But anyone who has listened to his podcast Getting Curious will know that he’s actually, definitely, literally obsessed with two things: learning new things and figure skating.
So, what a Christmas miracle it is that a man who uses skating analogies to discuss topics ranging from marijuana to trans rights to Brexit is learning to twirl on the ice himself. And, henny, she is making major progress. Can you believe?
Van Ness has cited figure skating in almost every interview he’s ever given: tightly pulled-back skater top knots are his hair inspiration, wanting to wear skating outfits to school was part of how he embraced his femininity and he once did a figure-skating routine for a childhood talent show – on dry land, in his socks.
On his podcast, he’ll regularly fall down a rabbit hole of references, comparing various political situations with specific moments in skating history, and has barely been able to contain himself when meeting and interviewing his heroes, Michelle Kwan, Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu, the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics, in 2018.
Now, Van Ness is being coached by pro-skater Eliot Halverson – whose own routines are well worth checking out – and living his best life. It is pure. It is delightful. It is a puppy experiencing snow for the first time and realising they love it.
Plus, it’s inspiring – he’s working really hard. According to his Instagram comments, he’s been going four times a week, spending hours on the ice to perfect his moves. Skating is seriously difficult – a full-body workout that requires major core strength. Luckily, Van Ness is already extremely fit – the ex-cheerleader and gymnast can handstand and headstand with the bendiest of Insta-yogis.
And he isn’t someone who has been sneakily skating since childhood and is suddenly showing off; instead, he’s someone who, aged 31, is simply taking up a new challenge – one that quite literally involves falling down and getting back up again. As he said himself on Queer Eye, "When people say, 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks,' it's not true, because you can reinvent yourself and learn new things whenever you want." His social-media video diaries are full of slips, wobbles and falling flat on his face, but this man is completely unphased. Whatever is thrown at him, however much he “strugs to func”, he carries on with what he is doing – whether it’s talking, dancing, skating or posing. And he’s seriously improving, mastering going backwards, super-cute spins, fierce transitions, gorgeous crossovers and bunny hops.
It is just joyful to watch someone doing something they’ve always dreamed of – especially when it involves the odd bit of vogueing
His charm and enthusiasm is contagious – he’s getting praised on Twitter by actual Olympic skating champions as much as fans. In one video, he introduces us to “Laura” (Laura Moore), who like Van Ness only began skating in her early thirties and went on to found the International Gay Figure Skating Union and was half of the world’s first lesbian-pair figure-skating team.
Van Ness has been using the hashtag #nevertoolate and it is just joyful to watch someone doing something they’ve always dreamed of – especially when that thing involves the odd bit of vogueing and especially when they had previously assumed that it was out of reach. But as the king of motivational speeches (“There is a diva in there, but all she needs is a little bit of a bold lip”), perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by his determination.
When Queer Eye began, it seemed obvious why Van Ness was there: to be the gayest of the Netflix gays. Where the others balanced their camp with warmth (Bobby), a British accent (Tan), authority (Karamo) and approachability and avocados (Antoni), Jonathan served us “lace moments”, hair flips, crop tops, Southern Belle accents and incredibly niche but perfect compliments. He was supposed to be the fabulous light relief, but as the series’ breakout star, it has become apparent that Van Ness’s sparkle is shining seriously bright as the kind of celebrity that people love to love.
He is politically and socially engaged, is unafraid to speak loudly as an activist and ally, and not embarrassed to ask about issues he doesn’t understand. Indeed, he’s impatient to learn more – and when it feels like a lot of people, especially those with public platforms, have forgotten how to listen, he is a lesson in how to become better-informed.
He is empathetic, smart and self-aware, all of which makes him someone it is almost too easy to get behind and to root for. Find a more heart-warming delighted face.
In a year that has felt sluggish at best and apocalyptic at worst, it’s hard to feel driven to achieve much more than refilling your wine glass and letting Netflix continue on to the next episode without even pausing for a loo break. So, let’s vicariously live through a man who helps other people achieve their dreams, and achieves his own. JVN for gold at Beijing 2022? We believe in you.