PT and body builder Mark Wilson opens up about his harsh coming out experience and how he and his parents are back on track.

Be honest! If you saw Mark Wilson walk into a bar, looking like Thor’s hunkier brother, what would your first impression of him be? That this Clapham-based man mountain looks like he owns the world and has coasted through life without a single worry? That he is full of himself and wouldn’t have time for anyone around him? That he spends his whole life flexing his muscles in a mirror? Well, as it turns out, reassuringly, none of the above.

As many of us have come to realise over time, no matter how strong and tough we think someone looks on the outside, nobody is ever really as they seem and the delightfully charming 31 year old personal trainer and body builder is further proof of that. Strong, determined and dashingly handsome, the rock-hard hunk does indeed tick all the boxes that make the more self-critical among us feel pretty shitty about ourselves. 

But as the man with the mountainous physique and insane mantlepiece shoulders reveals in this frank and honest interview with GuysLikeU, the Mark we meet today is a man who has led a rather tumultuous rollercoaster ride of a life full of struggle, rejection and ultimate acceptance.

Here, he bravely opens up about his struggles coming out to his family, their heartbreaking initial reaction and how keeping his body in fine fettle helps keep his mind healthy!

First of all, Mark, tell us about where you grew up?

I grew up in a very traditional, conservative family in the Midlands. My dad ran a car dealership and we never wanted for anything. I got to go on lovely holidays and went to good schools.  As a young child I was confident and outgoing. My parents always tell me I was full of energy, chatty and bubbly. My mum often jokes that I used to ask could I go to bed, who on earth does that as a child?

Bless you! When did you start to think you might be gay? 

I knew deep down from a very young age that I liked guys, even though I didn’t really know what being gay meant at the time. I remember watching Baywatch when I was around five thinking the guys in it were really hot, but I just thought that everyone had those feelings at some point. So it wasn’t until I was maybe 13 or 14 when I realised I was a bit different. My mates were starting to go out with people and I realised that I didn’t want to go out with girls I wanted to be their friend!

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Yummy dinner at Abiers

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Was life at school easy for you during this time?

I went to an all boys private school, which I was incredibly lucky to go to, but there was a real heavy emphasis on sport and academia, neither of which I was strong at, at all. I was bullied from the age of about 12. I was called ‘Batty boy’ and ‘massive puff’  and it got so bad that I was terrified to go to school.

That’s terrible. How did you deal with it?

I would have panic attacks every morning, and there were only so many times I could fake being ill before I had to tell my mum what was going on. And so I did. The bullies were all punished but that just made everything worse. School was a struggle for me, I really didn’t have many friends and spent a lot of time on my own.

Was there a particular person you were most worried to tell? 

I was most scared about telling my dad. We had a pretty fractious relationship when I was growing up. I never felt particularly close with him. Also, both my parents unfortunately had a pretty negative attitude towards gay people so the idea of coming out even more terrifying.

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Swing fun #bibury

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Who was the first person you told?

I told my best girlfriend Jess when we were 17. We were dancing in a club and I told her in the middle of the dance floor. She just hugged me and told me she was so proud of me. She was clearly just waiting for me to tell her!

Aww, that’s so sweet. When did you tell your parents?

Not until I was nearly 21 and had already had a boyfriend for over a year. That helped me do that! I was living in London and told my mum on the phone. She hung up because she burst into tears out of shock. I called back and dad called me a ‘queer’.

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All ready for Jess' wedding ❤️👰😭🎶

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Wow, that’s harsh!

I was so horrified at their reaction that I drove home the next day. Dad kept calling me as I was driving telling me not to come home but I knew I had to try and sort it out with them somehow. It was pretty awful; my mum couldn’t understand how I could be gay and my brother was ‘normal’ after she brought us up the same way.

Tough words to hear!

We didn’t speak for a few months after; I think they needed time to come to terms with it. I really didn’t expect them to react the way they did. You would think after catching me dancing to the Spice Girls several times in the living room they would have cottoned on!

So how is it now? Did they come round?

They are both fantastic about everything now. It’s funny how time can change things. There are still things they can learn, but they’re lovely to all my friends and they’ve welcomed boyfriends with open arms. I think they secretly wished I liked girls.

That’s great to hear. But sometimes it takes the older generation a while to understand things that they are not used to. There’s no intention malice there.

Indeed. I think I managed to come out to my friends at just the right time. Just after I came out to my home friends, I got into drama school at LAMDA and moved to London. It was the most incredible time, especially after a challenging time at secondary school, being around like-minded people who were from such diverse backgrounds. I finally felt like I could be myself. Being in that environment really made me express myself and learn who I really was.

