Mr Motivator: ‘beautiful older people are works of art’

Why legendary health and wellbeing coach Derrick Evans – AKA Mr Motivator – remains a man with a mission

It isn’t every day that you get the opportunity to sit down with a bona fide legend of the fitness world. But when we did get that chance, we weren’t going to miss out.  

With nearly forty years of experience, Mr Motivator has pretty much seen and heard it all. He’s spent decades helping people develop a love of exercise and staying fit and healthy, and is showing no signs of stopping on that mission. 

Mr motivator standing with arms crossed looking at cameraCredit: Chris Kennedy / Exceptional
Mr Motivator opens up about his incredible life

Perhaps best known for his stint on GMTV in the 1990s, Derrick Evans was awarded an MBE for services to health and fitness in the Queens’s 2020 Birthday Honours List. But as he told us, there’s plenty more still to come.

Saga CEO Euan Sutherland caught up with Mr Motivator during the exercise icon’s stint leading exercise classes on a Saga cruise to discuss what keeps him motivated, the legacy of lockdowns, mental health… and reveals his guilty pleasure.

(This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity).

As Mr Motivator tells us, life hasn’t always been easy.

“There were some really difficult times in the early part of my life. I was a single parent from age 20. So you made decisions then about how you put bread on the table. And there was a period in my life when I was homeless and I was over in Finsbury Park waiting outside a homeless family unit, waiting for somewhere to actually sleep.

“But the one thing I really believed in is if I kept working hard and if I was considerate and kind, then amazing things would happen in my life and so I never took any chances. Then all of a sudden, there was a light bulb moment which said to me, ‘this is what I ought to be doing’.

“Once I found it, I became really happy about what I was doing. And I’ll always remember the first class I started, which is in my book [The Warm Up], people used to travel 20 miles to come to my fitness classes.

We would have 120 people exercising. I mean, at the time that I’m talking about 1983, it was just unheard of. And of course, television started to listen.

“Men with a grizzly beard give me a big kiss!”

“But what motivates me now is when you get someone coming up to me and saying, ‘Mr Motivator, I crawled on this ship’, walking out, standing up, or Mr Motivator, ‘I couldn’t get out that chair, but you told me that if I use my legs, my independence would return. And it has’.

“That’s what motivates me. That’s what keeps me going, and that’s what gives me the joy to be able to smile every single day.

“I get back so much from people. I mean, I get people running up behind and grabbing me! Men with a grizzly beard give me a big kiss! I think it’s so important that you spread joy and I say to people, always find time for people because you just don’t know what internal battles they may be fighting.”

Mr Motivator with his wife, after receiving his MBE for services to health and fitnessCredit: Getty
Mr Motivator was awarded an MBE for services to health and fitness

During the pandemic, Mr Motivator appeared on the BBC’s HealthCheck UK Live, helping the nation stay active during lockdown.

We asked him about his reflections on that time.

“There are four lessons I’ve learned from the lockdown. The first lesson I learned was the importance of your home. Every single person in lockdown realised that importance.

“Whether you hated being on your own, the mere fact that you had a roof over your head was a real plus. You had a choice. You could go for a walk.

“Coming back to the sanctity the security, the happiness and joy of your home was a blessing. Especially for someone like me who was [once] homeless, that is a double blessing, right? 

“Number two, you know the importance of opening a fridge door and see you got a choice of food in there, because how many people during lockdown didn’t have that choice?

“Or right now don’t have that choice about what to eat. We have that wonderful blessing of that choice and that is a great place to be.

“Don’t ever take your health for granted”

“The third blessing is your health! Don’t ever take your health for granted – you are blessed with a body that, number one, has 650 muscles in it. And those muscles love work. We know how good you feel after you’ve exercised. 

“In fact, anybody who exercises, the subject of conversation after they’ve exercised is, guess what? I was exercising! That’s what you talk about.

“And there are those wonderful hormones that come out – serotonin, endorphins, which is a happy drug that makes you happy, not just for when you’re exercising, but for days afterwards. 

“And if you look after your health, guess what? Your family is going to benefit, you’re gonna benefit, society benefits and all round everybody benefits. So look after your health!

“Number 4 is love. Love who you choose to love, and if you don’t have anybody in your life who you love, look in that mirror and love that person you see.

“If you tell that person in front of the mirror you’re loved, guess what? You’re telling the world that you’re open for love.”

The government has been vocal in its need to tackle obesity in the UK, in helping people to live healthier lives. We asked Mr Motivator for his thoughts on what we should be doing. 

“When it comes to obesity, I think every single one of us needs to take responsibility for our own health. I don’t believe dictating will ever help.

“I think what we have got to do is keep pushing the message out there that you need to look after yourself, because there are many reasons why someone could be obese – it could be a health problem. It could be just the fact that maybe they’ve let themselves go and not realised it. 

“So there are many reasons and I think what we need to do is continue to give people the ammunition they need to be able to make a healthy decision. 

“That means just like the woodpecker pecking away at the tree, eventually you break through. And as long as you’re giving that message and it’s fun enough and interesting enough, I believe that people take notice. 

“All too often, we do it like the doctor telling you, ‘you must, you must, you must’. But the end of the day, you’ve got to want to do that, and we need to create that want. 

“People tap their feet to the music and not realise they’re doing it. Before you know, they’re moving their whole body”

“The only way you do it is to make people tap their feet to the music and not realise they’re doing it. Before you know, they’re moving their whole body without realising they’re doing it.

