Rylan Clark's life before fame - from real name to X Factor rejection

For well over a decade Rylan Clark has been delighting audiences with his on-screen presence, but how did the star rise to fame?
For well over a decade Rylan Clark has been delighting audiences with his on-screen presence, but how did the star rise to fame? -Credit:Instagram/Rylan

It's been a week since Rylan Clark dazzled us with his sartorial choices and expert commentary at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden. Now, fans are getting to see a different side of the beloved presenter in a new documentary series with his good mate Robert Rinder.

The dynamic duo have been showcasing their incredible friendship and love for travel in a fresh BBC series called Rob and Rylan's Grand Tour. The pair have been documenting their journey from Venice to Florence and then onto Rome, hoping to find enlightenment and do a bit of soul searching along the way, reports Wales Online.

Of course, the show is filled with plenty of wise words and cheeky charm, quickly winning over the hearts of viewers at home. But while we're used to seeing Rylan on our screens, some fans have been curious about his life off-camera and how he became the TV sensation we all adore today.

Here's everything you need to know about Rylan Clark and his rise to fame....

Early Life

While we all know him as Rylan, the presenter was actually born Ross Richard Clark on 25 October, 1988. He grew up in the Stepney area of London and attended Coopers' Company and Coborn School in Upminster.

From the age of 16, he started working as a part-time model and during his early modelling days, the star chose Rylan as his stage name after perusing baby name books in a WHSmith store.

Despite his modelling success, the bright lights of TV soon called and in 2007, Rylan almost became a Big Brother contestant. However, his participation was leaked to the press just hours before he was due to appear, resulting in his removal from the show.

After this setback, he briefly pursued a music career, performing in several Take That and Westlife tribute bands in Ibiza. He was even part of a Spanish boyband called 4bidden until 2010.

X Factor Stardom

Rylan's first significant public exposure came in 2012 when he auditioned for ITV talent show X Factor with a stunning rendition of Des'ree's Kissing You from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. Despite his passion and likeable personality, Rylan's performance divided the judges, with Gary Barlow being particularly critical of his singing.

"Rylan, love your personality, hate your voice, really strange song choice as well," commented the Take That icon during the auditions.

Louis Walsh also expressed concern about him but later yielded to the judgement of his fellow judging panel, which included Tulisa and Rita Ora, allowing Rylan to progress to the next stage of auditions. After his unforgettable performance, Barlow confessed: "[I] think he's going to haunt me throughout this competition," and indeed, he ended up placing fifth.

Reflecting on his first brush with fame, he shared with the Guardian: "Although I didn't like my look when I watched it back, I'm glad it's how I looked because a 6ft 4in guy with blond hair extensions is a cameraman's dream."

He also revealed the strategy behind his unique appearance: "The producers would have probably ignored me if I had been standing in the queue being all normal in Adidas joggers. It was my thing back then, dressing to try to stand out. It started in my early teens."

Rylan openly stated: "I wanted people to notice me, I wanted the attention."

Discussing his X Factor image, Rylan acknowledged: "Once I was on the show, I learned very quickly what my role was. I was the gay stereotype who's not good at singing. I thought, 'All right. I won't sing, and I'll wear a light-up outfit or dress like an Egyptian. Or a onesie to go to Tesco. I'll play the game."

He declared: "That's what you want, that's what you'll get. I know I'll get an opportunity to show you all who I really am."

Revealing his off-camera moments, he said: "Once the cameras were off, once I was back in the hotel room, me and James Arthur would just sit there in our tracksuits having a beer."

Celebrity Big Brother

Rylan's journey to stardom wasn't a straightforward one, but his stint on Celebrity Big Brother in 2013 certainly paid off. The star not only participated but also won the show, much to the delight of viewers at home.

During his time in the house, Rylan reached the final round alongside Neil Ruddock, Claire Richards, Ryan Moloney, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt. After his victory, he was invited back to present the spin-off series Big Brother's Bit on the Side with Aj Odudu, a role he held until the series ended in 2018.

