The Curious Interview: Gareth McLean
Gareth McLean is a real deal writing talent, with a varied career as a journalist (The Scotsman, The Guardian, Radio Times, Attitude and Buzzfeed), BBC Radio 4 contributor, TV critic, story writer on some of the UK's biggest TV shows (Coronation Street and Emmerdale) and now, Gareth makes his playwright debut as part of 'Queers', a monologues series curated by Sherlock Holmes' Mark Gatiss at London's Old Vic Theatre on July 28th.
'Queers' is an exciting series of 8 monologues which together mark 100 years of LGBT history and celebrate 50 years of the UK Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged 21 and over in England and Wales.
The Curious Interview with Gareth McLean
What are you most curious about?
I never used to be curious about anything. I kidded myself that this was because I knew it all – nothing surprised me because I was a cynic, nothing disappointed me because I was a pessimist, and nothing delighted me because I considered happiness a sop, a wafer-thin comfort blanket for the cry-babies of the world.
In reality, I wasn’t curious because I was frightened. Frightened of being found out, frightened of being less-than, frightened of being not-worthy. It was a fear born of guilt and shame. This fear manifested itself, as it often does, in control-freakery, perfectionism, negativity towards other people and towards myself.
Then, I had a majorly shit time in my 30s – a mid-life crisis of sorts/mental health meltdown that involved a lot of self-medicating and a moment of suicidal contemplation on the banks of the Thames. Luckily I chose to survive and thanks to help from my then-partner, my friends and professionals who were wiser than I, I got through that and by doing so realised that I was a really closed, negative person. In the couple of years since that, I’ve grown more curious about the world but I am no longer afraid of it. Nowadays, I’m curious about mostly everything, I'm endlessly curious about other people and the way they react to things.
How does your curiosity serve your creativity?
Creativity is collaboration. Creativity is in the conversation between you and someone else and for that to happen you have to be curious about the world and understand that your idea can be better out in the open than restricted to your head alone. If you think that you know best and everyone is trying to spoil it then you cannot genuinely create, you need the collaboration and the ability to give stuff up.
I learned that while working on Coronation Street [arguably Britain's most popular TV show], you're all together in an office, generating story and plot and most of the time your initial idea will be rejected but it will inspire someone else to suggest a twist, a tweak that develops the idea into something workable. That creative collaboration can feel electric. It's the only way I can be creative, it puts a rocket up me as there is accountability for my part in the process.
What inspires you?
Would it be too much of a gay cliché to say I find strong women inspiring? Having been raised by three such specimens – my mum, my aunty and my granny – I’m drawn to and feel comfortable in the company of women who are bold and brilliant, despite, or perhaps because, of what life has thrown at them.
In the last couple of years, I’ve started working with Deeyah Khan, the Norwegian filmmaker and activist who recently was made a UNESCO ambassador for creativity and artistic freedom. I cannot recommend her films highly enough. 'Banaz', about an honour killing in Peckham, is a heartfelt, heartbreaking piece of work, while 'Jihad', in which she interviews formerly radicalised British Muslims, is incredibly insightful and couldn’t be more resonant today.
Then there are writers such as Kate Atkinson and Janice Galloway, whose work I’ve found incredibly inspiring. Galloway’s 'The Trick is to Keep Breathing' is an astonishing piece of work, a portrait of mental disintegration from the inside, it has been a huge influence on my thinking and my writing since I first read it about 20 years ago.
People who can make others laugh – or cry, or see beyond their own viewpoint – are an inspiration. That applies to men as well as women, and Alan Cumming and Mark Gatiss are cases in point.
Working with them has been absolutely dreamy. I’ve known them both for years – and admired them from afar for years before - but this was the first time I worked with either of them and they were so generous and inspiring that I still can’t quite believe it.
How would you describe your style?
You know those people who can throw on an oversized vintage shirt and scraggy jeans and look amazing? I am not one of those people, I just look like I am homeless. So, I quite like wearing simple things, I'm not adventurous but instead I like accessories such as Bow Ties, Ties and Braces...and Mulberry bags. That's where I can be playful in my style.
It's in the accessories that I can be fun, cheeky and generally express my personality. Like wearing a pair of converse with a suit, or a nice bag. They lift me, give me confidence. It's a social lubricant, a talking point.
Nobody ever says to me 'Oh my god I love your suit', because that's not who I am but, without fail when I wear my Wool & Water Tie, somebody says 'That's lovely, where is it from?'. Depending on how confident I feel that day I use it to either let people in or keep people out by chatting about the brand and how you make each piece, which in a way demonstrates it's versatility!
It's tricky though because Wool & Water is a secret that I want everybody to know about but not too many because it's special to me. It makes me feel special.
What do you particularly like about Wool & Water?
I like the story of the brand, the heritage of Wool & Water. The fact it was sort of born by accident, I love that Wool & Water came out of you sitting around on sets. If you had set out to be a knitwear designer, it would be a lot less interesting to me. It would have been a different brand, it would have been commercial and ruthless and not have the charm it does.
So many clothes or trends are imposed on you, sometimes I feel when I put something on in a shop that the clothing is wearing me rather than me wearing it but with Wool & Water, I feel I have made it mine.
I don't like wearing suits, they make me feel like 'the accused' but when I put on my W&W Skinny Tie, it's comforting. It's a bit like being part of a club, in the best sense.
Knowing when I go to an event that I am likely to be the only person wearing a Wool & Water piece makes me feel a bit special, and I like to feel special.
"When I wear my Wool & Water Skinny Tie I feel...
I feel more confident, I feel a better version of me."
It's funny because that's sort of how I felt watching Alan [Cumming] perform my monologue, it felt like I had been cloned and improved upon. While watching him film it, I kept thinking, I want to be that version of me that's over there and with my Wool & Water Tie on, I sort of feel a bit more like that better version of me. I feel like the Tony award winning version of me.
Gareth's Wool & Water piece of choice is the now SOLD OUT Pink Contrast Knot Skinny Tie, but fear not, the Orchid/Thistle design is the next best option.
Do not miss 'Something Borrowed' performed at London's Old Vic Theatre on July 28th.
Follow Gareth's adventures & musings on;
With thanks to Photographer & Promo Film Director @samohmahony