Image caption, Rylan Clark and Rob Rinder are firm friends

Having both faced the break-up of their marriages in recent years, presenters Rylan Clark and Rob Rinder found a life-changing tour the inspiration they needed to move on with their lives.

“This trip is part of my restart in life,” says Rylan Clark positively.

With close friend and travelling companion, Rob Rinder, he has embarked on a tour of Italy for a new BBC Two series, retracing the steps of the Grand Tourists of the past.

“We’ve both been through painful divorces recently and are ready for the next chapter,” says Clark, who rose to fame on the X Factor and has since become a popular TV and radio presenter.

The Grand Tour, the original gap year, was a rite of passage for the young male nobility of the 18th Century, who would travel to Europe to discover its culture, architecture – and themselves.

In the series, Clark and Rinder, who share the same divorce lawyer, travelled to Venice, Florence and Rome following in the footsteps of one of the most famous of Grand Tourists, romantic poet Lord Byron, on the 200th anniversary of his death.

Image caption, Clark and Rinder travelled first to Venice, known as the city of love

Byron – like Clark and Rinder – was also in the public eye and divorced. He journeyed to Italy to escape from the mounting pressure of life. It’s something Clark can identify with. The culmination of his marriage breaking down after six years, and the knock-on effect of stopping work for the first time in 10 years, sent Clark into a “downward spiral”, he says.

“I tried to finish myself off. I didn’t eat. I went down to 9 stone (57kg). I’m 6ft 4in (1.9m), I looked horrendous,” he says.

Grateful for everything he has built, having grown up in a council house in Stepney Green, east London, with not very much, Clark says he would give it all up not to have put his mother, Linda, through the trauma of that difficult time.

“She’s a 70-year-old woman and she had to watch her successful son literally disintegrate.”

He adds that starting afresh – going out on dates when you’re in the public eye – brings with it its own difficulties.

“I always thought when I was younger, imagine being known, you’d probably be able to get anyone you want. It’s the complete opposite,” he says.

Image caption, Clark and Rinder visited the Colosseum, a Roman amphitheatre where gladiators would do battle

Rinder, a criminal barrister who rose to prominence as a TV judge, had been with his partner for 11 years, but his relationship broke down four years into their marriage.

For him, one of the hardest things to do is live in the moment, rather than in his head.

“Recently, I went on a date and I thought it had gone rather well, and he said, ‘Well I did rather feel like I was being cross-examined’,” he says.

“I’m one of life’s great overthinkers, it stops me doing everything. It stops me finding joy, it stops me taking risks.”

On his arrival in Italy, Byron fell in love. Like the original tourists on the Grand Tour, Rinder and Clark met up with prospective love interests too, taking themselves out of their comfort zone to date Venetian men. But they also studied the art, architecture and culture of the historic Italian cities.

“I wouldn’t say I know a lot about art,” says Clark. “I come from quite a working-class background and art wasn’t the thing that we had hanging up in our houses. It would be fake chandeliers from down the market – that was our family heirlooms.”

Rinder comes from a working-class background too and was brought up by his single-parent mother.

“Opera wasn’t on the buffet – or ballet or books,” he says. “Really for me, education – be it in the music or the arts – it was the way out.”

Although Rinder has studied art, the Grand Tour was not just about him educating Clark, but Clark educating him, he says.

“Every painting we’ve looked at, some of which I’ve seen multiple times, he’s found something new and beautiful in it,” he says.

Image caption, The presenters experimented with some of the fashion of the day

For Clark, the tour has given him the confidence to not feel intimidated to talk about art any more. He has made no secret, he says, of the fact he didn’t have that much confidence in himself.

Just as carnival guests in Venice would wear masks to conceal their identities, Clark says he too wears a mask every day in the form of make-up.

“I’m very much two people,” says Clark. “So everyone knows me as Rylan – has a laugh, big teeth, wears a bit of make-up – a lot of make-up – and is just that presenter off the telly – or that idiot off the telly.

“Whereas actually at home, I’m Ross. Ross is who I grew up as, Rylan’s my job. Ross is the one that sits at home with a tracksuit on and a Peroni in the hand, so I am very different.”

He says the make-up he wears is his suit of armour.

“So you can take the piss out of my teeth, you can say I look orange, but at the end of the day when I wipe it all off, Ross isn’t bruised, Rylan takes the battering, that’s how I deal with it.”

For Clark, who loves design and says he wanted to be an architect growing up, the trip has given him the chance to redefine himself.

“When you’re ‘something’, people want you to be that ‘something’ and stay in your lane, sometimes it’s nice to indicate, slip over,” he says.

It does feel like he and Rinder have had a renaissance of their own on the trip.

“I’ve got no limits now, nothing fazes me,” says Clark. “I’m willing to try anything – or anyone.”

“I’m 34 and I’m young enough to start again when it comes down to my personal life.”

The experience has been just as liberating for Rinder.

“I feel like I’ve learnt living life can’t just be in books, it’s got to be real,” he says.

“You can’t write about love, or paint about it, unless you’ve done it.”

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this story, support and advice is available via the BBC Action Line

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