'I had lost track of how fat I'd become': The humiliating moments actress Pauline Quirke knew she had to lose weight
Pauline Quirke shows off her slimline figure
I had lost track of how fat I’d become. Perhaps I’d just locked the depressing realisation away in the dark recesses of a kitchen cupboard, tightly sealed in Tupperware. It was only in the summer of 2010 when I was at the airport with my husband Steve and the kids, heading for my beloved Majorca, that the truth came tumbling out to smack me in the mush.
I was on my way across the tarmac when the grim, familiar apprehension came over me. That question: will the seatbelt go round me My mind started racing. What kind of aircraft was this A 737 or a 747 Doesn’t one of them have larger seats Aren’t the window seats supposed to be bigger
I could feel Steve and my kids looking at me, knowing what I was feeling as I tugged the seatbelt across my body and felt its metal buckle cutting in.
‘Don’t look at me,’ I felt like shouting, but all I said inside was a little prayer that the thing would click into place under all the blubber. But it didn’t. So, as discreetly as I could, I summoned the petrifyingly slim air stewardess for assistance.
‘Could I have an extension belt, please’ I muttered, as quietly as I could.
Now these extension belts are meant for toddlers or babies, so that they can sit on a lap, and they are invariably a garish orange. She had to stroll all the way to the front where the belts were stored. I could see her there, whispering to another stewardess, this one so thin you could see right through her, and I was dreading that they might have run out of belts because the toddlers and babies had selfishly used them all up.
What then Would fatties such as me have to get off the plane and take their bags of chubby holiday clothes with them
Panic over: there was one, bright, almost fluorescent orange belt left. The see-through stewardess made her way back towards me, all the way to row 37, brandishing the item aloft and looking for me seat by seat. When she spotted me, I saw pity in her eyes. And I wanted to die.
In truth, nobody else knew what was going on. Nobody cared. But I knew, and that was enough. I had to do something, and soon. I couldn’t go through that pain and humiliation again. And that’s a good enough reason for anyone to lose weight, right
June 2010: I was a skinny child, a slim teenager, a curvy woman, and then a big woman. And according to my bathroom scales now, I’m a very big woman. How the hell did that happen
Well, I know how it happened. I’m not big-boned or pleasantly plump or anything else for that matter. I’m just fat! I sometimes wish someone would reveal I have some weird medical condition that’s making me this way, but that isn’t going to happen.
And just in case there are any psychologists waiting in the wings to tell me that I have an unhealthy relationship with food blah blah blah – please don’t bother. I have managed to get this fat all by myself because I’m greedy. I eat and drink too much and I exercise too little.
Right now I weigh almost 20 old-fashioned stones and I plan to lose eight-and-a-half of them. Yes, I’m carrying another whole person’s worth of fat around with me. And all because the lady loves Milk Tray!
As I have never, ever exercised before, I am going to treat myself to a personal trainer. It is not a luxury everyone can afford, but mine is costing the same amount I might spend on a week of lamb pasanda.
I’m also about to start filming on
ITV’s Emmerdale, which looks like it’s going to be a busy schedule. If I
can lose weight during a working week like that and resist the waft of
the on-set caterer’s sausages, I really will have achieved something.
feel like I’m stepping into the unknown, personally and professionally:
I’ve never worked on a television soap before, and I’ve certainly never
June 29, 2010:
I’ve found a fantastic flat – a penthouse – that overlooks a canal and
is just five minutes from the studio. The downside is that it’s perched
above one of the finest curry restaurants in Leeds, Mumtaz.
This is not great for a woman attempting to shed 8st, especially when said woman is rather a big fan of curry.
Pauline Quirke, left, in Office Gossip and right, in July 2010 at the start of her life-changing diet
I’m pleased to announce that Mumtaz also has a shop with a huge dessert selection so I’ve bought a big strawberry cheesecake. What It can be one of my five a day! It’s not very Indian, though. I might go back for a curry, just to be polite.
June 30, 2010: So, it’s my first day of Emmerdale, and the first day of my diet. I was picked up this morning and driven to the village. I shed a tear when I saw The Woolpack because Emmerdale was one of my mum’s favourite programmes. She would have been so proud to see me in it.
I go straight into make-up and the girls there offer to get me breakfast. I’m too nervous to eat and I certainly don’t want to get into the habit of bacon butties every morning. I’ll go for the healthy option tomorrow once my stomach has settled: fruit, cereal and yogurt.
I’ve made a decision not to tell anyone about my diet. If I have a slip-up (a fugitive pasty leaping recklessly off the buffet table and into my cakehole, for instance), then only I will know. The days I don’t see Prea (my new personal trainer), I’ve decided that I still need to exercise: maybe a spot of vigorous dusting or a little boogie around the flat for ten minutes.
