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Dr Michael Mosley talks to Event about 5:2, insomnia and why he loves George Orwell

He’s the lifestyle guru and Mail on Sunday columnist who’s transformed millions of lives. As he gets ready for a VERY intimate new roadshow, Dr Michael Mosley opens up to Event about what really makes him tick 

Dr Michael Mosley really loves his wife. It’s hard to talk to him for long before he drags the conversation back to the woman he describes, unembarrassed and unprompted, as his soulmate and best friend. Together for almost 40 years since they were medical students, he still fancies her rotten, too. ‘She’s gorgeous,’ he says happily. So for Clare to give him a bedroom ultimatum, it must have been something serious. 

Dr Michael Mosley is best known as the creator of the 5:2 diet, a regime that has improved the health and life expectancy of devotees worldwide

What could Mosley have done to deserve it? Well, it involved an experiment in which he’d swallowed tapeworm cysts (larvae) in the name of science. Once one had grown long enough, it would try to wriggle out – potentially at night, when he was cuddled up to his wife. ‘Clare said: “I don’t want to share a bed with it”, so I took a pill to kill it. The other guy who swallowed a tapeworm for the same experiment didn’t tell his wife, and the first she knew was when it crawled down his trouser leg as they were driving along in the car.’ We pause for a moment to imagine a tapeworm wriggling across some nice Egyptian cotton bed sheets in the Mosleys’ otherwise delightful Buckinghamshire home. 

‘I had hoped to measure its speed across the bed,’ he adds, sounding mournful. So, while he might be a superstar scientist, writer and broadcaster – also an affable, lean and rather handsome 60-something – married life clearly comes with a down side. 

Mosley is the great gonzo scientist of our times, a man who has made himself fat and thin on purpose and turned his own blood into black pudding and eaten it (‘I don’t think it will take off as a national dish, but it’s pretty nutritious – rich in iron, protein and vitamin C’). He’s also grown that blessed tapeworm in his guts while investigating the impact of intestinal pests and tripped out on the magic mushroom drug psilocybin in a laboratory to see what impact it had on his brain: ‘That was like going into hyperdrive on Star Trek.’ 

He’s best known as the creator of the 5:2 diet (where you eat normally five days a week but have just 500-600 calories on the other two), a regime that has improved the health and life expectancy of devotees worldwide. And now he’s about to take his crusade to have us all live better for longer on the road with a series of shows across the UK. 

Dr Michael Mosley really loves his wife, Clare. Together for almost 40 years since they were medical students, he still fancies her rotten, too

Dr Michael Mosley really loves his wife, Clare. Together for almost 40 years since they were medical students, he still fancies her rotten, too

‘I’m no showman,’ he says, though this might come as a surprise to the millions enthralled by his brand of highly theatrical self-experimentation. Mosley will be imparting the same serious health message he’s been delivering since 2012, but he’ll be playing it partly for laughs, and is promising some big surprises – all approved by Clare – and lots of behind-the-scenes stuff about his incredible TV career. His live show might also prove my own highly unscientific theory that, thanks to his geeky populism, Mosley has become something of a later-life sex symbol. 

‘I don’t see myself in that role,’ he says, sounding far more squeamish than when we were talking about tapeworms. ‘I can’t imagine anyone throwing their knickers at the stage. If they did, I would throw them back, for sure. But I think it’s wildly unlikely as that’s not the kind of relationship I have with my audience.’ 

Gratitude is usually what he gets: people telling him how they’ve lost weight, reversed their Type 2 diabetes and managed to incorporate exercise into their everyday lives, and how he’s saved them through the example he has set himself. Because if he had let nature take its course, Mosley would only have another decade or so left – no man in his family has made it beyond their early 70s and he’s going to be 62 soon. His own father, Bill, died in 2003 aged 74. ‘He had a great funeral, with songs from South Pacific, and his friends all telling me what a lovely man he’d been. They also said how alike we were.’ 