“It’s almost like dressing up the old pill of fitness and health in a kind of sugar coating so they don’t know they’re swallowing it.”

“I don’t have a ‘diet’. I recommend to people sensible eating. I always start with porridge, I have fruit sometimes during the day. I generally don’t have anything after lunchtime, I may have a meal which is always very healthy. I don’t eat meat.  

“For years all I’ve eaten is fish and vegetables. My wife is living proof that there’s a point at which, I mean, she’s 65 now and we do everything together.  

“I do all the cooking in my home, the whole lot, but we eat loads of vegetables. She had spent all these years looking after the kids and forgetting herself.  

“She got to a point where I bought her a trip to Koh Samui and she went out there and she kind of detoxed – not just in terms of detoxing internally, but mentally detoxing too. And she came back with a new mission that says ‘I’m going to attend to me now, and look after me now. I’m important.’

“And so for the last six months that’s all she’s done. She’s lost 45 pounds in weight. Her life story is just incredible. What she’s done, I’m so proud of her. 

Once a month. I treat myself right. Guess what I have? Big pack of plain crisps and a bag of M&M’s. Together.

“And I’ve got it downstairs. I can’t wait for the start of the month but I keep putting it off, because the longer I leave it when I go to eat it? Mmmmmm, man!

Mr Motivator and colleagues from GMTV in pyjamasCredit: ITV/Shutterstock
Mr Motivator back in the 1990s

 Mr Motivator has talked openly about the importance of good mental health.

He tells us how he takes care of his mental wellbeing. 

“There was a period in my life which was really difficult. The effect of stress on all of us can really bring us down.

“And there was a period when I suffered the loss of my grandchild and I was there, being strong for everybody. When everyone was crying, I was the one standing up and stifling back my tears. She was 12 years of age and, and, I couldn’t find the answer to why.

“And there was one day that I just collapsed. Literally just collapsed. My body just didn’t feel right.  

“The doctor said to me if I hadn’t been fit and healthy, I would have gone. And I realised there and then that that’s another message we need to get out, to every single male in particular, and that’s being the strongest in the family, it doesn’t mean that you can’t cry. 

“If you cry it actually makes you stronger and if you want to release the stress in your life, cry, right? You feel so much better. 

“In terms of my mental side, that was affected too, purely because I didn’t remember all the messages I’ve been giving people. And I’ve been telling people for years, always cry.

“Actually, yes, be strong, be physically, mentally strong. But thank goodness, I realised early, and I was able to do something about it.  

“My mental strength has taken me through a whole load because at the same time that happened, my best friend of 60 years, died. And so there was a lot I had to deal with.

“Sometimes you got to experience all these things, to come out the other side feeling stronger. Everything that happens to us, are the building blocks of who we are.

“I’ll always remember someone writing to me after I did a radio programme where I said I resented certain decisions I had made and he said to me, no, you must look at where you are and if you’re not in hospital and if you’re not dead, you haven’t broken a leg, then the decision you made was a good decision. And that’s remained with me.

“Don’t ever tell me ‘don’t’. Don’t tell me ‘can’t’. That’s the fuel that keeps me going. I believe that I give value. I can add value to someone’s life. I believe that there are words of encouragement I can give them that can make them feel better. 

“And when you’ve had a life which has gone up and down, and every time I come out of it better for it, it means that these years now, are really wonderful. And there’s something I say to everyone:  

“I say that beautiful teenagers are freaks of nature, but beautiful older people are works of art. That’s my justification for where I am, because I think if I walk into a room with my shoulders back, and a smile on my face, everybody gravitates toward me.  

“If I’d have my shoulders down, looking at the floor, no one’s interested about how I feel. No one cares but the other way [coming vibrantly into the room] they go, ‘what did you have last night, can I have some of what you’re on?’”

Despite everything he’s already accomplished, there is plenty more still to come. 

“I still believe that there are loads of people out there I can reach. I believe that people want to hear the message of health and wellness, and the joy you get from doing it. And I wanna keep spreading that.  

“I’ve got a lot of TV work lined up to come. And every one of those is gonna be uplifting, motivational, make you feel good.  

“I’ve got something else coming out on BBC soon, where we’ve taken three people who all have different injuries, different ages, different things to cope with, and they’re going to exercise and [we’ll give them] things to focus on mentally; we’re now just basically putting last bits together and how they’ve done it for over two months.  

“Be fun and jolly and lively – be colourful”

“Anything like that I love, I really want to see my club (the Motivation Club, Mr Motivator’s online workout portal) really thrive, where people can gain access to all the information they need to be healthy, and it be fun and jolly and lively – be colourful, right?”

Steven Shaw

Written by Steven Shaw he/him

Updated:

Steven Shaw has been a freelance writer for a variety of outlets, most notably TechRadar. His degree in Medieval History prepared him less adequately for his career than you might expect, but the years spent working in technology focused retail were much more helpful.

Outside of work, Steven is passionate about health and fitness, and particularly enjoys high-intensity interval training, weight training, and increasingly, spending time recovering. Steven loves reading, films and a wide variety of sports. A particular highlight was watching Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar batting together in an exhibition match.

He wishes he could travel more. He can also tell you a lot about the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Carolingians. Most of his non-work time is spent with his young children, who are the living embodiment of high-intensity training.