Anne Diamond asks if Rosemary Conley is obsessed with dieting
Wow, was this really happening? I had been invited to meet Christopher and his professional partner Jayne Torvill so they could see how I skated.
Conley participated in the 2012 series of Dancing on Ice
Back in 2007, ITV had first asked if I would like to audition for the hit show, then in its second series. It was so unexpected and very exciting. I had never skated on ice in my life so I booked a few lessons.
Sadly I did not pass the audition and my ice skating was put on hold while I made a series of successful fitness DVDs. By then I was 63, but I was determined to learn to skate and my ultimate dream was one day to appear on Dancing on Ice.
However, I failed in two more attempts and by 2010 was convinced I had never get on. But in 2012, I got a phone call to say I had been accepted and would be appearing in the seventh series. I was paired with Mark Hanretty, a stunningly good-looking, young Scottish guy who skated like a ballet dancer.
During our first session, he spun me around with the words: “And you’re so light!” Isn’t that something any woman wants to hear? When you ice dance with someone, you get very close. Thankfully, Mark was very protective and we created a wonderful partnership.
We reached week six, halfway through the series. At 65 I was the oldest contestant to get that far in the show’s history. Although that was as far as we got, it had been the most thrilling experience of my life and, 10 years on, Mark and I still maintain a genuine friendship.
Fulfilling my dream and appearing on Dancing On Ice was something scarcely believable back in 1986. But that was when the miracle happened that transformed my life for good. I had been following a strict, very lowfat diet after being warned the alternative was having my gallbladder removed.
Without trying, I lost 6lb, extraordinarily, from my previously voluptuous jodhpur thighs. The women at my exercise classes in Leicester were astonished at the difference in my shape.
So I created a low-fat diet – it worked for them too – and turned it into Rosemary Conley’s Hip And Thigh Diet. In January 1988, the Sunday Express serialised the book and it went straight to number one in the bestseller charts.
The publisher was having to reprint it every few weeks as it was flying off the shelves. Across the UK, eager dieters were queuing in bookshops to place their orders. The diet was working and everyone was talking about it.
I will always remember 1986 as the year my life took off – spiritually, emotionally and financially. It was a golden year, a trailblazer for many exciting times to come.
I had married my second husband, Mike, in July with my daughter Dawn, and her dad, Phil, my ex-husband, and his new partner Trish, all attending. I self-catered the reception, then we flew to Austria for our honeymoon where I had been invited to host a fitness course.
We were so broke we ate well at breakfast and then had nothing to eat until the evening. By 1990, I was enjoying world tours, producing fitness videos that topped the charts and making so much money it seemed unbelievable.
Conley’s diet book proved a massive hit
Life was frantic, so we decided to buy ourselves a weekend get-away cottage.
When we went to view Bay House, a pretty thatched cottage in Rutland, the owner showed us her cupboard full of cookery books including “this amazing new diet”. She proudly waved a copy of my sequel, the Complete Hip And Thigh Diet, in the air.
We treated ourselves to a Ferrari for Mike and an XJS Jaguar sports car for me. On top of that, I managed to bid successfully for a special number plate – ROS 1E – which cost more than the car!
Despite finding life hard to believe – because we remembered what it was like to have very little – what I appreciated most was that people loved what I produced, and that it worked for them. My books and videos were changing people’s lives and that was priceless.
I loved receiving letters from grateful dieters who had transformed their health, including one from the then Bishop of Bath, the Rt Revd Dr George Carey.
He and his wife had followed my Hip And Thigh Diet and both reached their respective goals. When Dr Carey became Archbishop of Canterbury, the press reported how he had slimmed down for his new role by following my diet.
Rosemary and her husband Mike
In 1992, I noticed Quorn House, an amazing Georgian mansion near Loughborough, was being offered for sale at a snip. It had its own lake and appeared to be of amazing value. Somehow, I knew we were meant to buy it.
An idea came to me to create a national network of franchised diet and fitness clubs, with Quorn House as the training centre. In January 1993, we tested the market with an advert in the Sunday Express and received hundreds of requests for more details.
After a lengthy process we found our first 19 franchises. They were pioneers of what would eventually grow to more than 150 franchises nationwide.
