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In the Gym with Alex Brooker, Co-Host of The Last Leg

Croydon-born journalist turned TV presenter Brooker meets us at PureGym Oval, where he trains twice a week. Since the 2012 Paralympics – which saw the launch of Channel 4’s The Last Leg, now a staple of the Friday night TV schedule – his profile has risen to the point where he’s getting some, er, interesting accolades.

You used to joke about being the tenth most influential disabled person in Britain. How did you react when the Shaw Trust put you second?

That was weird, wasn’t it? I always used to joke about it. I came behind Tanni Grey-Thompson. I beat Hawking and he had a film out! I bet Eddie Redmayne is gearing up to play me in a film now. He’s probably getting his prosthetic hands fitted as we speak. But yeah, second most powerful disabled person in Britain. I don’t think it’d work as a chat-up line.

That’s quite a way to come in four years. Before the 2012 Paralympics you were unknown.

I went into the Paralympics on a nine-day contract, expecting to go back up to Yorkshire afterwards and work for the Press Association again.

Your first live interview was with David Cameron, right?

I was meant to be doing Boris Johnson but about half an hour before the start they were like, “You’re going to interview the Prime Minister five minutes before Boris Johnson”. There were 11 million people watching and I was shitting myself.

You pulled it off though.

Yeah. We had a chat before we started and I said, “I’m going to ask you three basic questions, Prime Minister.” I asked three easy questions, he gave three easy answers and we both looked good and went on our way.

Nice. But weren’t you trying to be a football reporter?

The only football stuff I did over the whole of the Paralympics was after the very first Last Leg show, when I interviewed Arsenal players playing volleyball. Then I got a call saying the producers wanted me presenting rather than reporting. I said no at first.

What changed your mind?

The producer said, “If you stay as a reporter you’ll get another ten minutes’ screen time during the whole of the Paralympics. Or you can do this and you’ll be on prime-time TV every night for the next seven days.” So I thought, “Yeah, fuck it, I’ll do it”.

Brooker’s trainer, John Campbell Duffy, comes over at this point and explains the session: a full-body workout. Duffy is a childhood friend of Brooker’s and the pair say their lack of awkwardness about his disability has helped them make good progress.

How often do people act awkwardly towards your disability?

Sometimes, but I’m quite forward so I address it quickly. No-one is trying to be rude. It’s all down to human curiosity and wanting to do the right thing. I’m the same. I meet people with little arms – smaller than mine – and I’m like, “Shit, what do I do here?” That’s what creates the awkwardness. It’s never, “Oh this guy looks weird so I’m going to be a prick to him”. Well… very rarely.

Is that why you did the Scope “End The Awkward” campaign?

Yeah. It’s a really good campaign – it reflected my own attitudes.

There was a backlash about it making light of disabilities though.

I’m very lucky that within the realms of my disability I’ve been able to lead a very independent life. For some people it hasn’t been so easy, and I understand that. There are people who’ve suffered from prejudice or been bullied at school. It’s not meant to be a joke. But honestly, I think there are some disabled people who are bitter – I’m not one of those people, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see where they’re coming from. I grew up never seeing anyone like me on TV. It’s a really big thing. It doesn’t have to be the same disability – just talking about disability in general.

Duffy explains how they use resistance bands in place of dumbbells in many exercises, as well as communicating constantly to make sure the right muscles are being hit. “We focus more on keeping the muscle under contraction, rather than doing loads of reps,” he says.

You lost a lot of weight for the C4 documentary My Perfect Body. Have you kept it off?

I continued it for a while, but then I got married. I just thought, “Fuck it” and didn’t train as hard. I weighed myself after a while and I was back up to 89kg. When I saw that, I started training twice a week and I’ve kept it going ever since. John’s adapted style of training made me believe I could get in shape. He worked hard with me and is the main reason why I’ve kept going.

Nice work. Does being on TV make it easier or harder to stay motivated?

Body image is a big enough thing as it is without seeing yourself in HD on a Friday night. I’m more conscious about my weight than I am about my disability. That tells you a lot about how male body image is now – and probably how much I’m used to my disability. If I know I’ve put on weight, I’m gutted.

Do you have fitness goals beyond keeping trim?

Before I did My Perfect Body I’d say I couldn’t because my arms were little. Then I started training and realised it was just an excuse. Now I’ve got a goal. Most people can see someone on TV or in a magazine and think, “I want to get in that shape”. But I don’t know how my arms would look when they’re in shape so I just have to kind of get on with it.

Good luck with it. Will you be covering the Paralympics in Rio?

Yes – and we’re doing another series of The Last Leg.

How important was 2012 for changing how people felt about disabilities?

The Paralympics played a role in desensitising people. There are a lot of people who saw disability in a different way for the first time, including me. I’d never watched the Paralympics before 2012 but people got on board because it received proper coverage that showed it as a proper sporting event. And it was. You realise it’s not just, “Oh look at this guy, he lost a leg. This is his sob story.” He lost a leg but he can run really quickly.

Duffy signals to us that our session is drawing to a close, which is just as well because MF is knackered. As we shake hands Brooker looks remarkably fresh. It seems his adapted training is working.

The Last Leg (opens in new tab) is on Fridays at 10pm on Channel 4 from 12th February. Thanks to PureGym Oval (puregym.com (opens in new tab))

Matt joined Men’s Fitness in April 2014 as features writer after spending several years writing for a luxury lifestyle magazine, swapping champagne and canapés for cardio and leg days.

Matt is a keen Thai boxer and his interest in fitness took off when he made the decision to compete semi-professionally and had to get in shape. Training aside, he says the worst thing about fighting is resisting the urge to apologise all the time. 

Oh, and he’s still on the look out for a decent fight nickname after being told ‘The Best’ was reaching a little bit…

Favourite move: Any kind of squat variation

Favourite sport: MMA and Muay Thai kickboxing

Personal best: Competing in a semi-pro K1 bout

Targets: Sub-1hr 40m half marathon and winning a fight by KO

Scariest MF moment: Writing about myself in the third-person for this profile

Favourite MF website story: Spider-Man workout (opens in new tab)

Favourite trainer quote: ‘Hands up, chin down’ – every striking coach ever

Biggest gym crime: Avoiding the weights and sticking to the treadmill