Walter Sutcliffe: It's amazing how productive you can be after a two-hour lunch

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Walter Sutcliffe, artistic director of Northern Ireland Opera

Walter Sutcliffe, artistic director with Northern Ireland Opera
Gail Bell

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

This is a complicated one. The one thing that is consistent in my life is change. In Holywood, I will do two early mornings in the gym and the other days I will sleep as late as possible and get coffee on my way to rehearsals, or whatever the first meeting of the day happens to be. When I am abroad working, a lot depends on whether I am living in a hotel or an apartment. My ideal is waking up with my partner and being able to take time to make good coffee and have something energising for breakfast.

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

Breakfast? Breakfast is normally coffee and fruit – I adore cooked breakfasts but honestly I just want to get straight back into bed straight after eating one, so that’s a no-no on a working day.

Lunch? Again, this depends. I have often worked in France and the lunchtime there is very important – you get a two-hour break and most restaurants do a sit-down meal with a couple of glasses of wine. First time I was there, I thought this would kill the afternoon but it's amazing how productive you can be after a good lunch. I’ve not found so much of this thing in Belfast though, so here it is often a super-food curry from Snax.

Evening meal? Dinner, I like to enjoy but, as I’ve got older, I’ve found that the consequences of long dinners are harder to shake. A lot of stuff gets discussed in restaurants but, on a different day, I am happy with some raw carrots and a pack of blueberries.

3 Is nutrition important to you?

I guess that food is important to me. I think that the preparation of food and eating it is up there with the most creative things we do. Basically, I try not to put too much junk in my system – mainly because it just makes me feel bad.

4 Best meal ever?

Tricky question… the Sea Urchin sashimi that I had in Santiago di Chile takes some beating, but I also remember lamb sweetbreads in a place called Le J’Go in Toulouse that rocked.

5 Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Too many too mention… but I am sure that foie gras will have me sent down to the seventh circle of hell.

6 Have you ever been on a diet?

If so, how did it go? When I was in my 20s and 30s I used to be able to drop pounds just by working out more in the gym. I’ve reluctantly come to the realisation that, sadly, this technique has stopped working for me and I am now trying to combine working out with the 5:2 diet. I'll tell you later if it works.

7 Do you take health supplements?

I have tried, but I kept forgetting.

8 How do you relax?

I don’t get much downtime but if I can commandeer a few hours and switch off, I like to cook. I also do yoga at the Flow Studio in Holywood. I love to drink good wine, interesting spirits and lie under the sun when it comes out... pretty normal stuff helps me relax.

9 Teetotal or tipple?

I guess that I answered that already.

10 Stairs or lift?

Hmm, how many floors are we talking about?

11 Do you have a daily exercise regime?

Not daily, but I guess, I have a weekly regime. I do 30 minutes of cardio, two or three times a week, and 45 minutes of weights twice a week. If I can get a yoga class in, then great.

12 Best tip for everyday fitness?

I think I am probably the last person you should be asking for advice. This reminds me of a joke – the doctor told me if I wanted to live longer I should quit smoking, drinking and eating fried food. I said, 'Will it work?' and he said, 'Well, it will definitely feel longer.'

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 am a four and I would like to be seven or eight.

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

I haven't yet but, yes, I would try it. Try anything once, I say – with a few exceptions, of course.

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

I played a lot of sports at school but around the age of 15 I discovered nightclubs and girls and I think my focus shifted a little. I do remember having to play a rugby match the day after an all-night techno party in about 1992. I don’t think I passed muster and the coach took rather a dim view of it all.

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

I think epiphany is a bit strong but once in a while I take a look in the mirror and think that I should definitely do some self-improvement.

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

See answer above: I must never have been given any worthwhile advice on health and lifestyle. Still working on the self-improvement.

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

I was always a big fan of Oliver Reed.

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

I never get enough sleep, even if I go to bed at 11pm and sleep nine or 10 hours.

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

I am not too happy about it, I guess like most people. Is that healthy? I am not sure if it is better to be positive or negative about this sort of thing. Not much we can do about it, anyway.

:: Northern Ireland Opera will be performing Johann Strauss's popular Die Fledermaus at the Grand Opera House in September – performances will be sung in English in a new translation by Walter Sutcliffe and Meredith Oakes. Dates and tickets from

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