The workout king on Donald Trump, saying no to IDLES and what he keeps in his bum bag
Kids today don’t know what they’re missing. The cinemas might be full of CGI Spider-Men and cartoon Thors but anyone who grew up watching GMTV had a real superhero to look up to. Mild-mannered fitness instructor called Derrick by night, neon-clad aerobic avenger by morning, Mr Motivator inspired a whole generation to exercise in a bum bag.
“I’ve been in people’s lives since 1993,” laughs Mr Motivator, talking via Zoom in front of a rail of florescent lycra. “The first time I stood on a festival stage there was no one around. The field was literally empty. And then I shouted ‘Motivator in the house!’ and everyone came out of the woods. I don’t call it a workout, and I don’t call it exercise. It’s a movement to music class, with a lot of fun.”
Ahead of his shows at Standon Calling festival and Camp Bestival Shropshire, we got stuck in a lift with Mr Motivator to ask him the important questions…
Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
Denzel Washington. He’s a man who sets incredible standards, not only in terms of work ethic, but also in the things he says off screen. So if I was stuck in a lift with him, even though I’m older than him, I reckon there’s so much I would learn. And, you know, they say the difference between life and school is that at school you’re taught a lesson and given a test, but in life you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.
Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?
Probably Donald Trump. I believe the only thing we positively gained out of Donald Trump was all the dinner conversations where everybody talked about how bad he was. During the period that he was in power our appreciation of each other went down, our values changed, we lost our way.
Could you still exercise if you were stuck in a lift?
Are you kidding!? For sure! You can exercise anywhere you like. Listen, you can stand with your back to the wall and lower your body down into a squat position. You hold that, right, and that’s an isometric contraction of your leg muscles. Incredible. You can run on the spot. You can do a star jumps. You can jump high and touch the ceiling. You can squat down and touch the floor. I mean, come on.
Sorry. Okay, what song would you like playing in the lift if you were stuck?
The song that’s always kept me going over the years is ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ by Mcfadden and Whitehead. The words are so strong, so uplifting, and they’re motivational. No matter who you are, no matter what you’re going through, if you listen to those words and just let that song run over you, you realise how uplifting it is.
Have you heard the IDLES song called ‘Mr. Motivator’?
I have, yes. They did contact me when they were doing it, and they asked me if I would appear in their video. We had a conversation and there was swear words. I never sworn in my life, so I said I couldn’t do it. They said I could do a toned down version, but I still didn’t want to be associated with it.
What was the first album you ever bought?
Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Oh my gosh. Only the other night I was flicking through the TV and Paul Simon was on and I realised again how talented that man is. The lyrics are strong. The playing is incredible. He embraces Africanism too.
Do you own any band T-shirts?
Well no, because I grew up in the Boys Brigade. That was all about a Christian upbringing so there were lots of things and that you just didn’t do. And I suppose that’s why I gravitated to music like Simon and Garfunkel – music you could play in front of your granny and not be embarrassed! So no T-shirts.
You’ve worn some other pretty amazing things over the years though – have you got a favourite item of clothing?
Colour lifts the spirit, right? It makes you feel good. So even if I was to wear something dark I would always have something bright, either a tie or a handkerchief or whatever. I have two new jackets that have just arrived and they’re amazing. Hold on, let me show you [walks off to model two incredibly coloured suits].
Only I can get away with this. No offence.
I’m just waiting for the right invitation now. My favourite though might be the one that I wore to accept my MBE. That day my wife and I were both in lots of bright colours and it just lifted the whole place because everyone else there was wearing black and grey.
How many bum bags have you got?
I have loads. I have drawers full of unitards and boxes of bum bags [picks up a handful]. The bum bag became a kind of fashion accessory but it was more functional for me because I kept my microphone pack inside. If I went on the floor to do stomach work on television, the mic was always in the way, so I came up with the idea of a bum bag.
Have you kept any Mr. Motivator memorabilia?
The only thing that I really held onto is this [picks up a multicoloured autograph book]. When I joined GMTV everybody who came into the station wanted to exercise with me, and I got them to sign this book. Here’s Meatloaf. John Denver. Rula Lenska. Daley Thompson. They’re all here, and this is full of messages from those days.
What’s your proudest moment?
I’ve been so blessed with so many wonderful things that have happened to me. I remember launching my video on GMTV live from the Las Vegas strip, and that was a real moment in time. Collecting my MBE. Getting married. Being invited to the royal box at Wimbledon. How do you pick a favourite?
Which movie would you like to rewatch for the first time?
I would love to have seen Ben Hur when it was first released. What an epic film that was. Especially because of my religious background, that story has always remained with me.
Who would play you if they made a Mr. Motivator movie?
It’s interesting you ask that because I’ve got someone who has already written the script. It’s probably in its fourth draft now and a good friend of mine, who happens to be a Hollywood director, is looking it over. And he said to me, ‘there’s one person I think could really play you well, and that’s Idris Elba’. Maybe my son could play a young me, and Idris could play me when I’m older? The thing is, you need to have to have all the edginess in there. You only see me as this colourful person, but you don’t know the rough edges. The homelessness, the times we were robbed in Jamaica and held at gunpoint… you don’t know about our kids being taken away and my fight to try and get them back.
Would you be happy for people to see that side of you in a film?
Oh, yeah, for sure. I’ve always been very open with who I am. I’m not ashamed about anything. When I was homeless and sleeping in a bed and breakfast it was rough. But when I look back, I realise that it’s made me appreciate everything all the more.
I really hope that film gets made. If it does, who do you want doing the soundtrack?
Again, you need someone who can balance the pain with the joy. And that’s probably Elton John. He’s had a life that’s been up and down and hard and soft, so I think he’d appreciate it.
He’s probably the only other guy alive who could pull off wearing that jacket too…
[Laughs] Exactly! He gets it. Me and Elton, there’s no one else.