Read the star's take on working out through lockdown - FYI, she didn't - and the one popular diet she'll never try again.
You’ll remember Fleur East from her time on The X Factor, and now, from her presenting slot on Hits Radio.
She’s a jack of all trades: not only a singer and presenter, but a reality TV star, too, who came fourth on I’m A Celebrity in 2018; a songwriter, who’s co-written top hit, Sax, ranked number three in the UK charts (and was certified platinum a year later); and also a soon to be qualified personal trainer, too.
Fun fact: she was The X Factor’s first ever contestant to bag a number one spot on iTunes while competing with a cover – it was Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk. She’s always spoken candidly to the press, despite her fame, regularly sharing her love of fitness and how she used to workout with her Dad as a kid, and further, how she didn’t always feel supported during her time on the singing competition.
I caught up with the star this week as the new show she’s presenting, The Void, airs this Saturday. We chat working out through lockdown – FYI, she didn’t – the one workout she’d do for the rest of her life if she could only do one, and the positivity hacks she uses to make sure she keeps both her mind and body strong.
Fleur East on lockdown, fitness, and her new show, The Void
A: Fleur, so lovely to meet you. The new show sounds amazing. Tell me a bit about it.
F: I’m so excited. So it’s called The Void and it’s made by the same team who created The Cube. It’s all about physical and mental challenges and games. It involves contestants trying to cross from one platform to the other via a series of different obstacles – all of which are suspended three metres above a huge pool of water.
Every single round is different. Some tests stretch your physical ability, others, your mental capacity or your memory. It tests so many different things – agility, balance, strength – and you see people from all different walks of life on the show with hopes of winning.
A: What was your highlight of filming?
F: There’s been quite a few. Seeing people that you just wouldn’t expect to do well doing well was a personal highlight. Some contestants have overcome a lot of adversity in their life, or felt like they had something to prove to themselves. Each round they got through, it was lovely to see them overcoming the odds – crossing when they felt they couldn’t.
It was also very funny in places – we laughed a lot. Some of the ways that people fell into the void was just hilarious.
A: I’m really excited to watch it. The focus of the show was interesting. A lot of people don’t workout because of this mental block, this fear failing, don’t you agree? How can people overcome this fear?
F: It’s our culture – it’s very, very different if you go overseas. In some parts of America in particular, fitness is such a big deal, isn’t it? When I was over a few years ago, I went to a spin class and I remember being in there and thinking, this is incredible. I felt like I’d been to a sermon.
A: Was it SoulCycle?
F: Yes! I left feeling so empowered. In the UK, we’ve improved a bit. There are a lot more gym classes and a lot more fitness boutiques. But I do feel that it’s really tough to fit fitness in sometimes – especially when you’ve got a busy working schedule.
I think the main thing is your mentality. I think a lot of people see the gym as a punishment, chore, or something that’s really tough. Something that you can’t do unless you’re really fit already. Shifting your mindset to look at it differently and educating yourself about it so that you see it as part of your everyday routine is key.
Even if that means waking up in the morning and just doing fifteen minutes – it counts.
There’s so much you can do to boost your exercise motivation. I’ve got my Apple Watch and I am obsessed with closing my fitness rings. It’s a complete obsession. It motivates me to walk rather than get on the train, or take the stairs rather than the lift.
It’s just setting yourself goals and not being too hard on yourself, really.
A: That’s it, isn’t it? It’s the shift in mindset and making it your routine. How on earth do you fit everything in? You must be so busy.
F: It’s not always easy, but I feel like it’s part of my lifestyle now. We make time for things that we enjoy, right? Think about the amount of hours we spend watching Netflix because we feel like that’s part of a part of our routine. It’s a form of escapism that takes us away from the stresses of life.
That’s kind of how I see exercise. I don’t see it as a chore. I see it as something that I need to maintain for my mental health and productivity. I need to make time for it. So rather than watching another Netflix episode, I might spend that time doing HIIT, doing some yoga on YouTube, or walking somewhere – you know, just doing something physical.
Movement always sets me up for the day and keeps me focused.
A: Fitness doesn’t need to come from a gym or a class, right? I love doing Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube. Did you see your training change over lockdown?
F: Initially, I was like, this is great! When am I ever going to shut down again and just be able to sit at home, enjoy myself and see my family? Fitness was put on the back burner and I rested. Then the rest just turned into retreat and the retreat stretched out for months and month.
