The celebrity fit­ness em­pire of Ade­laide's James Duigan

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - words pene­lope de­belle

TALK about luck. A rest­less young man with en­ergy to burn left Ade­laide for Lon­don with no idea what to do with his life. At first he did it tough; a stint at a pub in re­turn for a night’s ac­com­mo­da­tion, a job be­hind the counter in Har­rods. He would wait for Star­bucks to throw out its sand­wiches then raid the bin. He be­came very clear that liv­ing on 90 pence a day was not the life­style he wanted. Af­ter a stint in Greece he got a job on re­cep­tion at a gym and stud­ied at night to be­come a per­sonal trainer.

One day, Elle Macpher­son walked in. It was that kind of gym. James Duigan, a self-con­fessed bo­gan from Ade­laide, was work­ing in Knights­bridge, near where Elle lives. When she vis­ited he was do­ing some­thing in­ven­tive like stand­ing on a Swiss ball and pulling a ca­ble to keep him­self chal­lenged. Elle didn’t pay him any spe­cial at­ten­tion and walked out.

The next day his phone rang. It was the long-legged Aus­tralian su­per­model with the mil­lion-dol­lar body. Would James like to work with her and be­come her per­sonal trainer?

“I started train­ing her and we clicked, got on re­ally well and I trained her for 15 years,” says Duigan who is back in Ade­laide un­til Septem­ber while his wife, Chris­tiane, has their sec­ond child.

This pleas­ant look­ing man who is healthy and fit but not drip­ping with mus­cle or charisma be­came part of Elle’s en­tourage, spend­ing much of each year with her in the Ba­hamas, on Har­bour Is­land.

“We’d work an hour a day, four days a week, it would de­pend,” he says. “I got to do things I never would have dreamed of, and met people I never dreamed I’d meet. It was just amaz­ing. Then as her kids started go­ing to school, ev­ery­one be­came much more Lon­don-based.”

It was a stroke of luck that can change a per­son’s life, if you let it. Duigan be­gan do­ing press through Elle and over a decade he built a very hot brand – James Duigan, celebrity trainer. He is not quite the same bo­gan he was, with his beau­ti­ful wife, five-star life­style and a glit­ter­ing queue of clients will­ing to pay large sums of money to be trained by him.

From that chance meet­ing he has built a health/nu­tri­tion/flat-tummy em­pire that in­cludes a se­ries of best-sell­ing books – the Clean and Lean Cook­book, the Clean and Lean Fat Tummy Fast – and nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments with names like Mul­tiOp­ti­mum and Body Seren­ity.

He has also put his name to an ul­tralux­ury fit­ness gym brand with exclusive Body­ism gyms, in the Bul­gari Ho­tel in Knights­bridge, the Mal­dives and Turkey. Last week, he flew to Queens­land to open Aus­tralia’s first Body­ism, at One & Only on Hay­man Is­land. Body­ism LA will open next year. Elle wrote the fore­word to the 2010 Clean and Lean Diet – train­ing with James clears the body and the mind, she writes – but these days he no longer needs Elle. Bri­tish pa­pers have hinted at a cool­ing off

be­tween them but Duigan says it is just “cir­cum­stances” that mean he no longer trains her, and be­cause he trav­els a lot.

“We worked to­gether for a long time and she’s an amaz­ing lady,” he says.

Move over Elle and make way for Rosie Hunt­ing­ton-White­ley (English ac­tress, girl­friend of Ja­son Statham, for­mer Vic­to­ria's Se­cret model), Lara Stone (Dutch model), Me­gan Gale, Teresa Palmer (for­mer Ade­laide ac­tress who is god­mother to the Duigan’s daugh­ter Char­lotte) and Holly Valance. They all train with Duigan and lend their fame to his brand. Even Hugh Grant is a fan. “I’m now daz­zling in my panties,” he says. So why seek celebri­ties out? “I don’t want to sound ar­ro­gant, but they seek us out. You can’t seek a celebrity out,” Duigan says.

