Mr Motivator: When you've been hungry and homeless, you value everything that's good in life
Marking the launch of his online Motivation Club, Derrick Evans talks to Abi Jackson about gratitude and making fitness fun and accessible
DERRICK Evans – or Mr Motivator – has been in high demand during the pandemic. It’s easy to see why: ever since bursting onto TV screens back in the early 90s in a flash of neon Lycra, GMTV’s upbeat fitness instructor became synonymous with making people feel good.
He says he’s done hundreds of interviews this past year all over the world, and they’ve all wanted to know the same thing: “How can I pick myself up? If I feel like I’m coming to the edge, how do I pull myself back?”
His advice? “Learn to unplug the computer. Learn to enjoy the quality of life. Learn to enjoy the time you now have,” among other nuggets.
He believes the pandemic has provided an opportunity to reevaluate what’s really important, especially in terms of “looking out for each other” and realising we don’t actually need all that much.
“This last year has made every single person out there realise chasing for that other television set you can’t possibly watch, that other car you can’t drive, is not that important. Your wish list has been all the things money can’t buy.”
For him, only four things have really mattered. “One is the roof over my head. Food in the fridge – these are all wonderful blessings. Number three is your health, and the fourth thing is love. And who you love and who loves you is your business, but if you love each other, do it unconditionally. And if you don’t have anyone who loves you, look in the mirror and love you. Then you’re saying to the world: ‘Look, I love me, I’m available for love’.”
But there’s no toxic positivity here. Finding the feelgood factor is heart and centre for Evans, but he’s keen to point out that acknowledging we all struggle sometimes is also really important.
“This last year has been tough for every single person. When you call up your best friend and say, ‘Are you sleeping well? No I’m not’. ‘Are you eating well? No I’m not’. ‘How you feeling? Well I’m OK’. They’re telling you they’re crying for help. And listen, you’re entitled to feel the way you feel. If you give people permission to feel the way they feel, what happens is it reminds them they’re not alone, and that can help us as well.”
It’d be easy to think looking on the bright side has always been easy for Mr Motivator, but he says it’s something “I had to learn”. Born in Jamaica in the 50s to a single mother, Evans was adopted as a baby. Aged 10, he moved to the UK, as his adoptive father had come over to work in Leicester. His mother came over too, but soon went back, followed by his father a few years later – by 17, Evans was here alone.
He’s talked about experiencing racism, and homelessness for a while in the early-70s as a young single dad after moving to London.
“When you’ve been hungry and homeless, you value everything that’s good in your life,” says the father-of-three, who now lives in Manchester with his wife Sandra Palmer – who shares Evans’s love of snazzy exercise gear and dancing like no-one’s watching (check out the home workouts they’ve been sharing on Instagram).
“When you’re my age, you’ve been through the university of life; there aren’t many pandemics you haven’t seen already. Ask any older person. The days when I was waiting to find somewhere to sleep or I was hungry – those are pandemics to some degree. There’s a beginning point you can’t predict, and an end point you can’t predict, but you have to keep believing that in the end, you will get through it.”
At 68 he feels “fitter than ever” with plenty of fuel in the tank (“One day those batteries might run out, but not yet!”) and a new venture he’s glad to be getting his teeth into.
Evans recently launched The Club – a new online hub aimed at older people and those looking for more alternative and accessible fitness solutions. Alongside a range of exercise programmes, including chair workouts, Pilates and strength sessions, members get expert advice on ‘sensible eating’ and mental wellbeing. It’s about tackling loneliness too, creating a community – and even people starting from absolute scratch, who can perhaps only manage a few minutes of activity sat in a chair, are very welcome. New members complete a questionnaire, so they can be matched with workouts and advice that best suit them.
Here, Mr Motivator tells us more…
You’ve launched your new online Club – how’s it all going?
“It’s going well. To be honest, it’s really been 30 years in the making. We’re recognising people are living longer and that older people in particular need to try and improve their independence, and one of the ways to do that is by having a good regime around you. That’s really my target now, to engage with [older people] who want something different.”
The Club is all about making exercise accessible for different fitness levels. The fitness world can often be intimidating, can’t it?
“That’s right. That’s always been my bugbear and something I’ve wanted to keep away from – that it must be all these star jumps and burpees and running, and you must do it for 30 minutes or 45. The important thing with exercise is that you’re smiling – it doesn’t have to be putting your body through so much stress that it takes days to recover.
“There’s a lady who joined the Club recently who asked if she could still benefit from just doing 12 minutes at a time. Of course! Go with it, give it a go. You might eventually think, ‘Do you know what, I feel really good, let me do another 12 minutes’. Variety is the spice of life and you’re more likely to do it if you have lots of different opportunities and types of exercise that fit into your life and where you are.
“Motivator has always been about the clothes, the music, the attitude, the smile and having fun, and I think that’s a recipe to get us to change our outlook on life. To realise it’s never too late, you can start right now.”
You’re famous for your colourful outfits – what does all that bright colour mean for you?
“When winter comes and it goes back into darkness, we start wearing dark, muted colours. And then when it’s summer, we start going brighter. But I always think, that feeling you get when you wear bright colours – imagine if you got that all year-round? There’s no reason why you can’t; it’s only a question of wearing more layers.
“The great American poet Maya Angelou once said, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’ – and something I always do is try to make people feel good. Colours are all part of the picture of Mr Motivator. If I’d got on television [all those years ago] just in black shorts and a white top, I would not be speaking with you today.”
:: Join mrmotivatorsclub.com now for unlimited access to a range of workouts from Hitt to Pilates, and expert advice on sensible eating and mental fitness. For £6.99 per month, members will access a personalised health, wellbeing and fitness plan, suitable for all ages and fitness levels.