Chocolate biscuits are why I'm in the shape I'm in says the man behind May McFettridge

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Belfast panto legend John Linehan, currently appearing in Peter Pan at Belfast's Grand Opera House

John Linehan, aka May McFettridge, who is currently starring in Peter Pan at the Grand Opera House

1. Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I get up around 7.30am and the first thing I'll do is have a cup of coffee. Then I'll watch the news and check any messages on my phone. I don't do email. I might run a few errands to the shop if our wee 13 month-old grandchild is coming over for the day. I tend to get up early – no later than 8am. Once I see daylight, that's me up and about.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? Breakfast is a bowl of cereal, probably cornflakes, eaten with sliced banana. I might also have a slice of toast.

Lunch? When I'm in panto, I'll pop across the road from the Grand Opera House to Centra for a sandwich or a roll with a slice of bacon. If I'm at home, lunch could be a small omelette or soup.

Evening meal? My evening meal at the moment consists of a ready meal from M&S that Paddy [Jenkins] and I buy which we heat up in the microwave at the Grand Opera House. I'll eat about 4pm and that will keep me going until I get home when I might have another coffee before bed. Drinking coffee late at night doesn't bother me at all; as soon as my head hits the pillow, I'm out like a light.

3. Is nutrition important to you?

Yes, it has to be because panto is so demanding. I will take Vitamin C in the morning and Paddy and me will have lemon and ginger tea with honey during our break to keep our throats lubricated. There is a lot of shouting and singing in panto, so you have to look after your voice.

4. Best meal ever?

A good chicken tikka masala dinner.

5. Do you have a guilty pleasure?

A dark chocolate biscuit with coffee, maybe two biscuits, if the mood takes me. Chocolate biscuits are the reason I'm in the shape I'm in.

6. Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

I have dieted, but not very well. One time I came off the drink and the weight fell off me, but it gets harder to stay in shape, the older you get.

7. Do you take health supplements?

I take Berocca Vitamin C in the morning and that's all.

8. How do you relax?

There's nothing like after a show, just putting your feet up with a pint of Guinness and chatting to fellow actors. That's the height of my relaxation during the panto run. At other times, I love a game of golf, but due to a recent shoulder injury, I'll not be able to play until well into next year.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

A tipple – especially a Guinness after a show.

10. Stairs or lift?

I'll always take the stairs unless I'm in a real hurry. When we're in panto, we're not allowed to use the lift anyway, in case it breaks down and we're stuck in it when we should be on the stage. That is a rule that generally isn't broken; before I had my knee replacement, I still walked down the steps – sideways.

11. Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I think running about the stage is my daily exercise routine at the minute. When I'm not in panto, I'll aim to go to the gym and use the walking machine or go to the pool for a swim. I love swimming and afterwards, will use the sauna and jacuzzi. I also love a game of golf. My exercise has been curtailed due to recent surgery on my shoulder and I was wearing a sling for eight weeks. That has made me nervous to go out walking in the current bad weather in case I fall, but I always loved going walking up Cave Hill on a Sunday morning.

12. Best tip for everyday fitness?

Plenty of walking – if you have just 400 or 500 yards to go to the shop, don't take the car, just walk there. When the weather is OK, I'll walk three-and-a-half miles into the opera house from my home.

13. On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I think I'm about a four but I would love to be an eight. After 75 performance of Peter Pan, I might reach that target...

14. Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

Yes, I would definitely try alternative therapy. After my operation on my shoulder, I started to attend the back clinic on the Antrim Road and massage therapy definitely helps.

15. Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

School days were great for me and I played on the football team at St Pat's on the Antrim Road for the four years I was there. I still see the guys I played with from time to time.

16. Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

At 33 I was diagnosed with syringomyelia, where fluid-filled cysts form within your spinal chord, and after that, I definitely appreciated my health more. It is a sort of muscle wastage disease and I had an operation to help the sheaths around the nerves of my spinal chord breathe more easily. I also contracted bacterial meningitis and was given 36 hours to live. When I was that low, I had an out-of-body experience and I saw myself lying on the hospital bed – bizarrely, I remember seeing the back of the head of the night nurse, who I noted, was losing his hair. When I wakened up, I looked up and saw the part of the ceiling where I had been above my bed.

17. Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

Get up early, go to your work and work hard, whatever that work may be.

18. Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

I can't think of anyone; I am just myself.

19. What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I love sleep – I go to bed around 11pm at the moment, but if it wasn't for panto, I could be in bed for eight o'clock to watch TV but then nod off and then waken up again to find I had missed Blue Planet.

20. Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

Yes, I am grateful for every day. Syringomyelia is a disease that either gallops or crawls and I am lucky that it is crawling with me. The doctor said I could live into my 80s, so if I live to see my wee 13-month-old granddaughter grow up and get married, I will be a happy man.

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