There’s a good reason to trust Mr Motivator when he says that he’s standing behind The Big Issue during hard times, and it’s this – he just interrupted a workout to take this interview. “You guys are special mate, I don’t do this for just anyone!” he laughs, pausing a usually sacred daily morning session to answer the phone, sounding not remotely out of breath (as if Mr Motivator ever gets out of breath). He does 67 push-ups every day, one for every year of his life.
When asked if he was up for becoming our new home fitness guru, the erstwhile star of Nineties breakfast telly, famed for his retina-searing spandex unitards, didn’t hesitate to say yes. At a strange and frightening time when we’re all stuck inside sorely in need of stimulus to keep our minds and bodies in shape, Mr Motivator (real name Derrick Evans) more than anyone is ready, willing and able to spread the message as to how easy it is to stay fit within the confines of our own homes. And more fundamentally, to spread the message about how important it is to feel good and feel positive when it would be so easy to feel down.
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“You’re all around each other’s feet all day,” he says. “Home life is gonna take on a new dynamic and that can lead to a lot of stress. And when it comes to being healthy and well, your emotional and mental health is all important. So first of all to everybody I say this: it’s important to find that happy place in your mind.
“Focus on you as the individual,” he continues, “and make sure you’re OK, because how can you look after anybody else if you’re not OK? Put on music in the whole house, that will get your feet tapping and make you want to move. If you’ve got trainers, wear them all the time. Get in the frame of mind of wanting to move.”
The first step towards developing a regular home fitness regime is often the hardest, he admits, but it needn’t begin with anything complicated. “Practice just getting out of the chair or the sofa without using your arms,” Evans suggests. “It takes all the muscles in your body to do that. That’s already a starting point.”
If you pay for the magazine you should always take it. Vendors are working for a hand up, not a handout.
There’s a personal aspect to Mr Motivator being keen to work with The Big Issue too, as someone who experienced homelessness as a young father, and who knows first-hand the hard work and, yes, motivation it takes to break out of the cycle of poverty. Given away by his mother in Jamaica when he was three years of age, Evans was brought to the UK in 1962 by his adopted family. When he was 17, they left to return to Jamaica, leaving him all on his own.
“I ended up with a daughter at age 20,” he explains. “And we ended up, me, her and her mother, outside the homeless family unit in Haringey [in North London]. Every day I was there waiting to be given a room in a bed and breakfast or given a voucher so we could go and get a meal.
“But you know what? I just worked through it. I grabbed whatever job I could, whether it was stacking shelves in Tesco or cleaning toilets in C&A. I did what I had to do, believing that something good would come out of it. And it did. Because you know, as long as you don’t give up on life, life will reward you in the end. The important thing is don’t give up.”
I worked out with all the well-known celebrities, I worked out with two prime ministers. There was no barriers in terms of where my kind of fitness went
After watching a personal trainer lead a workout session for some women at Harrow Leisure Centre in 1983, a 31-year-old Evans was inspired to start leading his own sessions, something his natural energy and enthusiasm caused him to quickly excel at. Before long the character of Mr Motivator was born. He went primetime in 1993 with an audition for breakfast programme GMTV. Evans’s shall-we-say eye-catching sense of style – which in addition the trademark unitards also included bum bags, to hide his microphone – helped him become a household name, and inspire countless millions of viewers as to the joys of a good morning workout.
“I was very blessed that every celebrity who came into GMTV wanted to work out with me,” says Evans, fondly remembering sessions with all from Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson to Meat Loaf and Cliff Richard. “I worked out with all the well-known celebrities, I worked out with two prime ministers. There was no barriers in terms of where my kind of fitness went. And that’s because I believe it should be fun and I believe it should be accessible, it should be something anyone can do.”
Whether it’s performing star-jumps in the garden or using cans of baked beans as improvised dumbbells in the kitchen, Mr Motivator is eager for us all to know how easy it is to stay active during the coronavirus shutdown – and to know that he’ll be there to spur us on every step of the way. “We’re all in this together,” he emphasises. “If you look after yourself, you’re going to get through it. Just keep on persevering and keep on believing.”
And with that, he’s off back to his 67 push-ups. “Looking this good doesn’t come easy,” he laughs, “I’ve got to work hard for it.”
Fingers crossed you can see Mr Motivator at Y Not Festival on July 24-26 and Truck Festival from July 31-August 2. If not you can see him in the Big List every week for a new exercise from him, and follow him on Instagram at @realmrmotivator; Mr Motivator’s autobiography The Warm Up: The story behind the Lycra with television’s Mr Motivator (Filament, £14.99) is out now