Shipwrecked star Kush opens up about coming out, first kisses and body image.
Anyone who watched the recent series of Shipwrecked will no doubt still be thinking about the parade of impossibly beautiful young things who drifted onto our screens. There was insanely handsome Tom Wooton, who dazzled us with his Harry Judd-alike face, building skills and lack of interest of all forms of confrontation and gossip. Sean Lineker, whose stunning eyes captivated not just viewers but the show’s 6ft8 beefcake Chris and a whole load more. But if pressed, we’d say have to say that our favourite was the dashingly handsome Kush Khanna, a London based singer who was not just pleasing on the eye, but became the heart of the show and bonded everyone during their spell in paradise. We hooked up with the 27-year old fella to chat about island politics, coming out to his parents and why his dreams of pop superstardom were thwarted by an X Factor hunk!
Kush, we loved you on the show, you were most definitely our king of Shipwrecked. You seemed to be the glue that held everything together…
Because I am gay, I get on with girls and guys and am really sociable. I love getting to know people. And because of that I became the one that everyone would talk to. I’d do the cooking and cleaning too, so was very involved with everyone’s lives. I was a bit of a floater, and would chat with everyone and so when I went to the other island for example, people would notice when I wasn’t there and they’d be forced to talk to each other.
You and Tom got on like a house on fire. Gosh he was so hot.
Tom was like my little brother. He was a lovely guy but I don’t think he was onscreen as much as some because I think there were people with bigger stories. He hated gossiping but when you’re on an island with nothing much to do, that’s what you end up doing.
There were a lot of alpha men on the island – how did you cope with them?
I found it quite easy to get on with everyone if I’m honest, but there was a moment that was not on camera when I did feel a little bit insecure. There was this one guy whose name I’d rather not mention, who made a comment that really upset me. He said to Tom, “you need more guys on this island to help around” and I was standing there just thinking “hang on, I do a lot of building too”. So I piped up and said, “but I’m here” and he replied “I meant a real man”. I was so upset and angry that I ran off to the showers and broke down in tears. One of our execs, who was gay, came and asked why I was quiet and I said to him “get him off the island – he’s a fucking prick.” The producer was so good about the situation and went and tore a strip off him. But then this guy said, “I have lots of gay friends – I didn’t mean it like that!” But I was like, “Yeah, but your ignorance is all I need to know and this is what you clearly think about me.”
Was living with buff alpha guys easy?
I am this skinny goofy guy and that there are guys out there who are kinda ugly but have all these muscles and everyone is all over them saying ‘oh my god they are so gorgeous’, which is hard to deal with sometimes. Being Asian too has always made me feel like I was on the back foot. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s my experience. All the guys I have dated have said, ‘you’re the first asian guy I’ve ever fancied,” which is a complement in a way but at the same time, what does that mean?
From the look of it, you never seemed like you let insecurities bother you on the island.
Maintaining this positive energy was hard. When I was having a quiet day, people would notice and keep asking if I was okay. When Sean arrived on the island and hit it off with Chris, that really knocked me because there were three gay guys on the island and I felt like the ugly one. Even though a lot of people were showing me love, I couldn’t help but feel that I didn’t fancy anyone and no one fancied me.
That sounds sad…
Don’t get me wrong, Sean and Chris were so lovely and so giving to me, so my insecurities were created by me. I would say to them “I am insecure but it’s nothing to do with you”. The funny thing is normally I am very confident. I can walk into a club and feel like I’m the sexiest one there. But then there are other times when I don’t feel like that. When I’d gone on the island I had been kind of messaging someone so when I was feeling confident, I reminded myself that I had a guy back home. But that confidence got shattered when nobody on the island fancied me.
Back in the real world, when did you suspect you were gay?
It was actually a really stressful time for me and this is why I think sex education at schools is so important. I was around 18 and I was madly in love with this girl. I remember I’d be grinding up against this girl but I couldn’t get hard. I was so worried, I started googling erectile dysfunction and even the porn I watched didn’t help. I never spoke to my family about it because they are very conservative. You wouldn’t even say the word boob! Sex was a mystery to me, I didn’t even know how to masturbate if I’m entirely honest. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even speak to my mates about it. I was a bit like the lead character in Sex Education.
So when was your first experience with a guy?
I was out in Exeter one night and this guy said to me “what’s your situation” and asked if me if I was bisexual. I said I think I might be gay but that I wasn’t sure. He asked me to come outside to talk about it and when I did he tried to kiss me but I pulled away. He said to me, “you’re clearly not gay if you won’t let me kiss you”, but I was nervous, I had only ever kissed one girl before. I was pretty much asexual, if I am honest. Yes, I fancied gals, or so I thought, but couldn’t be hard with them and I didn’t realise then that I was actually fancied boys.
Had you had feelings for boys by this stage?
Not exactly. I had been obsessed with guys who were my mates. I was surrounded by beautiful straight white friends and I really enjoyed their company but I think there was more to it. Then when I was about 21, I got signed up by a band and then all thoughts of being gay were thrown out of the window because I thought girls can’t fancy a gay guy in a band. Then my friend Matt Lever came out as a gay at his boys school – I then realised I might be gay.
Did that make it easier for you to open up to people?
So one new year, I told Matt that I thought I was gay and he said “about time” and we agreed that every Wednesday I would come up from Aylesbury to London and he would take me out. We used to go to GAY Late bar every week and one week I met a really beautiful boy who came up to me and said “I find you really attractive”. I was so scared as it was so new to me, but then he grabbed me, kissed me and for the first time everything made sense for me. It sounds like a funny cute story but it’s quite mentally disturbing for a guy at 21 to finally realise that boys turned me on. That’s pretty late in the game. But I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing”. I felt sexy for the first time.