In between all this excitement my life continued to be ridiculously busy. I was approached to join the team on This Morning with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan. My visits there were always a thrill. On one memorable day, Hugh Grant was going to be interviewed, promoting Four Weddings And A Funeral.
I had not even heard of him then. But Hugh was sitting with his publicist backstage when, on hearing my name, he turned to a researcher and asked: “Who’s Rosemary Conley?” She waved towards me. Immediately, Hugh leapt over and kissed me. I treasure that memory.
Another notable occasion was when Robson Green and Jerome Flynn were set to appear. There were just the three of us in the green room when they got a call to say their song Unchained Melody had just reached number one in the charts. We all jumped around in joy and hugged.
Conley started her fitness empire from Quorn House
One day I was contacted by an official at Leicester City Council offering me the honour of being the first woman to be given the Freedom of the City of Leicester. And it kept getting better.
In 2002, I was in London at our Slimmer of the Year event and, while the winner was being presented with her award, there was a loud gasp. I thought someone had fainted. No, the presenter of This Is Your Life, Michael Aspel, had appeared with his big red book.
In 2003, I was invited on to ITV’s hugely popular live TV show Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway to surprise a woman who regularly exercised with my videos, by appearing in her house.
Since 1999, despite our great success, Mike had grown emotionally detached from me. Living together was proving so hard I dreaded going home each evening. I had discussed divorce and after that show decided I had had enough.
But our friend Rob Parsons offered Mike a job for six months at the Christian charity he had founded, Care For The Family, in Cardiff. This was ideal.
Mike would be among good people whose purpose was supporting families in difficulties. I would have a break from him and was prepared to see how we got on over the following months.
Conley receiving the freedom of the city of Leicester
Then something surprising happened. Mike took it upon himself to apologise for his actions. Amazingly, gradually, we did begin to rebuild our relationship.
Lessons had been learned and we both needed to make changes but, my goodness, those four years of gradual estrangement before reconciliation were the worst in my life.
I believe in slow-motion miracles. Many people think an amazing transformation is like a fairy godmother waving her magic wand. But life isn’t like that, and the deeper miracles can take an enormous amount of time, patience and sacrifice. As Mike and I continued to rebuild our marriage, some rather exciting moments provided a real lift.
In 2003, I received an invitation to Buckingham Palace for a reception for Pioneers Of The Nation, a gathering of celebrities from Cliff Richard to racing driver Jackie Stewart.
Members of the Royal Family were mingling among us, but by the time I met the Queen I had sipped three glasses of wine, without eating, and felt a bit squiffy. When Her Majesty asked what I did, I burbled: “I’m into diet and fitness”.
Perhaps not the most eloquent response when meeting our monarch for the first time. Then that November, I received a letter informing me I was being recommended for a CBE. I was flabbergasted.
Conley with her CBE medal
This was an extraordinary honour for a girl who left school before her 15th birthday and used to sell Tupperware. Arriving at the Palace the next March after a long drive, the first thing I asked was: “Where’s the loo?”
I was directed up one flight of stairs, then another, but as I turned round to go back I tripped and fell. Thankfully, I had not hurt myself, ripped my posh suit or laddered my tights, and my hat was still in one piece.
When the time came to step forward, I managed to curtsey to Prince Charles without tripping. We chatted and Charles explained he stayed a healthy weight by eating just one meal a day.
Outside, a journalist asked what Prince Charles had said, so I told him. The next day’s papers carried the story, including one headlined: “Prince Charles on Des O’Connor Diet.” Apparently, the comic was known for similar eating habits.
Was I going to be sent to the Tower of London for being indiscreet? I was mortified, I wrote a personal letter of apology. In fact, I received a charming reply from Prince Charles’s private secretary and it appeared all was well.
But it was a day I will never forget, and on occasions like this I was so grateful Mike and I were still together. I knew how lucky I was – but we never know when something will happen to dramatically change the way we view life.
Edited extract from THROUGH THICK AND THIN by ROSEMARY Conley (SPCK, £19.99), published on August 18. To pre-order for a discounted £16.99 with free UK P&P, visit expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832.