He is used to de­fend­ing this and ar­gues there’s no point hav­ing the best gym in the world if no one knows about it. Celebri­ties make people sit up and lis­ten.

“I could spend an hour talk­ing about amaz­ing sto­ries about people and the amaz­ing things they do and then if I men­tion Elle or Rosie, that’s who will be writ­ten about. That’s the re­al­ity. It’s a commercial fact of life,” he says.

Chris­tiane, heav­ily preg­nant and ra­di­antly beau­ti­ful in a make-up free kind of way, says people like to read about how other people get their bod­ies.

This is what his suc­cess boils down to: Bod­ies. Look­ing like Elle, weigh­ing what Rosie weighs, a post-baby body like Me­gan’s or Lara’s. Duigan ar­gues that he is about much more than weight loss but the elu­sive flat tummy – and his 17 per cent body fat tar­get (it’s low!) – are part of the Clean and Lean regime. And it comes with a touch of bling; fit­ness kissed with the over-the-top, pri­vate-chef kind of lux­ury that some of his clients en­joy. Duigan clev­erly pitched him­self above the grunt and sweat to of­fer lux­ury health, fit­ness and nu­tri­tion, with the prom­ise of a gor­geous body thrown in.

A ca­reer as a holis­tic health and body beau­ti­ful guru didn’t ex­ist when he was grow­ing up in Ade­laide. He was the child of hippy par­ents who took a while to put down roots.

His fa­ther Kevin, who died ear­lier this year, played gui­tar, his mother Stella painted. When Duigan was 16, his par­ents trained to be teach­ers and they moved to Uluru where his fa­ther taught at the Indige­nous com­mu­nity at the base of the rock. Duigan re­mem­bers the way the desert trans­formed when it rained. Even­tu­ally, they re­turned to Ade­laide where Kevin be­came a much-loved teacher at the Kaurna Plains School in El­iz­a­beth.

“We had his fu­neral about three months ago at a church on Good­wood Rd and it was full. Bus­loads of Abo­rig­i­nal people came in from all over the place. It was amaz­ing, he was a beau­ti­ful man,” says Duigan.

In his early years, Duigan learnt from his free-think­ing par­ents about nu­tri­tion and food. When he was four, he had a per­sis­tent cough and couldn’t sleep; doc­tors rec­om­mended steroids and tran­quilis­ers.

“Back then the doc­tors were treated like gods, but even then Dad said, ‘I


don’t know, tran­quilis­ers and steroids, it doesn’t sound right’,” says Duigan. “My mum took me to a chi­ro­prac­tor natur­opath type per­son who said ‘he’s def­i­nitely hy­po­gly­caemic, he’s in­tol­er­ant of su­gar’. So they took me off su­gar and in two nights I was com­pletely calm, and then the cat ran away and my cough dis­ap­peared!”

At school he was the kid not al­lowed to have lol­lies; the one with the carob Easter eggs that (he says) tasted like dirt. But he still cred­its his dad with sav­ing him from what might have been an en­tirely dif­fer­ent life.

He wasn’t great at school, he says, not book­ish. He was a stu­dent at Cabra Do­mini­can Col­lege and was con­stantly in trou­ble for talk­ing in class. He re­mem­bers be­ing phys­i­cally in­ca­pable of shut­ting up. And he was ter­ri­ble at sports, at least at first.

“Be­cause of my par­ents be­ing the way that they were, I’d al­ways have mis­match­ing shoes and a ruf­fled pirate shirts for cricket. ‘Can’t I have a T-shirt like the other kids?’ ‘No, this is cool.’ So I was al­ways a bit dif­fer­ent. And I had long hair,” he says.

When he was nine, his body kicked in. He bowled a ball, hit mid­dle stump, bowled again and did the same. His skill had caught up with his am­bi­tion. In the class­room not much changed. He couldn’t con­cen­trate enough to do home­work and never felt that he fit­ted.

“I was told three sep­a­rate times I’d never amount to any­thing, and it was hor­ri­ble to have an adult telling you that,” he says. “But it did mo­ti­vate me. Thank­fully, my par­ents were never wor­ried. They never put ex­pec­ta­tions on me. They al­ways thought I’d fig­ure it out.”