I actually found not working out showed me how much I value it. I didn’t feel good in myself and wasn’t confident. So as soon as I had a little reset, I loved it again. That’s what I mean when I say, you’ve got to just make it a part of your everyday life and who you are. You can’t see it as a punishment. Go to the gym or do that workout. It’s just part of your routine.
A: I agree – I think the best thing I’ve ever done is schedule in my calendar when I’m doing my workouts. It’s game changing. Have you always been super into health and fitness? I read that you trained with your dad when you were little?
F: We used to do a mini workout before school – he’d have do us five to ten crunches before we got in the shower. It was just always part of our morning routine. Healthy eating was also ingrained in us from a young age. We didn’t have fizzy drinks in the house or have sugar in our tea. We didn’t have sweets – we’d have them as a treat if we went to our Nan’s house.
That definitely set me up – now, if I’m going to have a ‘cheat’ meal, it would be a massive plate of Jollof rice. To me, that’s a ‘cheat’. People underestimate diet in a massive way – you can always reset and just change your diet. They say abs are made in the kitchen, right?
A: What’s your go-to breakfast?
F: You get to know what works for you. I used to be really into hitting goals and tracking my body fat percentage. It got to the point where we started experimented just to see how my body would react to certain macros and diets, and so my trainer put me on a high protein, low carb, low fat diet.
It really didn’t work for me. After two weeks, nothing had changed at all. Yet when I eat what I like, and just focus on eating healthily, that’s when my body actually changed. It’s different for everyone.
I went vegan for a year last year and I loved it, but the one thing I missed was eggs. I craved eggs. I didn’t feel like there was anything that was a good enough substitute, and they’re such a great source of protein. Breakfast wise, I love having eggs in the morning, or a bircher with blueberries, raspberries and oat milk.
I also feel like I don’t actually have to eat as much as that I tend to. Sometimes I try intermittent fasting just to reset my digestive system and give it a bit of a break. Sometimes I’ll have a green tea and drink loads of water until lunchtime where I’ll eat a big healthy meal. It’s about teaching my body that I don’t actually need as much food as it sometimes thinks.
A: Agreed. What would you say your go-to workout is? I know you love your strength training.
F: I love weight training and strength training. I love working out to feel strong. A lot of people equate working out with losing weight, and there’s so much more to fitness than that. I like it because, for example, if I get into the radio station in the morning, and there’s three flights of stairs, I love to be able to run up those stairs into the studio and not be out of breath. Or when I get to the tube station, it’s great being able to walk up the escalator and not feel like completely shattered.
I love having that ability, and feeling strong in my body and celebrating what it can do. So weights are my thing. That gives me a lot strength.
I find that when I’ve been the leanest is when I’ve been training with weights.
A: I was going to ask you about the stigma around weight training for women – so many are scared of getting bulky. Where should a woman start if she wants to lift weights but feels intimidated?
F: There’s so many classes now that you can find online. You don’t have to go into the gym and start squatting 70kg. I’d recommend starting really light – try the lightest weights – and work through a nice little circuit.
As you get stronger, you can then try and up the weights incrementally. Just go easy – no one’s expecting you to become a strong woman and start lifting heavy things straight away.
A: People also forget that the personal trainers in gyms are there for a reason – to help and guide you, so you, right? I saw that you’ve recently qualified as a personal trainer, too?
F: So I’ve done my level two, and I’m going to complete my level three by the end of this year.
A: So how on earth have you managed to squeeze that in?
F: It’s been so much work – it has been hard. I embarked on the learning journey during the first lockdown, so the fact I’m still doing it shows you how hard it’s been!
I’m determined because I’ve just always been so passionate about fitness – I’ve always trained my friends and my family. I love it, and I love to see other people working out and getting a buzz out of it. It’s such a high when you’ve completed the workout as well.
A: What are your plans for the qualification?
F: There’s this perception that any celebrity following a fitness dream is launching a fad, and they’ve been approached by someone, and they get paid, and they don’t actually care about it.
I’ve always been so passionate about fitness – it’s something that gets me through the day. So I’d love to do something with it – that’s partly why I did the qualification.
Whatever I do embark on, or whatever project I take on, I want to be able to say, I’m actually trained in this. There’s weight behind this. I’m not just doing this to make money. I actually want to change people’s lives and educate people.