 I can’t imagine anyone throwing their knickers at the stage. If they did, I’d throw them back

Mosley’s own mortality was plain. He was 5ft 11in tall, 13½ stone and already in the early stages of diabetes. The 2012 documentary he made for the BBC’s Horizon series, Eat, Fast And Live Longer, was actually an act of self-preservation. He didn’t set out to be famous, working for 20 years behind the TV camera as a producer before moving in front of it. It’s a career arc he likens to that of Sir David Attenborough, who didn’t become a household name until his 50s either. 

‘Celebrity crept up on me,’ says Mosley who, unexpectedly, credits George Orwell as his inspiration. ‘He lived his journalism in Down And Out In Paris And London and The Road To Wigan Pier. He put himself out there. It’s Orwell who put me on the road to this.’ 

Mosley was born in Calcutta in 1957 to a family with its roots in banking and the church

Mosley was born in Calcutta in 1957 to a family with its roots in banking and the church

These days, Mosley has ‘every expectation’ of becoming an active octogenarian, but he will do it with a full-blown Dairy Milk addiction and while enjoying an eyebrow- raising 12 units of alcohol a week. ‘I have a glass or two of wine five nights a week, anything as long as it’s red. I have decided not to educate my taste buds because I don’t want to encourage them to get expensive. I eat everything in moderation, mostly Mediterranean food, but I am definitely not safe around milk chocolate. I’ll eat a whole bar in one go. I have even been known to steal my daughter’s Easter eggs and have to replace them. Sinful.’ 

 I suffer from catastrophic thinking – now all the children have turned out OK, I worry about work

The only thing off the menu is fermented shark. ‘Tried it in Iceland. Not doing that again. Otherwise I believe in variety.’ 

He is similarly relaxed about exercise. 

‘I walk the dog [a King Charles spaniel called Tari] most mornings, do 35 press-ups and 25 squats and, if I’m in London and the journey is under ten miles, I cycle. I have a fold-up bike which I have painted neon green in the hope no one will want to steal it. You won’t find me in the gym.’ He doesn’t disapprove of gyms per se: he just thinks living a broadly active life is more sustainable. 

Mosley was born in Calcutta in 1957 to a family with its roots in banking and the church. He has two brothers and a sister. He’s had them all tested as organ donors and while his brothers are a perfect match for each other, only his sister is a perfect match for him. ‘I encourage her to stay healthy, you know, sending her my books,’ he laughs. After graduating with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford, he became a banker for a couple of years until he decided he wanted to be a doctor instead. 

He planned to specialise in psychiatry and today remains fascinated by the human mind and its impact on our bodies. Raised as a Christian – his grandfather was a bishop – he believes prayer and contemplation have been reinvented for the 21st century as mindfulness. ‘It’s a stress reducer I use and advocate,’ he says. It was at London’s Royal Free Hospital medical school (now part of University College London medical school) that he met Clare Bailey, who still works as a GP. 

Michael Mosley (top, right) with his parents and brother in Hong Kong in 1962

Michael Mosley (top, right) with his parents and brother in Hong Kong in 1962

Dr Michael Mosley with his wife Clare on their wedding day in 1987. They bonded over their passion for comedy

Dr Michael Mosley with his wife Clare on their wedding day in 1987. They bonded over their passion for comedy

‘Back then the Dean told us there were 100 of us in the year and, statistically, four of us would get married. Today she knows me backwards and forwards and still loves me.’ 

They bonded over their passion for comedy. Both belonged to an ad hoc band of medical students who performed skits such as ‘Save All Your Kidneys for Me’ – to the tune of the Brotherhood Of Man song Save All Your Kisses For Me – in student bars or as a charity fundraiser in the open-air piazza of Covent Garden in London. 

