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What Rosemary Conley's friend said to help her lose weight

BY Rob Crossan

4th Jan 2023 Celebrities

What Rosemary Conley's friend said to help her lose weight

Rosemary Conley, one of Britain’s most celebrated diet and health experts, reflects on weight loss, finding love and a career spanning half a century

Animals were a huge part of my childhood. I had very severe asthma when I was little and I couldn’t run around with the energy that the other children at my school had.

My best friend was a Sheltie dog called Sue. I would put her in my pram and find things in the shed which I would train her to jump over like a showjumper! I’ve had dogs in my life ever since.

When I was about 22 I knew I had to do something about my weight. I’d done a Cordon Bleu cookery course and I couldn’t stop eating all the delicious dishes I was making.

Then I was eating whole tubs of ice cream too, and even cooking chocolate—which tastes horrible by itself!

"I was eating whole tubs of ice cream too, and even cooking chocolate"

I had a very dear friend who told me, “You would look so lovely if you lost a few pounds.” Since then I’ve had people on social media claim that I was fat-shamed, but I can assure you I wasn’t. What she told me was said with immense love and kindness.

Having someone tell me they could see beyond my weight and compliment me was a hugely motivational thing which I’ve never forgotten.

Rosemary Conley leading a group of women in fitness classRosemary Conley's fitness club empire started in a Leicestershire village hall in 1972

My very first club, which I called “Slimming and Good Grooming” started in 1972 in Thurnby in Leicestershire.

I put up 30 posters and got 29 women who came to my class which I held in the village hall. It was all very DIY and I remember weighing the women on bathroom scales.

I focused on the fact that you could lose weight while still eating 1,400 calories a day, which was more than Weight Watchers were advising at the time. One member lost 11 pounds in a week, so to see the results happen so quickly was such a validation.

It was then that I quit my job as a secretary and began to make my clubs and classes my full-time living.

I became pregnant with my daughter Dawn with my first husband Phil in 1975. I remember so clearly not having the slightest idea I was pregnant at all. I just thought I didn’t feel well.

When I went to the doctor and he ran some tests he told me that they “came back positive’.” I had to ask him what on earth "positive" even meant!

Rosemary Conley and husband Mike stand with arms around each other on beachRosemary Conley met her husband Mike while pony trekking

I remember so clearly meeting my now-husband Mike while I was on a pony trekking holiday in the Brecon Beacons in May 1983. What struck me immediately wasn’t just how good looking he was, it was that he told me he had never ridden a pony before in his life!

I adore horse riding but I simply had never seen someone who was such a complete natural in the saddle. I couldn’t help but be impressed by this man and we went on our first date just a few days after the trek.

I often tell people that my story was an overnight success that took 17 years! My breakthrough was writing The Hip and Thigh Diet in 1988 and then the follow up The Complete Hip And Thigh Diet.

The second book sold 460,000 copies in the first six weeks and it triggered an absolute whirlwind of travel. On one tour I think I took 18 flights and stayed in nine different hotels.

Not everyone was thrilled though. I remember having one really irate dairy farmer shouting at me on a radio phone during a show in Australia who was furious that I was telling listeners not to eat butter.

The DJ backed me up, but these days I don’t think I would advise dieters to cut out butter completely.

The most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life was appearing on Dancing On Ice. The best part about it was having Mark Hanretty as my dance partner.

The first time I saw this gorgeous, 20-something man, there was this immense chemistry. I think you have to have that connection with your dance partner or it will be a disaster on the ice.

"The first time I saw this gorgeous, 20-something man, there was this immense chemistry"

The combination of my perseverance and his patience got us far further in the show than we ever thought we could.

I’ll never forget him lifting me up on the ice and telling me, “You’re so light.” I think that’s a phrase that every woman in the world wants to hear!

I embraced Christianity in 1986 when I was waiting to have an operation to remove gallstones. I was having a bit of a rotten time then as Mike and I were having a break from each other and my business was going through a difficult period.

I remember reading a book called Power for Living while waiting for my appointment. It was the first time that I really felt I was reading about God in a way that made sense to me.

That night I prayed to let the Lord into my life. There were no claps of thunder but I went to sleep and woke up feeling utterly cleansed and like a new person.

God then told me that, despite Mike and I being on a break, we should get married so I actually proposed to him over dinner a few nights later. I now call God “the Chairman” of my life.

Steps is a small charity which I’m the patron and trustee of in Leicestershire. It works with children from birth to the age of five who have motor disorders like cerebral palsy.

Turning a former school into the centre for Steps in 2007 was definitely the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It was a real “Challenge Anneka” makeover where we had the cameras from Central TV in the Midlands following us as we got 130 different companies to chip in and help.

I was cooking for the troops and set up “Rosie’s Larder” to feed everyone working on the job.

The centre is still there today and we still rely entirely on donations. We need around £250,000 a year to keep going but people’s generosity is amazing. We received £20,000 just yesterday from someone who had left us in their will.

Roseary Conley with family winning CBE at Buckingham PalaceRosemary Conley was awarded a CBE for her work improving the nation's fitness and wellbeing

Getting a CBE at Buckingham Palace was an incredible moment but it was almost a disaster as I fell down the stairs after going to the bathroom moments before receiving the honour!

"Getting a CBE at Buckingham Palace was an incredible moment but it was almost a disaster as I fell down the stairs"

Not only that, but the etiquette demands that, once you have received the award, you have to walk backwards for a couple of paces before turning and leaving the room.

I always wear high heels, so I’ll never forget how hard I had to concentrate on making sure I did the small walk backwards away from Prince Charles without toppling over!” 

Between Thick And Thin: My Story So Far by Rosemary Conley is published by SPCK Publishing (£19.99). All proceeds from the book will go to Steps, the charity for which Rosemary is patron. To donate and find out more go to stepscentre.org.uk

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