What that will be yet – I haven’t quite decided yet.
A: If you had to do one form of exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be?
F: It would have to be HIIT. I like doing things in short bursts. If I know I’ve 30 seconds to do one move, I know that I can give my all in that 30 seconds. Plus, then I get a rest. I like working through mini goals throughout the workout. I feel like I’m achieving more in a shorter space of time, too.
I would rather do that than run for an hour, because I’d just lose concentration or give up.
A: I hear that. How many times a week normally do you work out? Do you follow like a plan at the moment? Or are you just doing what you fancy?
F: I always try and fit in movement at least six days a week, but I always have a day of rest now, too. There’s a fine line of when you’re doing it in a healthy way or when it’s overkill.
I was sometimes doing two hours in a day, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you rest, too, but I wasn’t resting.
I was overdoing it, and I wasn’t taking the time to stretch, either. Then I started getting injured. I’ve learned the hard way now and always make time to rest and stretch.
To prevent injury, you need to stretch, both before and after your workout. I wasn’t doing that. I make sure I fit it in now.
A: Rest makes such a difference, doesn’t it? When did you first notice you were overtraining?
F: Maybe three or four years ago? I started doing strength training and really heavy deadlifts and I was also being really lazy with my stretching. I was just going straight in to the deadlifts, lifting really heavy weights. Suddenly, my back started to hurt. I had to have months of acupuncture because I strained my lower back. It still plays up every now and then when I don’t rest.
People think stretching isn’t very glamorous. There’s this whole Instagram culture of seeing people online doing squats and then going straight into the gym to do said squats without warming up or stretching. That’s dangerous.
A: Speaking of Instagram culture – have you ever felt pressured to work out, eat or move in a different way because you’ve seen others doing it online?
F: If you don’t have the education, that’s when it’s dangerous. Thankfully, because I’ve studied a lot, and I’ve researched everything to death – that’s just what I’m like – I haven’t. When I see someone training, I take it as motivation rather than a pressure. Seeing others smashing their workouts inspires me.
I might not be quite on that level – but I’m not trying to get to that level, and that’s the beauty of it. For me, it inspires me to then get up and do something. There’s no excuse now.
A: What’s the worst bit of health advice you’ve ever been given?
F: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t like it when people really push you in the gym. Anytime I’ve been at the squat rack, there’s always typically men around there trying to tell you what to do.
I’ve actually had guys come up and add plates to my bar. I’m always like, why am I going along with this? Because someone’s pressured me and told me that I can lift heavier?
Don’t listen to anyone else. Do what’s comfortable for you and your body.
A: Is there a health fad you’d never try again? One that you’ve tried previously that you were just like god no, that’s not for me.
F: The high protein diet – it just doesn’t work for me. If you know what’s good for you, everything in moderation, in my opinion.
A: And the one bit of advice you wish you could give your younger self?
F: Embrace challenges more – I’ve only started doing that as I get older. In my early 20’s and as a young kid, whenever there was an opportunity to sing, I was always too scared.
I held myself back a lot and I wish I’d embraced opportunities a lot more. Who knows what I would have done or where I could have been if I’d if I’d been that bit more confident?
A: What is your favourite snack?
F: Rice cakes with peanut butter and banana – it’s my favourite snack. It’s just the best – you can’t beat it.
A: Who is your favourite person to follow on Instagram?
F: Fit Girl Mel. I followed her before she started training Kim [Kardashian] – the algorithms sent me to her.
She just has such an amazing transformation story – she was really unhealthy, she’d had a baby, and she was someone that was never into fitness.
Now she just looks insanely amazing – she’s completely turned it around.
A: What’s your current favourite podcast that you’re listening to?
F: I’m obsessed with the How I Built This podcast. It’s conversations with the CEOs of huge companies talking about how they started, how they built their companies, and how they made their businesses successful.
You get to hear unbelievable stories, like Jo Malone’s. What I love about it is that they go so in-depth about the person, how they were raised and what they did to start their company and get to where they are now.
They discuss the risks they had to take to start their businesses and they’re just unbelievable. It inspires me to do more everyday – it reminds you that people don’t just have stuff handed to them. They’re just amazing, amazing stories.
The Void starts on Saturday, and will air on ITV 8PM.