While at Oxford, Mosley once even appeared in front of the same university amateur night audience as the then unknown Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis, the writer-director of Love Actually and Four Weddings And A Funeral. ‘It was blindingly obvious that they were brilliant and the rest of us were terrible,’ he says. ‘ I thought, never, ever again.’ 

Still, performing brought the couple together in 1982, and they married five years later. They have four children, aged from 28 to 19, the youngest a daughter at university, the other three sons, one of whom has followed his parents into medicine. 

This means the Mosleys are empty-nesters, although their house, with its crush of sofas, stacks of books and well-used kitchen, feels like the kind of place their brood might boomerang back to at any moment. They aren’t remotely interested in a red-carpet lifestyle. ‘Clare and I talk about this all the time – how do we slow down?’ he says. 

He relaxes by reading and attends an allmale book club to which he’s belonged for a decade. Its dozen members are close friends. ‘We go on book-related expeditions together.  We rowed from Oxford to London after reading Three Men In A Boat, and visited the Somme after reading Birdsong.’ 

A picture of Dr Mosley in 1985 while performing in a comedy review at medical school

A picture of Dr Mosley in 1985 while performing in a comedy review at medical school

The group has pledged to come to his live show in High Wycombe. If Mosley sounds genuinely touched by their support, it’s because what he does still makes him anxious. He feels ‘100 per cent responsible’ for what he puts into the public domain. ‘I suffer from catastrophic thinking. I used to worry about the children when they were younger. Now that they have all turned out OK, I worry about my work – did I say the wrong thing on a chat show, write the wrong thing in a book? What happens if someone loses too much weight and makes themselves ill? Nobody has ever come up to me and said you utter b******, you’ve ruined my life – and my work is utterly rooted in science, but people are people and they can do crazy things.’ Worrying about it keeps him up at night. Mosley suffers from chronic stress insomnia, and is often dragged from sleep at 3am. Sometimes he reads for half an hour and drifts back off, sometimes he gets up. He has had his sleeplessness tested – of course – and he knows he’s genetically predisposed to suffer from it. 

Right now the prospect of his live shows is rattling his self-confidence, adding to the insomnia and giving him performance anxiety. But he’ll put that behind him the second the curtain goes up because he is a showman, no matter how much he denies it. 

A more profound worry is that now he’s likely to live longer, he could develop dementia and have his brain fail before the body he has worked so hard to preserve. It’s a big question for 11 o’clock in the morning, but it’s got to be asked. ‘Would you ever…’ I start, but he beats me to the punch. ‘Kill myself?’ he asks rhetorically. 

 I would like to die surfing or skydiving. Or falling off my bike, going under a bus

‘I would not rule it out. I can imagine things going badly wrong, a catastrophic illness, a stroke, cancer. I would not want to be a burden but it would utterly depend on Clare. It’s a decision I’d take with her.’ 

He is agnostic now, having lost his faith while reading moral philosophy at university. ‘I travelled to India, studied other religions and looked at Buddhism, but I never found a faith I wanted to stick with,’ he says. 

So, with God out of the equation, I could imagine the scientist in him having the courage and curiosity to make one final extraordinary documentary about euthanasia, but Mosley insists that when the time comes he’d rather die doing something jolly. 

‘I would like to die surfing or skydiving. I wouldn’t mind falling off my bike and going under a bus either, something short and sharp – with apologies to the driver.’ 

Dr Michael Mosley’s first UK tour begins on Sat. For tickets, visit michaelmosley.co.uk

From Paddington to Peep Show… the doctor’s highly nutritious cultural diet

What is your favourite book?

Down And Out In Paris And London is George Orwell’s account of living in Paris as a dishwasher and then living in the UK as a tramp. It is very funny, but it is also a form of immersive journalism, where you don’t just report on something, you live it.

What are you currently reading?

Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House by Michael Wolff. The Trump phenomenon is gripping in a soap-opera sort of way. At Oxford I studied politics, philosophy and economics, as part of which I read a lot about the American constitution and the country’s political history.

