Rylan Clark-Neal: ‘I’m probably informing people more than journos do’

Ahead of being announced as host for Channel 4's Alternative Election Night, Rylan sat down with The Big Issue to talk about his big issues

He sings, he dances, he compères. And now, on his way to being a trusted voice on the biggest political saga of our generation, Ryan Clark-Neal is is explaining why he has no time for serious political journalists who scoff at him.

Earlier this year, the X Factor novelty act-turned-presenter extraordinaire felt some pushback from “snobs” on Twitter after he weighed in on Brexit. He hasn’t shied away from the subject since, and feels “no pressure to fit in a box others want to put [him] in”. The incident marked a shift in his public perception.

How does he feel about it now, months on?

“I love it, actually,” he tells The Big Issue. “Politics is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. More now than ever because of Brexit. So when I put a tweet out that went a little bit viral, there were a few snobby-arsed comments from a few snobby-arsed people who were like, what the fuck do you know?

“I decided to call them out on it thinking actually, you’re a fucking idiot, because I was a 30-year-old man who’s not in politics and I’m the sort of person you should be tapping into. With all due respect, the audience that I’ve got might not necessarily understand Brexit or what’s going on in Parliament,” the Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two host continues. 

“When I explain stuff on Twitter in layman’s terms people message me and go ‘Thanks for doing that, I didn’t really understand what WTO meant or what the Northern Irish backstop involved’. You can take the piss out of me all you want, but I’m probably informing the people who follow me more than you’re informing people.” Earlier this week it was announced that Clark-Neal would present Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night, which would have guests like politicians Tom Watson and Amber Rudd.

The whole country has become more politicised out of necessity, he reckons, and it’s a good thing. But he is steadfast in his commitment to keeping tight-lipped about his own party preferences in the general election. 

“I think that’s quite important for someone of my social platform. It means I can talk to people in a rounded way that probably does more good than it would if I told people how to vote. People need to make up their own minds. I’m more than happy to stick up for what I think is right but I’m not going to sit there and tell people what to do. I don’t think that’s my platform. I use it to make sure everyone is as informed as they possibly can be without necessarily having to take extra time out of their busy lives to dive into the nitty gritty of it.”

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But, in Clark-Neal’s case, political neutrality does not mean ambivalence. Asked what his driving ‘big issue’ will be when he goes to the polls in just a few weeks’ time, he doesn’t miss a beat before spitting out: “Sorting Parliament out. It’s a fucking embarrassment. The whole thing is a disgrace.”

This might be controversial but I think it’s time for partyless politics

He has, he admits, embarrassed himself “many a time” in his career. But he is incensed that he is quicker to hold his hands up to his own mistakes than elected representatives leading the country.

“This might be controversial but I think it’s time for partyless politics,” he says. “I don’t understand why there’s not one government all working together. Brexit has shown the need for that. I completely understand we had a vote and need to honour it but at the same time, people voted on stuff they didn’t actually understand. They voted on two words, leave or remain.

“That’s not me saying there should be a second referendum, but any road we take now leads to shit. If we leave without a deal there’ll be riots. If we leave with a deal there’ll be riots. Now everyone has a better idea of what the options are, but we don’t really believe it when we’re told because politicians are changing their minds like the fucking weather. This is fucking bollocks, what they’ve done.”

If I had my way there would be no parties, one government

“I just think, start again. It needs a reset. Whoever wants to go for PM, from whatever party, let them go for it. If I had my way there would be no parties, one government. People can challenge each other and support each other, but at the same time everyone’s got to agree to working towards the same thing.”

Clark-Neal emphasises how important it is that everyone votes, because “it’s like a Big Brother eviction, you can’t moan when your fave gets put out if you didn’t vote”. Fittingly, on December 12 he will be hosting Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night, joined by former frontbenchers like Tom Watson and Amber Rudd.

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He’ll follow that up with a gig hosting the return of Ready Steady Cook next year. It’s difficult to imagine someone who had not worked their way into the hearts, minds and homes of the public being able to pull off the same versatility as Clark-Neal, a frontrunner for national sweetheart as the decade turns. Mention it and it is the only time he seems sheepish.

“It is odd, you know,” he says. “People say I’m on my way to being a national treasure, whatever that means. And I live in the real world where I know everyonedoesn’t love me. I don’t live in the world of the block button where I just block out all the shitty comments because I don’t want to see it.”

There are elements that he is still getting used to, like the sense that the public think they know him as a result of his near-omnipresence in the media. “But,” he says, “if I’m slowly moving along the spectrum from guilty pleasure to national treasure, I’m happy.”

 

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This article was originally published inside The Big Issue magazine – available to buy every week from our vendors on the street.

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