programme on BBC Radio 2 and hired by ITV to bring back cult game show Supermarket Sweep.
He is currently delighting audiences as the host of relaunched 90 hit series, Ready Steady Cook on BBC1.
Born Ross Richard Clark, Rylan is still just 31 years old, but his life has changed dramatically in the last decade since his flamboyant debut on The X Factor in 2012.
And his story is all the more heart-warming from his difficult roots in East London’s Stepney Green, teased for his chubby looks and ginger hair. After moving to Stanford le Hope, the natural comedian grew into a svelte teenager with a love for grooming and a quest for fame.
Big Brother’s Little Brother was very new territory for Rylan, but his passion for the product meant he learned the ropes in record time.
He has this break to thank, not just for kick starting an infectious presenting journey, but for finding love with series 14 housemate Dan Neal, 41, a former police officer.
The pair married in 2015 and are now settled in a luxury five-bedroom home with Dan’s son Cameron, 20. And this Essex bolthole is where extravagances begin and end for Rylan, who stresses he is only high-maintenance in appearance.
Despite proving his flair for cooking by reaching the final of Celebrity MasterChef in 2015, he makes it hilariously clear that the venture into a world of flowing fine wine and exotic canapes hasn’t changed his tastes.
‘Listen, I’m the most un-celeby celeb you’ll ever speak to,’ he laughs.
‘When I got the job on Big Brother my boss decided to take me out for a meal to welcome me into the Big Brother family.
‘Bear in mind this was very early on in my career so I wasn’t in a position to pipe up, if you like.
‘We went to a restaurant in Chiswick and I took one look at the menu, which was something along the lines of bone marrow foot of duck, and said, “Nick, please don’t take this offensively, but I’d rather have a McDonalds”.
‘Take me to McDonalds and I’m happy. Take me to a posh restaurant and I won’t eat anything. I just don’t like all that nonsense, which is why I love Ready, Steady Cook.
‘We are making good food, Michelin-starred quality, out of normal ingredients. We’re not doing it with the ankle of a quail.’
Rylan is appreciative to have the privilege of relaunching another huge show that ran for over 16 years until 2010.
‘It was a big honour to be asked, let alone even considered. 90% of people in this country have probably heard of Ready, Steady Cook and I hope we’ve done it justice.
‘The way I’ve been brought up meant the first thing I did was to ring up Fern Britton and Ainsley Harriot. They were both so excited to hear it was coming back.’
So how does Ready Steady benefit from the Rylan treatment?
‘Ainsley and Fern were amazing hosts of the show, but what works with me is although I’ve got a knowledge of food and physically cooking it, I don’t know all the food, so I will naturally ask questions.
‘I know how to chop something up, and there’s a time limit, but I won’t necessarily know what I’m chopping.’
Rylan admits there were reservations; would he get along with the kitchen professionals, would loyal fans be disappointed?
‘A lot of chefs on TV seem like they’ve got a bit of an ego. I was worried about working with them but they’re so lovely. They want to be there and help their contestants. It’s not about them.’
After ten years becoming firm friends with stars such as the Spice Girls, he’s encountered plenty of arrogance as well as warmth, and goes out of his way to avoid that behaviour.
‘We have a warm up Scottish guy called Bruce on Ready, Steady Cook. He came up to me and said, “I’ve never worked on a show where I’m robbed of a living. Most presenters disappear if they’re clearing away food for five minutes, but you’re in the audience going, ‘hello Jean, where did you get your shoes?’”
‘I hope people would say I’m one of the easiest people in the industry to work with. I’m going to do a good job and there’s going to be no problems.’
Rylan has treated himself to a sanctuary at home, renovated with slick futuristic gadgets where he can retreat to during precious time off. There’s even a diary room, but airs and graces are off limits, forming a huge part of his appeal.
‘All I do when I’m not at work is clean and polish my house. People that aren’t familiar with me on a daily basis or watch the shows I do, would probably think he’s at every VIP party. I couldn’t think of anything worse.
‘I didn’t even go to the National Television Awards. I’d rather sit at home in a tracksuit and watch it on the tele.
‘Why would I want to traipse round the O2 and speak with people that I don’t really know? I’ll have a Capri Sun over Champagne. I love Greggs. Maybe I’m too normal sometimes, but I’m a Birds of a Feather and Keeping Up Appearances person.’
With television currently under the microscope for how seriously it balances its duty of care to contestants with fierce ratings wars, Rylan is relieved that his latest show is a safe space.
‘Weirdly it’s actually lovely to work on a show where, for want of a better term, I’m not going to go home and walk away worried about a contestant and how someone’s going to be seen afterwards.’
Several personalities have been at pains to argue in recent months that certain high-profile series are safe, but on-screen romance and psychological experiments undoubtedly carry a degree of risk.
‘There’s no drama on Ready Steady,’ he continues. ‘It’s like a cuddle in the afternoon.’
With 2020 set to be equally as relentless for Rylan, he is careful not to whine about the workload.
‘Hopefully they’ll be another series of Ready, Steady Cook and there are projects still to be announced. I’ve not been on holiday for three years.
‘There was a point last year where I thought, ooh this isn’t right, but it was just how everything had fallen. I’m lucky to be doing the job I’m doing and I am getting more of a work life balance now.
‘When I say “life” I mean sitting indoors in a tracksuit looking out of the window. So if anyone reading this magazine has a nice villa somewhere, don’t hesitate to get in touch,’ he jokes.
‘I can’t just go on a normal holiday. I’m ultra-private. It’s like a military operation where no one is going to snap me with my top off. I just want an easy life.’
There’s certainly more to Rylan than meets the eye, with his solid empathy and gratitude, and with a knack of grabbing every opportunity by the horns, you can be certain he’ll be gracing our screens for a long time yet.