Your favourite TV show? 'Apart from Trust Me I’m A Doctor (which I created and now present), Peep Show as I love the characters and the humour'

Your favourite TV show? ‘Apart from Trust Me I’m A Doctor (which I created and now present), Peep Show as I love the characters and the humour’

The film that makes you laugh? 'Some Like It Hot'

The film that makes you laugh? ‘Some Like It Hot’

Your favourite book as child?

The Paddington bear books are very funny, and despite the scrapes he gets into, it always ends well, which is reassuring when you are a child.

Have you ever tried to write a novel?

I am a fan of Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, etc), a doctor turned novel writer, so ten years ago I tried writing a science-based novel set in the near future. The central character is a journalist, and his challenge is to investigate the mysterious death of an athlete at the London Olympics (I wrote the outline years before London was awarded the Games, so it was quite prescient). I’m not giving away any more as I still plan to write it.

Your favourite film?

Casablanca. It is beautifully written and acted, and creates an interesting ethical dilemma for the central characters. You want them to go away together, but the fact that they don’t is somehow more satisfying.

The film that makes you cry?

A Tale Of Two Cities (the central character sacrifices himself for love and a higher ideal) and It’s A Wonderful Life, which is again about personal sacrifice, and also about the difference you can make in your community.

Your favourite book as child? 'The Paddington bear books'

Your favourite book as child? ‘The Paddington bear books’

The film that makes you laugh?

Some Like It Hot.

Your favourite TV show?

Apart from Trust Me I’m A Doctor (which I created and now present), Peep Show as I love the characters and the humour.

Last box set you binged on?

Cuckoo with Greg Davies and Helen Baxendale (currently available on BBC iPlayer) is odd and really funny.

The TV show that changed your life?

Horizon. It is 55 years old – almost as old as I am – and more than once it changed the direction of my life. I went from being a banker to becoming a doctor because of Horizon; I then went from medicine into television because of Horizon. I went from being a TV exec to becoming a presenter as the result of a Horizon that I directed, called Ulcer Wars. I made the most popular history programme ever transmitted on the BBC (nearly 11 million watched Pompeii: The Last Day), which was based on a Horizon film. And The Fast Diet, my first book, which introduced the world to the 5:2 diet, was based on a Horizon that I presented in 2012 called Eat, Fast And Live Longer.

Your favourite musician?

It’s a close call between Leonard Cohen and Cat Stevens.

Your favourite album?

Tea For The Tillerman by Cat Stevens. The lyrics touch on themes of spirituality.

Your best-ever gig?

Bruce Springsteen, the first gig I ever went to with my new girlfriend and now wife, Clare.

Your first gig?

I went to hear Jimmy Cliff play in Hackney at a time when Hackney was very rough.

Song you’d like played at your funeral?

Ave Maria, by Schubert. It sends a shiver down my spine and the words feel relevant: ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, Now, and at the hour of our death’. I’m not religious but I find the music comforting.

The song that gets you up dancing at a party?

I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor.

Your favourite film? 'Casablanca. It is beautifully written and acted, and creates an interesting ethical dilemma for the central characters'

Your favourite film? ‘Casablanca. It is beautifully written and acted, and creates an interesting ethical dilemma for the central characters’

What’s your karaoke song?

The same – I Will Survive.

What radio shows do you listen to?

The Today programme and The News Quiz.

If you could have any piece of art in your house what would it be and why?

We have lots of pictures on the walls but my favourites are by my namesake Nicola Mosley, who paints abstract seascapes inspired by Cornwall, where she lives.

Who are your cultural heroes?

Musically it’s Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and Blondie. I love the work of the Oscar-winning Polish film-maker Pawel Pawlikowski, who recently made Cold War and happens to be one of my oldest friends. John Cleese is a comedy genius; we made a series together called The Human Face. I have more than 1,000 books but George Orwell, Jane Austen and Robert Harris are among my favourites.

 

 

 

 

 

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