At Duigan’s Body­ism gym in the Bul­gari Ho­tel in Knights­bridge (mem­ber­ship around $30,000 a year) you don’t suck on a used Pump bot­tle. Some­one hands you a glass of crys­talline wa­ter with an added dash of chloro­phyll. Nor do you get a sheet of ex­er­cises to slog your way through; you have a con­sul­ta­tion called the Body Or­a­cle where a trained as­ses­sor does a part-psy­cho­log­i­cal, part-phys­i­cal as­sess­ment.

You will prob­a­bly be told to cut the C.R.A.P. out of your life; that’s Caf­feine. Re­fined su­gar, Al­co­hol and Pro­cessed foods.

You will also be told that un­less you change your mind, you will never change your body.

“One of the mantras that we have is ‘any change in your body hap­pens in your mind first’,” Duigan says.

“We have a lot of people come in and say ‘Oh, I look like a pig in jeans, you’d lit­er­ally throw up’.

“And it’s funny and they say it as a joke. But it’s ac­tu­ally quite se­vere and you’d never say that to an­other per­son.

“So you re­alise that your body starts to be­lieve what your mouth tells it and you have to be care­ful about what you say, and you have to be kind to yourself.”

His un­der­ly­ing nar­ra­tive of self-worth is some­thing even the rich and suc­cess­ful need to hear. He says some people sub­con­sciously be­lieve they don’t de­serve a happy, healthy life and sab­o­tage their be­hav­iour with choco­late, co­caine or al­co­hol. Duigan, who is tee­to­tal, backs up his fit­ness tools with a mind­set that seeks to change how people think.

“When people come in, we re­ally lis­ten to them so the gym isn’t loud mu­sic and lots of stuff go­ing on, it’s about hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions and hear­ing what’s im­por­tant to them,” he says.

“Do­ing squats isn’t go­ing to change any­one’s life but chang­ing how they feel about them­selves will.”

But did Elle or Rosie’s life change be­cause they worked out for an hour a day?

“They’re not los­ing 20 ki­los, ab­so­lutely, but we are more than los­ing weight,” Duigan says.

“It’s a life­style,” adds Chris­tiane. “Some­one might come in and they think they’re in for a re­ally hard train­ing ses­sion and we say ‘To­day we’re do­ing yoga, or a mas­sage’ and people are sur­prised by that. I guess you are chang­ing their lives as such be­cause they come in feel­ing stressed and they go out feel­ing amaz­ing.”

To­gether, the Duigans are con­tenders for the per­fect cou­ple. Chris­tiane, who has Brazil­ian parent­age on her mother’s side and a fa­ther from Ade­laide shed ki­los un­der James’ guid­ance.

Now, she is the gor­geous model on the front of his books, in­clud­ing the preg­nancy guide. She is the beauty to his brains.

Their first date was a dis­as­ter. Back in Ade­laide for Christ­mas in 2006, Duigan saw her at a party and wanted to meet her. A few days later on New Year’s Eve he asked a friend about her. “That’s Chris­tiane, ev­ery­one wants to talk to her,” the friend said. “Just in­tro­duce me!” said Duigan.

They met, chat­ted and got to­gether for lunch but it some­how went awry. For rea­sons he still doesn’t quite un­der­stand, half way through the date Duigan lost his cool.

“Some­thing hap­pened, I started to re­ally tense up. There was this sweat go­ing on, chest sweat, and one dripped from my nose,” he laughs. “I wasn’t talk­ing. I was fo­cus­ing on try­ing not to sweat, look­ing like a se­rial killer.”

Don’t go over­board on this bit, he warns Chris­tiane, when I ask her what she was think­ing. It was fine, he says, I was just sweat­ing a lot, and I went silent…

“I cut it short,” smiles Chris­tiane. “I just said I had to get back to work.”

That was it for a year. Duigan went back to Lon­don but never stopped think­ing about her. In the mean­time, Chris­tiane told her sis­ter about her


awk­ward date with some­one called James Duigan.