July 15, 2010: I’ve been to my second training session with Prea. When you weigh as much as I do, even a brisk walk – forget about running – is extremely hard, so until I lose a bit of flab I guess my body will be in for a few more shocks.
Today she made me walk up seven flights of stairs. It nearly killed me. All I could think of was whether a tank of oxygen would be waiting for me. I don’t like the idea that people may realise she’s a personal trainer and that I’m her big challenge. Apart from people feeling sorry for me, I expect there would be just as many folk feeling sympathy for Prea, muttering: ‘Good luck with that one, love.’
July 19, 2010: I’ve seen Prea again
today. I’ve told her I don’t want to exercise outside because I feel
self-conscious. So I’ve become the loony in my apartment block, doing
training in the downstairs reception in front of the security cameras.
tried to explain to Prea that the only way I’d normally use the stairs
would be if the building was on fire – or it had a burger restaurant in
the basement and the lift was broken.
When people rave on at me about how much they love the gym, I just think: ‘You’re weird, you are.’
went to Argos earlier and bought myself a set of bathroom scales, as up
until now I’ve been weighing myself on the Wii Fit, which does not seem
to be accurate. Right. Here goes: 19st 10lb What
22, 2010: I’m in a state of shock: Prea weighs less than I want to
lose. So I need to think about something more cheery. I guess you could
say there’s been a bit of a downturn diet-wise in the past few days.
Tuesday was my first day off so I took my daughter, Emily, and Corey,
who is (fellow actress) Suzanne Shaw’s little boy, to Whitby. We fell
upon a rather nice restaurant for lunch and I decided that I hadn’t
driven two hours just to pick at a flamin’ salad, so I kicked off with a
prawn cocktail, then dived straight into the haddock and chips.
Light as a feather: It took Pauline Quirke just one year to lose 8st and transform herself into the svelte star she is today
Another day, I had to dash off to Bristol for a dinner in aid of The Prince’s Trust. Yes, you guessed it. I ploughed my way right through that tantalising spread as if I didn’t have a worry in the world . . .
Once you’ve mucked up at breakfast there really is no going back. Well, that’s what I told myself. Pretty soon, an occasional ‘treat’ – ie, a bacon roll – stopped being occasional. It became the norm.
I couldn’t find the time or energy to see Prea for training and I hadn’t done too well with the food, either.
Yes, I had salads, but the salads included a great big pile of grated cheese. And I was still buying enormous clothes. The whole thing was making me feel miserable. So . . . I’d have something nice to eat to cheer myself up. Good idea, girl!
When autumn turned into winter it was even worse: I stopped ‘being good’. I went so far back down the wrong road – sausage and bacon baps in the morning, cheeseboards after dinner – that I put on even more weight.
‘But it’s cold, Pauline,’ I’d tell myself. ‘You deserve a hot meal. You’ve been working so hard.’ Then, as Christmas approached, disaster struck.
had been a lot of snow and ice, and as I got out of a cab, I caught my
boot on the kerb and fell over, bringing all 20st down on my left arm
as I crashed to the pavement. Let me tell you, I was in agony. I’m
laughing about it now, but at the time I was near rock bottom. The
combination of being away from my family, arduous workdays, and the pain
of breaking my arm was wearing me down. As the weeks went on, it was
like all the fight had gone out of me.
watched a programme that included an item about a sumo wrestler who
tipped the scales at 20st. So I was, in fact, just a few pounds lighter
than a sumo wrestler. It was a case of ‘Either do something about it,
Pauline, or shut up and stay fat.’ I needed to take some drastic
action. And I did.
3, 2011: A company called LighterLife has approached me about its
weight-loss plan. The company would provide everything I need, plus a
counsellor who would keep a record with regular weigh-ins. My side of
the bargain would be to lose a substantial amount of weight and
demonstrate the success of the plan. I’d also take part in weekly group
LighterLife is a
food-replacement programme where normal meals are substituted with
low-calorie packs that you mix with hot or cold water. There’s a
shepherd’s pie, a chilli con carne, porridge, various soups and shakes,
even chocolate snack bars – and you have only the prescribed amount each
It’s not unhealthy, but it’s drastic. I would be allowed only black tea or black coffee or water to drink. No booze, no diet drinks and no fruit juice. Yikes!
But I have decided to say yes, and am diving straight in – today. I won’t pretend I’m not terrified and when I opened that first pack of porridge and poured on the hot water, it hit me how long a journey I have before me.
But there have been many times in my life when I’ve been petrified of things and I’ve always got through them. I went through 101 episodes of Birds Of A Feather not sleeping the night before filming and vomiting, the lines going round and round in my head all night.
January 11, 2011: Everything seemed hunky-dory this first week. My teeth were still there and my hair was still there. So I was looking forward to my weigh-in. I’d been told to expect a good result and when I discovered I’d lost 10lb, I knew I’d done the right thing by signing up. It won’t be as dramatic every week, and it’s not for everyone. But this is the best way for me.
