By Samantha Rea
Mr. Motivator, aka Derrick Evans, is best known for getting the nation’s hearts racing in the 90s, with his fat-burning fitness routines. Now, at 67, the superhero of breakfast television is back. We meet the man behind the Lycra…
How did you become Mr. Motivator?
For ten years I tried to get onto television, and I kept getting turned down. I’d go to the TV-am studios trying to persuade them, and they’d say it had to be a woman, and she probably had to be blonde. I’d worked in marketing and I knew that marketing is critical with everything, so I looked at the people on television. There was Mad Lizzie who you wouldn’t remember, because all she ever wore were cardigans – they weren’t significant enough for you to remember her. And there was the Green Goddess, who stuck with me because of her green outfit. So I created Mr. Motivator, with the colours and the music, as a way of engaging and empowering people and making them feel good. If I’d worn a black t-shirt and a white pair of shorts, you wouldn’t be speaking to me today!
Where do you get your outfits?
Every January I go to a wonderful store in downtown Miami, which has thousands of fabrics, and I feel like a kid in a candy store. I choose enough for 40-50 outfits every year because I don’t like wearing the same outfit more than once. Certain ones stand out – like a gold one that got everybody going – and then I definitely can’t wear them again. I’ve got caseloads of outfits, so I sign them and give them to charities to auction off.
You’ve done a lot for charity, supporting Breakthrough Breast Cancer, bringing out a DVD for people with MS, and entertaining crowds at charity walks. Why is that important to you?
When you come from a position of not having very much, it makes you appreciate that, when you have the ability to really help others, you should do it. When I did the warm-up for the walk, in aid of St. Ann’s Hospice in Manchester, I set the scene for up to 5,000 women to walk through the night to raise money. I like doing things like that, because it makes people feel good, and you do something for other people, and you benefit from it as well.
Lorraine Kelly, who you worked with on morning television, has been quoted telling a rather cheeky story about why you wear a bum bag…
She’s being naughty, telling lies! The reason I wear a bum bag is to keep the mic inside – then it’s out of the way, and you don’t see the wires. I get them made up in the same fabric I’m working out in, so it looks neat – but Lorraine reckoned it was a deflection to take your eyes away from other things! It’s not true, but it’s a good one, isn’t it? There’ve been so many articles written about what’s in my bum bag. One year we did a spoof where I pretended to pull out a fire extinguisher!
You’ve been back on our screens, on BBC One’s HealthCheck UK Live, keeping us fit during the Coronavirus lockdown. What’s really stood out is the feelgood factor that you bring, not just to exercise, but to TV. Do you think that’s been missing?
There’s a saying by Maya Angelou: ‘You may forget what people say, you may forget what they do to you, but the one thing you’ll never forget is how they make you feel.’ And that is so important – how we make each other feel. I’m trying to give people a good feeling, so when I walk out of the room, the footsteps behind me are something they want to follow – or they want to learn how I managed to walk that way. That’s how we should be living our lives. I’m really pleased to be back because it’s given me the opportunity to do not just fun fitness, but also to talk about the deeper aspects of our wellbeing… I think it’s important to have a positive outlook and to recognise and accept where we are, and realise there’s some things we can do something about, and some things we can’t.
You’ve said: ‘Physical fitness is part of the pillars that hold up our wellbeing.’ What else do you think is important to our wellbeing?
Your emotions – they’re one of the most important pillars in your life because if you’re emotionally happy, you can work all hours, and two hours’ sleep will keep you going. But when you’re emotionally unhappy, you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t train – you can’t do nothing. You ask an athlete who’s about to go into a race after losing a loved one – he’ll guarantee he’ll lose that race. That’s how important your mental and your emotional side is. Your financial fitness is also important. But I believe if you get your emotions in check, your health will improve, your finances will improve, and your physical fitness will improve.
It’s so connected – when we exercise, we do feel better in ourselves and start thinking more positively, don’t we?
Yeah, but if you go to exercise, and your mind’s not there, that’s the day you get injured. That’s the day you walk out thinking, ‘I didn’t sweat much!’ And the reason is, your mind wasn’t there. Your emotions were in the wrong place. So it’s critical that we focus on making ourselves mentally stronger during these difficult times. That starts with the frame of mind you put yourself in at the start of the day, because we gravitate towards our dominant thought.
Talking on BBC HealthCheck UK, you said your time in the Christian youth organisation Boys’ Brigade was a great beginning for you, and that their motto of ‘Sure and Steadfast’ has stayed with you. Can you tell me about your time in Boys’ Brigade?
