Big Interview - November December 2011 - Rosemary Conley
Fitness guru Rosemary Conley tells SANDIE SHIRLEY how God has changed her life, her relationships and her business
For Rosemary Conley, the woman who received a CBE for helping to change the nation’s eating and fitness habits, 2011 has been a milestone year. It marks her 40th year in business and her 25th wedding anniversary after God took her from illness to the altar when her life reached rock bottom.
Says Rosemary: “God is the chairman of my board of life.” She gave him the reins 25 years ago when she was overweight, seriously ill in hospital and was caught up with selling her house when her job came to an end. To cap it all, the relationship with the new man in her life had also broken down.
Rosemary, now 64, needed a spiritual and physical overhaul and it came with a simple prayer. Her life began to be transformed after reading a book about celebrities who experienced life-changing encounters with God.
“I knelt at the side of my bed after I left hospital and asked God into my life, my body and my soul. There were no flashing lights,” remembers Rosemary who started afresh with a promise from her Saviour that he would take care of her.
Within two days she had a visit from her former boyfriend who wanted to restore the relationship. The couple wed four months later, after Rosemary proposed to the man who soon shared her faith. The rest is history – happiness, health and success followed after Rosemary’s hospital stay had dictated a low-fat diet for her serious gall bladder problem. Together with exercise, it heralded a breakthrough which has been the foundation for her business ever since.
“I used to eat fat for Britain but my huge hips and thighs were changing shape. Inches of fat were disappearing from this area that had caused me constant embarrassment. Now I feel 30 years younger than I am and I want others to be fit and active and able to keep their weight down,” says the fitness queen.
Her business empire has helped thousands of women, men and children trim down and tone-up. Her Kids 2 classes are the first of their kind in the UK and aim to build effective eating and exercise strategies for the long-term to help combat obesity. The emphasis is on fun rather than a slimming club explains Rosemary. Practical, motivational advice, quizzes, circuit training, meal planning and preparation are taught during the six-week course for parents together with their children.
Rosemary has written more than 30 books and produced as many fitness videos. Her business includes a flourishing diet and fitness club franchise, online slimming club and an internet television channel, while producing a regular magazine and mail-order calorie controlled meals that also cater for vegetarians. Beauty and fitness products and a range of cookware are available too, helping devotees maintain the healthy principles at home.
“I have responsibility in a complicated arena to tell a straightforward message of eating less, eating healthily and looking after your body,” says Rosemary.
It began 40 years ago when she formed her first slimming club in the 1970s with a group of overweight ladies in her kitchen. She juggled her expanding business with a secretarial job but the pressure resulted in the break-up of her first marriage.
Now her business has made her a respectable household name among the slim-conscious public with 165 franchises running almost 2,000 diet and fitness classes every week in the UK. Her company has also twice won the British Franchise Association’s Franchisor of the Year as well as other awards for business acumen.
“My faith has given me the patience and ability to cope with the challenges and opportunities and the courage to cope when things don’t go well.
“God has stuck me together with super glue when I went through a tough, challenging time with my marriage 10 years ago. I surrounded myself with godly things – Bible tracks, Christian music – and focused on God,” explains Rosemary who believes her marriage is now stronger than ever.
“As a Christian, the Holy Spirit gives me a strong sense of what is right and wrong,” she emphasises.
In December 2001 Rosemary was the first woman to be granted the Freedom of the City of Leicester and she gives six talks a year about the faith that has fired her quest to help others.
She is also patron, trustee and fundraiser for Steps, a unique charity supporting youngsters with motor learning difficulties and their families in the East Midlands.
Rosemary became involved from the beginning after her vicar’s grandson was born with cerebral palsy. The little boy’s life turned around when he visited Hungary with his family for expensive conductive education to develop his motor skills. Today those benefits are available through a purpose-built centre near Rosemary’s home at an annual cost of £200,000.