News, Culture & Society

JANET STREET-PORTER: The art of living well is to NOT be obsessed about being well

One of our greatest living artists has branded the wellness industry ‘ridiculous’. 

David Hockney finds life in modern Britain and Los Angeles so restrictive that he’s moved to France where he can smoke to his heart’s content. At 84, this pensioner has no intention of attempting to prolong his life by giving up beer and fags or going to the gym.

Hockney has put his money where his mouth is by purchasing 40 beer mats by a fellow artist called Mr Bingo emblazoned with the slogan ‘bored of wellness’.

I’m largely in complete agreement – though not about the smoking. If another guru tells me about how much fibre I must consume to get a daily bowel movement, and what exercise will produce firm upper arms and nutcracker thighs, I’ll puke. Walking has been reduced to steps, every activity (even sleeping) must be diarised and digitally notated, all in the name of physical improvement.

Wellness has become the modern religion, with an army of experts telling us how we should be shaping every aspect of our lives. These gurus may be making a fortune peddling push ups and pulses, but are the public (as opposed to the woke and the wealthy) actually listening?

David Hockney finds life in modern Britain so restrictive that he’s moved to France where he can smoke to his heart’s content

You could argue that the millions the government has spent on public health campaigns over the past 20 years haven’t worked. New research indicates that one in four children are obese by the time they leave primary school, and if you add in the kids classified as overweight, that figure rises to a shocking 40 per cent.

Worse, one in four infants now arrive in reception overweight. Since 2008, successive governments have issued targets and devised ‘nudge’ policies to encourage us to eat less, improve our diets and exercise more so that we don’t end up being a burden on the NHS.

Have any of these initiatives been successful? Marginally, at best. In 2008, 60 per cent of the population aged over 18 was classified as overweight. By 2016 that figure had inched up to 63.7 per cent. Basically, we haven’t shifted much excess flab, despite years of official nagging. In some poorer areas of the UK – the North East for example – 75 per cent of all adults are now classified as overweight.

In 2008, the government promised to be the first developed country to reverse the modern trend of growing obesity. They also declared the UK would reduce childhood obesity to 2000 levels by 2020. On both counts, they have failed.

Janet Street-Porter (pictured): I'm largely in complete agreement - though not about the smoking. If another guru tells me about how much fibre I must consume to get a daily bowel movement, and what exercise will produce firm upper arms and nutcracker thighs, I'll puke

Janet Street-Porter (pictured): I’m largely in complete agreement – though not about the smoking. If another guru tells me about how much fibre I must consume to get a daily bowel movement, and what exercise will produce firm upper arms and nutcracker thighs, I’ll puke

The sugar tax has raised a huge amount of money but that indicates one stark truth; we haven’t given up guzzling sugary drinks, we’ve opted to pay extra for them and economise on other foods.

The tax imposed a higher rate on all drinks containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml, but the level of income generated has not dropped – indicating that we are still drinking a huge amount of unhealthy fizzy stuff in cans.

Brits remain stubbornly set in their ways, and no amount of government persuasion has made much difference to our diet. The five-a-day fruit and veg campaign launched in 2003 has only made a marginal impact; 24 per cent met the targets at the start, but by 2020 – after a huge amount of cash had been spent on public health advertising and an army of quangos and self-important officials had issued reams of press releases – the number of people eating five veg a day had ONLY risen to 28 per cent by 2020.

Back in 2003, 27 per cent (over one-in-four) said they ate less than five veg a day. And by 2020 that number remained exactly the same, according to the NHS.

Obesity is inextricably linked to poverty with the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest children’s health soaring from 8.5 per cent in 2010 to 13.5 per cent in 2020, when Boris Johnson trumpeted yet another get fit campaign.

Which brings me back to David Hockney, a much-loved artist who is passionate about smoking, and who lives a comfortable life in France. He’s not short of a few bob – his paintings have sold for over £60million pounds at auction (although he only receives a tiny fraction), but his prints and books sell by the ton.

People who know nothing about art relate to Hockney because he’s not afraid to speak his mind, in a refreshingly direct way which is increasingly unfashionable in our cancel culture.

Hockney has put his money where his mouth is by purchasing 40 beer mats by a fellow artist called Mr Bingo emblazoned with the slogan 'bored of wellness'

Hockney has put his money where his mouth is by purchasing 40 beer mats by a fellow artist called Mr Bingo emblazoned with the slogan ‘bored of wellness’

Hockney told Mr Bingo ‘I have never been to a gym in my life…I am still working every day. I walk a bit slower. I’m either going to die of the smoking-related illness or a non-smoking related illness’. And he signs off with ‘Love LIFE’.

Hockney has a point, we live in a nanny state, with rules and regulations about public health and safety making mockery of free choice. We’ve been told how to wash our hands, and it won’t be too long before there’s a directive on how to wipe our backsides.

If smokers want to puff away and pay a fortune in tax to the government in the process, I can’t see the point in continuing to tell them they are killing themselves. They’ve got the message.

As for the obsession with ‘wellness’- it has become the modern substitute for thinking or doing anything more cerebral like reading or having a real hobby.

The wellness industry is led by an army of wellness gurus, who peddle ludicrous theories to the self-centred middle classes, the people with money to buy organic food, designer non-dairy milky coffes and non-meat meat.

Portrait of English painter David Hockney in Los Angeles, California in the 1980s

Portrait of English painter David Hockney in Los Angeles, California in the 1980s

Forget government campaigns, wellness merchants bombard us with advice on how to exercise, where to exercise, what to eat and what time of day to start chewing. There’s even advice about how to spend your time in bed- with ‘sleep clinics’ telling us how to switch off the phone, draw the blinds and put in some earplugs.

Most wellness advice is part of the process of infantilising us – treating us as stupid sods who need to be shown how to live sensibly.

I’m an advocate of living to the maximum. Eat what you like, go for a normal walk every day – you know, that activity where you put on an old coat over your sweaty house clothes, and put one foot in front of the other for at least fifteen minutes.

Drink a glass of wine a day, or a beer. Eat crisps. And potatoes.

Enjoy the odd sausage!

If the government (and all the costly wellness wallies) really want the nation to be fitter, it’s pretty simple.

Provide compulsory free nutritious school meals for all. Teach every child to cook properly, not just spag bol and cauliflower cheese. Make every school include an hour of exercise a day.

And after that trust people to make up their own minds about how to live.

Or is that a dangerous concept in 2021?

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