I joined when I was ten, and I was a drum major, so I led the band, marching in front of the troop. I was in there until I was nearly 20, so it was the formative years and I really thank him above. I may not practice, but I honestly believe there is a God... The Boys’ Brigade is founded on Christian principles, and so what you’re taught – and you do learn this – is respect for each other and looking after each other, caring for each other, and realising you’re not in a vacuum in this world - you’ve always got to be open to helping people. It gave me an anchor - something to hold onto. In fact, one of the badges I won when I was in Boys’ Brigade had an anchor on it, and that was important. I wish the Boys’ Brigade was as strong now as it was then, because I believe that if it was, we wouldn’t have a lot of the problems we have nowadays.
Do you think that’s because Boys’ Brigade keeps kids active or because of the Christian values being instilled?
I think it’s the values that were instilled, which were reinforced by your parents. They sent you to Boys’ Brigade, so they believed in the principles of it, and when you came home, they’d make sure you carried on with the principles you learnt. When I mentioned it on television, Boys’ Brigades around the country wrote in and thanked me. But why would I deny something that’s fundamental to who I am?
Your early life was quite incredible. I heard you say on Premier Christian Radio that your mother gave you away in the market when you were three months old?
Yeah, a couple came up to her and said: ‘Can we have him?’ She was only 17, so she said ‘Yes’ because she couldn’t manage. In Jamaica, that’s how it was in them days. There wasn’t any organisation called the adoption agency. People did look after children and my folks always took people in. They never changed my name, so I remained Evans, even though they were called Rose, and they took me to church and taught me to pray and say grace, and to look after everyone I meet, and to have a smile on my face. It was poor beginnings in Jamaica - there were five of us living in a two-room house. The bathroom, toilet and kitchen were outside and there was no running water – we had to fetch it. But three times a day, you went to church - in particular on a Sunday. During the week it was more choir practice. I wasn’t singing, but I’d go with my mum. One evening she forgot me - I woke up in the pews and the church was all locked up! When she realised I was missing, she came running back! We came to the UK when I was ten, and the church played a major part in every single Sunday, and during the week. If you could move, you were going to church - that’s how it was.
You’ve had some difficult times in your life, with homelessness and being a single parent. Would you say it’s your Christian values that have kept you going?
For sure. You can’t ignore the foundations – they’re part of who we are. When a meal was cooked at my folks’ house, there would always be other mouths to feed, and now, if I’m about to eat and someone comes to the home, I’ve literally got to stop or share what I have. That goes back to how things were, and the lessons we learnt. Things become a habit and once they’re formed, it’s like not brushing your teeth one day. If you don’t brush them, you don’t feel right. People say: ‘Are you always happy?’ Yeah, I am! Because I’ve been to the university of life. I’ve been through all the hurricanes and I’ve realised that I have a choice and everybody out there has a choice. Do you want to be happy or do you want to be sad? You have that choice. Because even if something sad happens in your life, you can still find a way to be happy. If I lose someone, like when I lost my mum or a good friend, I still smile through it and say, ‘Let’s celebrate the life they lived.’ People go: ‘It got cut short.’ No! Because we don’t know what we’ve been doled out. We don’t know whether we get 39 years or 115 years. So how can you say it’s short? You can be impactful, no matter how young you are. You can be 21 and you could impact someone in such a positive way, that they learn a lesson, and maybe that is all you are on this earth for.
You were raffling off your $2.4 million house and business in Jamaica, because you wanted it to go to a normal person rather than a millionaire. Why was that important to you?
I wanted to give an ordinary person the opportunity of owning a business, because how many people dream of it, and are never able to do it? When you’ve had the upbringing and start I’ve had in life, it’s good to give a helping hand. Unfortunately, there was scepticism about what I was doing – people didn’t realise I meant it for good and they thought it was a scam, and so we had to pull it.
YouTube is now a massively important platform for fitness. Can we look forward to seeing you live-streaming your workouts?
I’m not a techy person, but I’m trying, and learning as I go along. Over two million people bought my workout videos and I’ve been asked about them for years because they were never released on DVD. Now I’m putting them all on my YouTube channel, and I’m filming new workouts, with my wife by my side. She joins in, sitting in a chair, to show you can do it sitting down because the whole family needs to be engaged. There are lots of people on their own who are not young, and this shows them an alternative they can do.