There’s no denying the success of ITVBe reality show The Only Way is Essex. Now in its 20th series, it represented a cultural zeitgeist, changing British TV forever and establishing itself as one of the UK’s guilty pleasures.
Following real life situations and stories in a structured way means the viewer easily becomes invested in the characters on screen, making for a weird concept – but one that’s proven to work.
One of the characters we all fell in love with, of course, is our own fitness guru and former cover star Charlie King. He first appeared in the hit show in 2013 and became a firm fan favourite thanks to his sensible, sensitive and articulate way of dealing with his problems – proving that not all the Essex boys are the same.
During his first stint on the show though, it was obvious he was struggling with his sexuality and left the show, later coming out on This Morning in October 2014. Since then he’s found himself, transformed his physique (as Gay Times readers will know) and is now set to return to TOWIE on Sunday, 26 March – bigger and better than every before.
Charlie! So it’s going to be good to have you back on our screens. Obviously it’s been a few years and you’ve changed a lot. What was it like heading back to TOWIE? Were you nervous?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous! [Laughs] It’s been almost three years and I guess I’ve gotten use to the life I lead now, which is more to do with my fitness career and keeping a low profile. I think the main driving force for me to go back to TOWIE was to show where I am at now in my life and how many positive changes I’ve made to help become confident and comfortable in my own skin. It’s so nice being openly gay now and not having to feel any pressure about anything.
The cast has changed a lot but Bobby – who declared his love for you on the show – is still a firm TOWIE favourite. What was his reaction to you coming back now you’re an out, proud gay man?
I hadn’t seen Bobby for years and, again, I was quite apprehensive about seeing him. It’s been slightly awkward and a little frosty, but I think he just needs to digest the fact I’m back over time. We’re both very different people now, have grown apart and, well, I guess time will tell if we get our friendship back on track. You’ll see we both have quite a lot of stuff to clear up from our first meeting…
Obviously you’re our fitness guru and now a qualified personal trainer. It’s been rumoured in the tabloids that you’re helping cast mate Gemma Collins get fit, as she’s been told she needs to lose weight in order to freeze her eggs so she can have a baby. How’s that going?
It’s great for me being able to show and demonstrate my knowledge when it comes to fitness. I’m treating Gemma like I would one of my clients. This is a big reason why I’ve come back to the show. I get a real buzz from helping people with their goals. Gemma is a great character and seems like she wants to crack this healthy lifestyle once and for all. I’ll help her if she wants to be helped.
And what if she asked you to be her sperm donor? Are children something you see in your future?
I really want to be a dad. I became an uncle last year and it’s amazing what having a baby does for you. I’m at a point in my life where I think about it a lot. With regards to Gemma, she hasn’t asked me – yet – and if she did, I guess I’d have to really think about how it would work. One thing at at time – let me help her with weight first!
Reality TV tends to go for more stereotypical characters – especially on a show like TOWIE where they want drama and it’s all about the glamorous lifestyles. You don’t seem to fit into that though… So why do you think TOWIE wants you back?
Well, it’s 2017 and I think it’s about time we have a gay guy on a TV show that sends out a positive message. I get what you say about stereotyping and it’s something I’m not keen on. There’s room for every type of character out there and my own personally is a little more relaxed, less OTT and less bitchy. I’m just being myself, which is happy, opinionated and someone who likes to keep things classy. Over the last few years I’ve had so many messages from people saying they look up to me or are inspired to change themselves because they saw my change – I just want to keep that going. It makes me feel amazing when I hear stuff like that. I’m here to say you don’t need to be anything other than yourself. It’s all about who you choose to be.
How long will you be back in Essex and what’s next after that?
I’m fitting the show around my clients and other things that I do. I’m loving being back on TOWIE though and have no expectation as to how long I’ll be around for. These shows rely on storyline and I guess I’m not desperate for it. I’m assisting in other people’s lives at the moment which is great, so we’ll see where it goes. I’m really trying to live in the moment now and just enjoy it for the opportunity it is. With regards to what’s next though, I have a few fitness projects coming up with you guys that I’m really excited about. I want to bring the LGBT+ community together and I think keeping fit, active and sociable in a healthy way is a great idea. Plus, I’m off to LA to work the red carpet for the GLAAD Awards at the end of the month, which will be amazing. Then, when I come back, I guess we’ll see where TOWIE takes me. 2017 is turning out to be a great year so far, that’s for sure.
Charlie returns to TOWIE at 10pm on Sunday, 26 March on ITVBe. Click here to keep up to date with Charlie and follow him on Twitter. Click here to sign up to our newsletter and find out first about any future fitness projects with Gay Times and Charlie King.