Tyrone writer Polly Devlin: I hated every single moment of my despicable secondary school

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Co Tyrone-born author, writer and broadcaster Polly Devlin

Polly Devlin pictured in her London home
Gail Bell

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

I get up at 7am without an alarm, shower and – three mornings a week – go to the local park and walk with Anula, a brilliant trainer, to do the quick walk and then rest routine. I walk for an hour and include some high steps over a bridge. Anula won't let me have coffee on the way home, so I am in a constant hissy fit. Then I have an hour and a half of yoga and 15 minutes resistance training. I'm very, very bad at this and good at resisting doing it. I am at my desk by 10 unless I have to go out for something.

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

Breakfast? For three mornings a week, I eat full-fat yoghurt with pumpkin seeds, walnuts, sunflowers seeds, goji berries and chia seeds, all soaked overnight, and add coconut flakes, linseed, flax seed, amaranth, bee pollen and blueberries or raspberries... and anything else that takes my fancy. It’s a fantastic, horrible looking porridge but tastes wonderful.

Lunch? If I go out for lunch, I have vegetarian options – lentils and loads of vegetables (with butter) or side dishes. If I'm at home, lunch might be a bowl of vegetable soup and a salad, something like endive, walnuts and Roquefort with the best olive oil money can buy.

Evening meal? If I'm at home, I eat a light meal in the early evening, maybe soup, an omelette or a salad. My salad is perfection.

3 Is nutrition important to you?

Hugely important. I dieted a lot and battled with my weight, which of course is battling with your emotions and psyche and sadness; it has nothing to do with weight. I took a week-long course at Grayshott Spa in Surrey in January and it changed my life. I lost two stone without ever feeling hungry or deprived. The chief commandment is: No Sugar.

4 Best meal ever?

I'm name dropping here, but it's necessary. My best meal ever was being asked to lunch by Philippe de Rothschild and his second wife Pauline Fairfax Potter at their legendary apartment in London. There were tiny soufflés, turbot, wild strawberries... The wine was decanted and around each decanter was tied a little handkerchief to catch any drips. The baron commented on each wine, not with ponderous descriptions, but to tell us of the little quarters of the estate where each vintage came from and its characteristics. One I remember as nectar was a white wine reserved only for his table because it was so delicate that it could not be marketed commercially – something to do with mists rising in the morning or the evening in the vineyard sloping down to the river and also because it grew in such a small area that only a few bottles were produced.

Polly Devlin with her youngest daughter, Bay Garnett, a fashion stylist and editor

5 Do you have a guilty pleasure?

No, not any more. All food is a pleasure now and I dislike chocolate, cake... the things I so hugely craved and were a real addiction.

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

Enough said in answer number three above. I was always on a diet.

7 Do you take health supplements?

Yes, I take lots of vitamins, especially D3 in this unsunned climate and magnesium and zinc.

8 How do you relax?

I dunno, but being with my daughters and reading, talking to friends, walking my dog – they are all great pleasures to me. My life is speedy but relaxed.

9 Teetotal or tipple?


10 Stairs or lift?

Stairs, stairs stairs.

11 Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I have my walking, yoga and resistance training with Anula three mornings a week and whatever stairs I come across. On the other mornings, I take my little Cypriot slum dog Queenie for a walk.

12 Best tip for everyday fitness?

Keep walking, even for 15 minutes, twice a week, and fit some simple resistance training exercises into your routine.

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

I don't know how fit I am; I don't do Fitbits or things like that. Sometimes I feel as weak as water, yet other times I tear up the underground stairs. I have a heart problem, so that’s probably why I will be found at the feet of a startled busker in the Underground some day.

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

Therapy is alternative by its very nature and is central to my life. I had 14 years of therapy with a Jungian doctor when I was younger and disturbed. I think massage and cranial stuff are all therapies which I practise or have had practised on me.

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

I hated every single moment of my despicable secondary school.

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

The health epiphany was checking into the Spa with a cynical sigh.

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

Simple – no sugar, no grains (so, no porridge), no white flour (no pasta) and no rice. And as much sleep as possible – eight hours.

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

My three brilliant daughters, the Garnett women. The restauranteur, chef and writer, Serena Bass. Carmen Callil, founder of Virago press and a great writer. Stephanie Moore, nutritionist. Isabel Bannerman, best garden designer in the world and a writer.

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

I try to get to bed early and I usually get eight hours of sleep. I awaken without a clock. Window open all the year round.

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

Yes, I know I'm going to die, but not yet. I'm having DNR tattooed on my breast bone. so the nice doctors can't resuscitate me.

:: Polly Devlin, whose latest book, Writing Home, was published last year, is in conversation at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, on November 5.

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