That’s great! Did you throw yourself into the scene in London?

Not really. Believe it or not, there were only a few other gay guys that I studied with at drama school so I really didn’t go out all that much I went to more house parties, so I didn’t experience the scene until I was in my late 20s.

And did you enjoy it when you finally stumbled upon it?

I loved it. Drag queens, amazing music, what’s not to like? When I had more gays friends later on, I definitely experienced the gay scene more. But i think it can be a very toxic and vapid experience, especially in London, if you get heavily involved. I surrounded myself with an amazing group of friends that don’t take themselves seriously at all and were just out to have some fun. My advice to people is to surround yourself with nice people who you can trust and the rest will fall into place.

Amen, Mark. Was looking for love a priority?

It’s funny, when I was younger, I was always in a relationship. I would move on from one to another within a matter of weeks. But in the last few years I’ve enjoyed being single for much longer periods, and I’ve gotten to know myself better as a result.

That’s pretty healthy. So what do you look for in a guy  is it all about looks or do you see past that and look deeper?

Lots of people often look at me and make huge assumptions – but for me I look for two things; they need to make me laugh, and they need to be able to show their emotions. I find it really attractive when someone isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. So long as they’re into fitness, no matter what level, that’s important as it’s such a big part of my life.

Is settling down the dream? Is being with someone about sex, commitment or  companionship?

All the above! And I’d love to settle down, but I’m in no rush. I’ve learnt that it’s a marathon, not a race. If you’re with someone just to be with someone, that isn’t going to anyone any favours is it?

Do you believe in monogamy? Do you think gay guys- anyone for that matter – are capable of sticking to one person at a time? 

I definitely believe in monogamy, but I also believe that as long as you truly trust on another, every relationship should be able to have their own rules and boundaries. We’re all brought up being told we should marry someone and be with them for the rest of our lives no matter what. But I think if we weren’t told anything, and just chose to meet someone and be happy no matter what choices we make, there would be a lot more trust and openness and much less pressure.

You mention that fitness is very important to you. Have you always been body conscious? 

I think so. As I said, sport terrified me at school; I would do absolutely anything to get of it. So I discovered the gym from when I was about 16. I always went to the gym but never really knew what I was doing properly until I trained to be a PT, and then even more when I prepped to compete as a Bodybuilder the last few years.

What spurred you on? Were you happy with the way you looked?

I think as humans we’ll always find aspects of our body that we want to improve. But for me, as it’s my career, I feel like I should always present myself at a certain level to continue being a successful PT. I mean you wouldn’t go to a dentist with bad teeth, would you?

True. A lot of gay men use Instagram to boost their fragile  self-esteem? Do you think you have a healthy relationship with social media?  

I definitely have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media. In some ways it can be fantastic; I pretty much use mine in a way to promote my business and my journey as a Bodybuilder and it’s really helped me recruit clients. I don’t really share my personal life on there as I like to keep that private.

You’re a very rare young guy!

What upsets me about social media is people using it to brag about their lives, how perfect their bodies are, and not really sharing for the greater good. It feels like they keen to make other people feel a bit rubbish about themselves. I find it all incredibly self-involved and I can see why it makes people feel so insecure. I often say to my friends when I see ridiculous posts “who cares?” I’d recommend everyone do an Instagram cleanse; just get rid of anyone you follow that doesn’t make you feel good.

How has this Covid-19 situation changed things or impacted on work? 

At first it was absolutely terrifying! The thought of not being able to work or train properly massively impacted on my mental health, which I’m sure was the case for so many people. I’m so lucky to have such a loyal client base who I’ve been training online from home and it’s been fantastic. I love my job so much; making people feel better about themselves and hearing lovely feedback from them is the most rewarding thing ever. Seeing how fitness hasn’t only helped them achieve the body they want, but more importantly positively impacted their lives in every aspect, it’s incredible!

Has this experience been a scary time?  

I think at first it took a while to come to terms with the complete shift in routine I had. But the longer the lockdown has been going on for, the easier it’s been for sure. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my body isn’t the way it usually looks right now, and that’s ok. It was time to give myself a bit of a break, and I definitely will put less pressure on myself in the future to keep to a certain standard. I’ve always had this voice in my head saying ‘you need to work harder’ but having this time to relax and reflect has been really beneficial. I can’t wait to get back into prepping for my next competition but now I’m really happy with knowing that there’s absolutely no rush!