So how did you tell your parents?
My mum had previously asked me if was gay and I had said, ‘No, no, no.’ Then, when I was around 23 and I had a secret boyfriend who was a banker, she asked me again. At this point, I was happy with this guy and he had a good job and we were pretty serious, so this time I told her I was gay and that I was in a relationship. She took a moment and went, “Okay! Good, you’ve told me now. You don’t need to worry. Just focus on you and be the best you can. Don’t worry about me.”
Aww, that’s nice.
Then she called me the next day and she said “Kush, I have been googling gay and there’s lots of stuff about sex parties – please say you’re not doing that are you?’ And I told her “no, of course not.”
How was your dad?
Well, I have never actually spoken to my dad about being gay, but I think he’s okay about it. We were up one night chatting to a cousin about her plans to go to uni and my dad said, “it’s irrelevant what the outer family think of you, just do what makes you happy because that is what is most important. Your family will always have your back.”. And I thought to myself, is this his subtle way of him telling me that he’s okay with me being gay? I still haven’t spoken to him about it properly, but when I did promo for the show I was really open about being gay.
Has there been a good reaction about your appearance on the show?
I have had some gorgeous messages from gay Asians, saying thank you for showing us in a good light. That means the world to me because people in the Asian world rarely talk about being gay.
Is that because of religious beliefs or something else?
My family are Hindu, but I’m not religious. However, Hinduism is quite an open religion. People just need education about being LGBT issues. There’s just been a documentary aired in India about a gay guy which my mum has watched and she said that it helped her understand more about what I was going through. There’s also an LGBT movie that’s opened over there which is about a lesbian couple. Things are getting better now and that makes me happy.
Well, you seem very open and confident about being gay.
What really helped me come out was that I was earning money and felt self sufficient. I told myself at the time, that if my family wanted to disown because of my sexuality, they could do so and I would still survive. Luckily they didn’t, but I felt that if something went wrong, I could still live my life independently and with no fear.
Do you find gay life easy?
Not really… I feel we have to adapt to the world around us. I did an acting piece recently with a bunch of gay guys of all colours and backgrounds. We all talked about our experiences and realised that every day we censor ourselves. I mean, there are some streets I might have to act a little more masculine on and act a bit differently. I don’t know why we have to adapt, but we feel that we do.
Do you ever feel left out of the gay community?
I don’t think I feel I’m part of a scene. I work at Barry’s Boot Camp and everyone who walks in looks like a chiselled god. There is one guy who goes there who I would say has an average face but an amazing body and every gay guy is all over him, while I’m just standing there showing off aspects of myself that might be attractive to some, but to avail.
Have you ever considered competing with the beefcakes and building up your body?
I had abs for the first few days of me being on the island. I had worked out at Barrys for the weeks before I flew out. Then when the show started we got so much hate about us all having amazing bodies but all I could think about was that I had never been described as having an amazing body before.
Do you think Instagram is a damaging environment for guys?
Instagram is depressing. When I spoke to the so-called ‘perfect’ boys on the island I could tell they were so insecure and it was so sad for me to see. Some of the boys would put a T-shirt on to do their interviews because they didn’t like the way they looked. They’d say stuff like, “I’ve lost so much weight”, “I’m too skinny”, or “I’ve lost my muscle” and I was like, have you not looked at yourself in the mirror – you look phenomenal!
Do you think they’re masking something?
Most definitely. But I think if they spoke more about their feelings on Instagram they’d go a long way. It’s so sad. The boys would say to me, “I have my body and nothing else!” But everyone has more to themselves than that!
You’re a singer and you’ve just released a gorgeous video for a track called Beautiful…
I had so much fun making the video. It was shot on Oxford Street in it I am handing out notes to passersby telling them how beautiful they are. Their reactions are priceless. Everyone I know has shared it – it had 4k viewers in its first day. I wrote the track for Pride last year with the message #teachtheworldtosayIloveyou. I’ve had a really lovely response. I wanted to do a song that wasn’t about pimps or hoes.
Is it easy to break into music?
Well, music is the thing I’m most comfortable doing and I don’t think there’s anyone else doing what I do, which makes it harder for me to break into because people will say “You’re Asian, do you do Indian music?” and I’ll say “No, I’m someone who does pop music who just happens to be brown”. I want to do a world tour, I have my outfits already planned. I would like to have an Olly from Years and Years kind of vibe.
You said you are in a band before.
Yes, I was and it was a brilliant but bittersweet experience as I had a tough time during it. Geri Halliwell and Simon Fuller had signed me up to be part of their supergroup along with a girl called Gemma and Sam Callahan, who went on to appear on The X Factor. It was great to start with. Geri was always so supportive and she would say that I had the most distinctive voice. We’d go around to Geri’s house every day and we even flew out to see Simon Fuller in LA. Me and Gemma were getting all the leads because Geri and Simon thought we had the most distinctive voices. But then I’d end up feeling insecure because they’d say “Gemma you’re the beautiful one” and ‘Sam, you’re the muscle guy that all the girls will fancy” even though he couldn’t really sing. And then they’d say to me, “Kush, you’re the global one!” So I felt like I was the ugly good singer. But don’t get me wrong, Geri was so good to me.
How come we never heard about the band?
The band didn’t work out is because Sam quit the band because he wasn’t getting any vocals and then Simon decided to drop us.
Oh. So what’s next?
Well I’d like to try do in some presenting and i want to keep pursuing music. The future is looking good.