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Interview: Rosemary Conley, nutrition and exercise expert

14 December 2010

I love all of it: there isn’t any part of it I don’t enjoy. The Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness Classes now run as a franchise, with 2000 classes taking place every week, run by 170 franchisees. All of them are trained and qualified in teaching exercise to music, and in nutrition. And I still continue to take my own two classes, which I started 40 years ago.

I particularly enjoy organising photo shoots for our members. We have a magazine; so I meet members, take them shopping, and they get their hair and make-up done to be photo­graphed for the magazine.

My philosophy is low-fat eating with exercise on a regular basis. Low-fat eating is healthy, and exer­cise makes you fitter and certainly more healthy.

I’ve been interested in losing weight since I started to put weight on about 40 years ago. I started a slim­ming club then, and in 1986 I had to eat a low-fat diet to avoid sur­gery for gallstones. I lost a lot of inches off my body, and what I learned through that resulted in my book Hip and Thigh Diet.

It seemed like a miracle. It was the best thing I could have discovered. In this day and age, we eat too much high-fat food and don’t exercise enough. Sugar isn’t as big an issue as fat. Sugar contains empty calories, but they are easily burned off, whereas fat is easily stored by the body. Lots of sugar is burned off by being energetic.

Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. It’s very important that we eat healthily. When you realise how different our lifestyles are to biblical times, you can see how im­portant it is that we don’t store too much food in our bodies.

We do need to like ourselves, and a lot of people don’t. Some TV make-over shows give people confidence, and that’s all good, but it’s all very well doing it under the lights and on camera and with all the euphoria of filming. When you’re trying on clothes in M & S on your own, that’s a very different story.

It’s really important to realise that God loves us unconditionally. We should find our peace with God in ourselves. God does love us.

I found my own faith when I read Power for Living in 1986. I realised then that up to that point I’d been a “fire-alarm Christian” — I believed in God, but I only prayed when I was in a fix. But I decided to invite Jesus into my life, and I felt completely different about myself.

I was in a broken relationship, and coming to the end of a job, but, as I was kneeling by my bed, I heard God say: “I’m now in charge of your life. Trust me.” And I found that he opened doors for me I never dreamed possible, and felt him by my side at every point; so I have tried to follow his will ever since.

Fasting as part of a prayer-life is extremely valid. I’ve fasted on oc­casions myself, but not done it for weight-loss reasons. I’ve done it for prayerful reasons. It made me feel that my prayer was particularly earnest, if you like.

We didn’t recommend fasting in Advent in our magazine because it’s completely secular, though run by Christians and published according to Christian principles. I don’t allow anything in it which contravenes my faith. We do recommend that people celebrate Christmas with their families, eating special food, but not to the point of gluttony. We encour­age them to make healthy choices at the same time as enjoying the celeb­ration.

We have a traditional Christmas lunch at home — turkey and all the trimmings — which is very healthy. There’s nothing wrong with the dinner. And there’ll be a pudding and mince pies, and lots of healthy things.

But there won’t be a Christmas cake, because we don’t eat cake at home. And there won’t be boxes of chocolates around the place, because I’d rather eat proper food. Yes, I enjoy a glass of white wine, and there’ll be some alcohol on Christmas Day.

In the last few years, we’ve invited people who are on their own to come and join us on Christmas Day. We’ve particularly enjoyed that, because it gives us even more of a reason to be celebrating. This year, we’re hoping to invite some people who live in our village. It’s a beautiful village — a church, a cricket pitch, a pub, and a village hall — no shop — and about 80 people live there.

I married Mike in the same year I became a Christian. We’d been going out for quite a while, but two days after I invited Jesus into my life, I felt God was telling me I should marry him. So I proposed to him five days later. Next year, we’ll have been married for 25 years.

I have a daughter from my first mar­riage. She’s a Christian and actively involved in her local church. For our 25th anniversary, we’re hoping to choose to do 25 new things that we haven’t done before, each choosing 12, and letting our daughter choose the 25th.

I wanted to be a bus conductress when I was little. I liked the sound of the clipping of the tickets, and thought that was a fantastic job. But in my younger days, you didn’t really think about jobs: it was more about whether you’d get married and have children.

I left school just before my 15th birthday, and went to train at a secretarial college for a year, and then got a job. Later, I had two years or­gan­­ising a Tupperware business, but then started my slimming classes. They became very successful; so I started opening more and more, and launched the club in 1971.

I do have lots of regrets about things I didn’t do, but I like to think that I’ve learned from those mistakes and my life is better as a result.

I think I’ll have: “Hold your stomach in!” carved on my tombstone. I’ve said it so many times in my life: it’s so part of what I do. But, as far as being remembered goes, I’d like to think that I’d be remembered for showing people a responsible diet and teaching them exercise that’s do-able.

My daughter and my husband have influenced me hugely. I have a lot of respect for their opinions. They’ve always been very supportive. They have a huge amount of wisdom. And Dean Simpole-Clarke, the chef we use for my internet TV channel, who creates the recipes for my books and magazine — he’s a great guy. A Christian and incredibly capable.

I love Rob Parsons’s books. I think he’s a fantastic writer and com­municator.

Standing up in front of people is something I’ve always done, I sup­pose. I danced as a little tiny girl, and started organising things when I was about 12. I did a Cordon Bleu cookery course about 43 years ago: I’ve always had some confidence, and the rest is easy. It’s a God-given strength. I’m not an academic my­self, but I learn a huge amount from the experts who I work with.

I’m quite happy with myself “in the raw”, so to speak, but I try to be an ambassador for what I teach, and I hope I present a good image. I’m going to write a book next year about staying young. The great thing about keeping fit is that it helps you keep doing the things you like, and keeps you working, and that makes you feel better.

It’s not hard work for me — I eat sensibly, and I’m not someone who wouldn’t make the effort to put on a bit of make-up in the morning, and do my hair. I find it incredibly trans­forming; so it’s an incentive for me to do it, not a chore.

I have three favourite places. I love our home, which is in a lovely part of Leicestershire. And I love Portugal, where we often go on holiday. And I love Austria: I go skiing there with my husband every winter, and I’ve organised a trip there in July for the past 25 years.

I remember the passage 1 Corin­thians 13 most, perhaps, because I think it’s the greatest lesson in how to live one’s life. If I’m in a par­ticularly stressful situation, I think I’d open my Bible and see where it took me.

Incompetence annoys me. Oc­casion­ally I will work with an exter­nal company, and sometimes I think: “I can’t believe you’re still in business, you’re so awful!”

I’m happy most of the time — I absolutely love my life. I’m very privileged. I like pottering at home, being in the office, working on the TV channel, being on holiday. . .

I have quite a strict prayer regime. I pray every morning, and use a book by Dr Neil T. Anderson — the bondage-breaker man. And I have a prayer list, and pray for the people on that list. I also say a prayer every day inviting the Holy Spirit into me.

I think we live in a time when people need to take a lot of re­sponsibility — and be patient. We need to be less selfish. I think people are basically good, but they need to feel they are needed, and the Big Society idea gives the opportunity for them to do just that.

I’d really like my family and my dog with me if I found myself locked in a church; but I’m also a huge fan of the Revd Ian Coffey. I’d enjoy his company.

Rosemary Conley was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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