January 15, 2011: I’ve never thought of myself as someone who ate because I was unhappy. I’ve never sat in the car jamming Hobnobs into my gob in secret. I didn’t think I was a scoffer, no sir! I just enjoyed food. So what got me to almost 20st then For me it was just too much food, too often over 30 years.
I’ve now realised something else: people who are thin manage food without even thinking. My idea of portion control was covering the plate with food and making it slightly heaped.
I only had to glance around me in a restaurant to see how differently I ate. Whereas I’d always have a starter, a ‘weight manager’ might not. While I’d be tucking into the cheeseboard, those other strange creatures might share a dessert. If they were still hungry. But I know that if I achieve my goal and get down to 11st, I’ll need these alien skills to keep the weight off.
January 28, 2011: I’ve been on location in Whitby, so I did the weekly support group as a conference call from my hotel room. We’d been outside filming all day and I was frozen to the bone, so made the call from the comfort of a hot bath. Once I’d finished, the water was getting a bit tepid and I decided to get out. Uh-oh. I couldn’t lift myself up.
Pauline described herself as a 'fat acress'
I tried again as hard as I could, but to no avail. My arm was still weak from the break, and me being the size I am . . . I was well and truly stuck. My arms weren’t strong enough to lift my body. Now what I thought for a moment, trying to remain calm. Twenty minutes later, which might not sound a long time but certainly feels it when you’re stuck in a cold bath, I decided to have one more try.
Perhaps it was the absolute dread of having to call someone from reception –– male or female –– that gave me the determination and strength to finally haul myself out; but it was agony and I was left shaking like a leaf.
February 5, 2011: I’ve become a great smeller of food! Yes, I know I can’t eat it, but boy, can I smell it. Ordinary coffee shops and sandwich bars turn into magnificent shrines, their tantalising pastries and overstuffed breads laid out in front of me on the counter like some kind of sacred altar. Untouchable. Forbidden. And so I sniff . . . hard and long and as often as I can.
Where will it all end, Pauline I picture myself loitering outside Greggs the bakers for hours, sniffing the air and eventually, unashamedly, licking the window, knowing I can’t touch or eat the delicious baked goods within.
I’d eventually be there for so long that the police would haul me, screaming and kicking, away from that sacred temple of flaky pastry. The next day’s paper would carry the sombre headline: ‘Emmerdale star arrested in sausage roll- sniffing debacle.’ I can see it all so clearly.
February 18, 2011: I have had my first big test with real food – at a charity ball in Manchester. The people on my table were too busy tucking into their starter to notice that I had pushed mine to the side.
When the chicken and mashed potato came, I played about with it, cut the chicken in half and gave some to Emily, my daughter, and didn’t eat a thing. Still, nobody was any the wiser. When the wine came round, I just stuck with fizzy water. The funny thing was, I still had a really good time.
After a difficult first few weeks, when it was hard to see the weight coming off, I am beginning to see results. That makes a difference, I can tell you.
Of course, I know that once it is all out in the open, certain people will be just itching to catch me outside McDonald’s with a quarter- pounder in my gob. That’s just human nature, I guess.
March 18, 2011: I’ve been given a script where the weight loss of my character, Hazel Rhodes, is mentioned. Finally! It’s become so obvious that the scriptwriters have had to put it in. It’s a milestone.
For the first time in 30 years, Pauline Quirke is getting thinner. I’m not going to pretend that everything has been rosy all the time on this strict diet. It certainly hasn’t. There were moments when I wondered whether it was all worth it, particularly on the slow weeks when my weight loss barely registered. Luckily, I wasn’t p**d off enough to go and grab the nearest cheese sandwich.
May 16, 2011: The British Soap Awards took place last night, and I walked down the red carpet at 14st 6lb. I’ve lost almost 6st. I haven’t cheated or veered off the plan once.
The truth is that nothing I could eat is going to taste as good as the fantastic feedback I’m getting. Apart from becoming the incredible shrinking woman, I have also noticed something that I’d almost forgotten: I actually have bones!
I’m discovering them sticking out all over the place: my shoulders, my arms. When I’m in the shower each morning, it’s like washing someone else entirely. Yuk! Did you know you’ve got bones in your bum In bed, I feel like a drawer of loose cutlery rattling around the mattress.
Linda Robson, Lesley Joseph and Pauline in the early Nineties in the hit television series Birds Of A Feather, which ran until 1998
. Where Have I Gone My Life In A Year by Pauline Quirke is published by Bantam Press priced 16.99. To order your copy at the special price of 14 with free p&p, please call the Review Bookstore on 0843 382 1111 or visit MailShop.co.uk/books.