“And she went ‘ James Duigan. THE James Duigan,” she says. “She said I should give him an­other chance.”

A year later, Duigan walked into a shop where she worked and she sug­gested they catch up. It all went much bet­ter. They met in the East End and bonded at the Choco­late Bean, over choco­late soup.

She is the liv­ing, breath­ing ex­otic re­al­i­sa­tion of the health and beauty im­age that he sells. Yet they are very dif­fer­ent people, Duigan says, and it took years to fig­ure each other out.

“I’d lis­ten to Chrissy and think ‘ What do you mean? I don’t even know what you mean?’ And it was like we were from two dif­fer­ent plan­ets, but there was such a strong love,” says Duigan. “That’s all we had at the start. We had noth­ing in com­mon ex­cept that we loved each other and from that we fig­ured a way, and started to un­der­stand each other.”

They have a daugh­ter, Char­lotte, and late this month her brother, Leonardo, is due to be born. Chris­tiane works on the op­er­a­tions side of the busi­ness al­though these days there are teams of people mak­ing sure the Duigan em­pire runs smoothly.

Busi­ness is boom­ing and their suc­cess with a range of Body­ism sup­ple­ments has dwarfed the rest of the busi­ness.

In part­ner­ship with trainer Dal­ton Wong, Duigan pro­duces “a be­spoke range of sup­ple­ments and health drinks” de­signed to strip fat and make you feel bet­ter. They in­clude Body Bril­liance (“the su­per­model’s se­cret weapon”) and Berry Burn, which en­cour­ages fat loss dur­ing a work­out. The sup­ple­ments will soon be stocked by a ma­jor store.

The Body­ism gyms will re­main exclusive, their lo­ca­tions re­stricted to places the Duigans want to visit: Lon­don, the Mal­dives, Turkey and LA.

“We wanted to cre­ate a good life­style for our­selves; we want gyms where we want to go ba­si­cally,” says Chris­tiane.

James says he was of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to open a gym in a par­tic­u­lar city that was guar­an­teed to make him a for­tune. He knocked it back be­cause it wasn’t some­where they wanted to go. Life’s too short, he says.

Their next po­ten­tially huge step is to ex­pand their busi­ness into a per­son­alised on­line life­style ser­vice, bring­ing their celebrity-en­dorsed work­outs, recipes, sup­ple­ments and philoso­phies to the masses. Body­ism on­line will in­clude ex­er­cise pro­grams you can watch on your iPhone or iPad or com­puter; menu plans; nu­tri­tional pro­grams and lo­calised in­for­ma­tion about where to get the best fa­cial, what veg­eta­bles are in sea­son, where to go for a hol­i­day and what restaurant­s serve food that is Clean and Lean.

“The web­site is a way of con­nect­ing, it can give you feed­back in real time,” says Duigan. “We ob­vi­ously won’t be able to talk to ev­ery­one but we will have a team of people who can. It’s more of a liv­ing, breath­ing thing and it’s more im­me­di­ate and con­nected, so that’s ex­cit­ing.”

Duigan knows he didn’t in­vent any of this and says he is stand­ing on the shoul­ders of gi­ants. But he seized a piece of luck and used it to build an em­pire. And he is grate­ful for the chance.

“People say it’s nice that you’re still hum­ble and that’s good to hear, but I’ve got noth­ing to be a big head about, very few people do,” he says. “I’m not a sur­geon or a res­cue worker or some­one in Africa dig­ging wells and mas­sag­ing ele­phants. I am what I am; a bo­gan from Ade­laide who’s done some per­sonal train­ing and I’m re­ally lucky to have ev­ery­thing else.”

2 1 Per­sonal trainer James Duigan and his wife Chris­tiane his first fa­mous client, in Lon­don 2 Duigan walks with Elle Macpher­son,


1 1 James Duigan, his wife Chris­tiane and daugh­ter Char­lotte 2 With model Ka­sia Z 3&4 Duigan's A-list clients in­clude Rosie Hunt­ing­ton-White­ley and Me­gan Gale




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