Growing up in the Midlands with a Chinese father and an English mother, Gok Wan experienced the best of both cultures.
While he learned everything there is to know about Chinese food from his chef father, there were certain English traditions the family always followed.
And going to a pantomime at Christmas was top of the list.
Which is why Gok is so thrilled to be appearing in his first panto – and he’s gone right in at the top.
Michael Harrison, of Qdos Entertainment’s pantomime division which produces 24 shows across the country this year, said: “I offered Gok two choices when we found out he wanted to be in a panto.
“I said he could go somewhere quiet to try it out, or he could go with the biggest in the land.”
Gok chose the latter and is appearing in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Birmingham Hippodrome.
As the Man in the Mirror, he’s been telling the Wicked Queen whether she looks good or not.
Gok, who grew up in Leicester, says: “Christmas is a really big thing in my family, it’s the one time of year when we all get together, so it’s a big sacrifice for me to work over the festive period. But it’s a sacrifice I had to make.
“Being mixed race, going to pantos and celebrating Christmas were really important for us to have a connection with my mum’s culture.
“We always ate Chinese food, but going to panto made us British.
“I’ve been a massive panto fan the whole of my life, so this is genuinely a dream come true. I have always wanted to do it, which is what I told Louie Spence and Lionel Blair when I was doing a charity gig with them.
“They each got on the phone to their different panto companies who started bidding for me!
“I’m thrilled my debut is in Birmingham, a city I know well. When I was growing up we came here a lot. It was the nearest Chinatown so I’d come here with my sister to eat.
“Birmingham is fantastic for shopping and culture and the people are lovely.
“The show will be high camp, high volume and very cheeky. I’m excited!
“I’m not sure about learning the lines, but I’m not worried about ad libbing – you want it to have some spontaneity and I’m OK with that. It will be lots of fun.
“The script is great and I have my own singing and dancing number.”
Gok joins a stellar cast, including John Partridge, who played Christian in EastEnders, Dynasty and Coronation Street star Stephanie Beacham and Gary Wilmot.
Danielle Hope, who won the BBC’s search for a new lead in The Wizard of Oz in Over The Rainbow, is Snow White.
Although more known as a stylist and TV presenter, Gok has had some acting experience as he went to drama school in London – though he dropped out through illness.
“I left school after a year as I was very poorly with anorexia. I lost a lot of weight and I wasn’t physically, mentally or emotionally strong enough to be there,” remembers Gok, 39.
“I would have had a completely different career if I’d stayed, so I’m grateful for how it worked out. I get to do the three things I love most – fashion, showing off and talking to people. I really like people, that comes from working in my dad’s restaurant for all those years.”
The panto run could end up being quite costly for Gok. One of the last times he was working in Birmingham, he popped into the Bullring for a coffee and came out with a Rolex. It costs thousands, though he won’t reveal exactly how much.
“There are two things I never discuss, boys and money,” he says firmly.
“But the panto schedule is tough, so there won’t be much time for shopping. And I’ll have my dog with me, so I can’t keep running into Selfridges.
“Dolly is a French bulldog. I’ve already made sure I can bring her into the theatre.
“It’ll be a dog panto, as John Partridge is bringing his pooch too.”
Michael Harrison, who’s directing the Birmingham show, promises a return to a “big fairytale extravaganza” after last year’s somewhat confused story of Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates, which saw Brian Conley marooned on an island with Russian cossack dancers. This year the dwarfs will be played by seven physical theatre actors, like the ones who play the Oompa Loompas in the West End hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“We haven’t copied them, though,” insists Michael. “I’ve been planning this for two years.
“If you employ dwarfs you are exploiting them, if you don’t you’re putting them out of work.
“This is a creative decision because I wanted to be imaginative.
“The actors have special costumes to make them look smaller. We can utilise all their talents – one plays the saxophone, one plays the guitar, one can tap dance with his hands.”
This is also the panto debut for Danielle, and her first visit to Birmingham.
The 21-year-old says: “I’ve hit the jackpot with this production. I love Snow White, every morning at primary school I would go to the dressing-up box and put on Snow White’s dress. No-one could get it off me, so I think it’s fate I’m finally playing her.
“I’m overjoyed to be with Johnny Partridge again after he was a judge on Over The Rainbow. We had one task where we had to dance with him and I loved it so much.
“I will have a ball being able to dance with him again.
“I did Over The Rainbow when I was 17 and still doing my A-levels in drama, dance and musical theatre.
“I almost didn’t do the programme. I got to the final 20 and had to make the decision whether to continue, because filming clashed with my drama A-level practical exam.
“I was putting on a show with two other people that we’d worked on for months, and I didn’t want to let them down.
“But in the end my drama teacher managed to persuade the examiners to let her film the piece so I could still do Over The Rainbow.
“The week after the series finished, I went back and sat my A-levels and got B grades – not bad with no revision!”
* Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is at the Birmingham Hippodrome from December 19 to February 2. For tickets, ring 0844 338 5000 or go to www.birminghamhippodrome.co.uk.