TV Career

In addition to his X-factor and Celebrity Big Brother successes, Rylan quickly became a household name with a string of presenting roles on shows like ITV's This Morning and BBC One's rebooted version of Ready Steady Cook.

From 2018 to 2023, Rylan also hosted Strictly Come Dancing spin-off Strictly: It Takes Two, where he regularly gave fans a behind-the-scenes look at the show and interviewed the stars before and after each weekly elimination.

Eurovision Fame

Rylan Clark has been spilling the tea on his love for the Eurovision Song Contest, and it's clear he's got a special place in his heart for the annual extravaganza of European pop. Teaming up with Scott Mills, Rylan takes to BBC Radio 2 every year to dish out their thoughts and musings on the semi-finals, bringing a whole lot of joy and enthusiasm to the airwaves.

Not just content with radio, Rylan and Scott have also graced our TV screens, joining forces with the legendary Graham Norton to deliver all the juicy behind-the-scenes gossip and interviews with the Eurovision hopefuls.

It's no secret that Rylan is a die-hard Eurovision aficionado, and he's even shared how the contest played a role in helping him bounce back from his divorce and the mental health struggles that followed. He credits flying off to Eurovision as a healing experience during a particularly rough patch.

Chatting with the Daily Star Sunday in 2023, Rylan opened up: "Last year I needed to get away from the UK and the Eurovision bubble was perfect for that. It was what I needed on a personal level. Being there was a full circle moment for me. It was like, 'I'm back, I'm ready to go'."

He added, with pure passion in his voice, "That's why Eurovision is so important to me. If you cut me open, it's there."

And let's not forget about his brush with Hollywood fame!

While we've mostly seen Rylan on our telly, he's had his brush with Hollywood too, playing an air steward in 2016's big screen adaptation of Absolutely Fabulous alongside comedy legends Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders.

Personal Life

Rylan was previously married to Dan Neal, but the couple ended their relationship in 2021
Rylan was previously married to Dan Neal, but the couple ended their relationship in 2021

Like most celebs, Rylan likes to keep his private life low-key. However, he was once in a high-profile relationship with Dan Neal, tying the knot in 2015. Regrettably, after six years together, their love story ended when Rylan confessed to being unfaithful.

Reacting to Rylan's cheating revelation, Dan called it quits causing Rylan a great deal of emotional distress, even leading to two heart failures which landed him in hospital.

In an event to promote his memoir, Rylan opened up: "Twice last year I ended up in the back of an ambulance because my heart failed."

"It was like my body had shut down. Twice last year I ended up back in an ambulance because my heart had failed and it was really strange because I just remember for a couple of weeks going, 'My heart hurts'," the X Factor alumni shared, as per Metro report.

"My heart had to be restarted. I just remember lying in re-sus[citation], because I had these pads on with all these wires, and not understanding what it was," he added.

Rylan Clark has opened up about the physical impact of his divorce on Fearne Cotton's Happy Place podcast, revealing: "My body did completely shut down. I wouldn't eat. I went through a stage where I couldn't even talk, which for some people might be quite handy."

He also shared the worrying extent of his condition at the time: "My speech was just slurred. My mum thought I was having a stroke. My body just went. I went down to 9st and I am six-foot-four."

Fast forward three years post-divorce, and Rylan is in a much better place, though he keeps his current romantic life under wraps. Despite rampant rumours, he confirmed that he's definitely not dating his BFF Judge Rinder.

After a journalist recently approached his mother at home for the inside scoop, Rylan took to Twitter to set the record straight: "To the journalist that just doorstepped my mum at her house, as polite as you were, please don't," he wrote.

He continued with a protective note: "She said you was a lovely man but she's 71 years old and it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. The answer is no. I'm not dating Rob Rinder, he's one of my closest friends. Next time, tweet me."

Rob & Rylan's Grand Tour airs on Sunday nights at 9pm on BBC Two