Graham Bell may already have been eliminated from Dancing On Ice, but the former Olympic skier says he’s reaped great health benefits from his short time on the show.
Since training started back in September, Bell – the second skater voted off the popular ITV series this year – has lost weight, massively cut back on alcohol, and says he’s as fit now as he was when he stopped ski racing 20 years ago.
“Health-wise, I feel really good,” says Bell, 55. “Everyone else [on Dancing On Ice] has been complaining about their joints and other stuff and I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m feeling really, really good’. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as fit!”
Here, the BBC’s Ski Sunday presenter tells us more…
How do you feel about leaving Dancing On Ice?
“I’m really upset to go out so early – I felt I had a lot more skating in the locker to bring out as the show progressed. I thought we nailed the skate-off routine, but clearly Rebekah [Vardy, who was also in the skate-off] impressed the judges more.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to fill my time now, in lockdown. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to go skiing, so my usual work of ski instructing and hosting trips is off. I’m planning on keeping the skating up, and will start visiting ice rinks again once they open up.
“I loved the technical aspect of skating, but what I didn’t love so much and I’m not so good at is the emoting and show – the performance side – and obviously that showed in my scores.”
How have you been during the pandemic?
“Lockdown one hit me quite hard, because I was right in the middle of a ski season and I felt like my livelihood and passion was being taken away. I struggled with that. I started doing the training I’d normally do, which is triathlon-based, so swimming, biking, running. The biking was amazing – the roads were empty.
“But I felt I was missing something. I live on the Thames and I started kayaking. The faster the boat, the more unstable it is, and I ended up falling in a lot. But I found my general outlook and mental health really improved through learning a new sport. I wasn’t just challenging myself physically, I was also learning something new – that was the key for me and it really helped me get through lockdown. I’d get up at first light and go on the river and learn to paddle. It was incredible.”
How fit do you feel right now?
“Last summer I was fairly fit – I actually got fitter in [the first] lockdown and once I had an idea I was doing Dancing On Ice, I started training a lot more. I’d say I’m as fit now as I have been since I quit racing 20 years ago.
“I also acquired some weights and made a gym at home downstairs. I cleared out all the sofas – ultimately you don’t get good at something by sitting on a sofa. I’m dedicated to doing an hour of either yoga or stretching a day as well, because that’s pretty important.”
What did you learn from the health and wellbeing themed interviews you’ve done for Decathlon UK’s The Power Of Ten podcast?
“There’s a massive key – between your mental wellbeing and your physical health, and exercise really does make a massive difference for your mental health – everyone agreed with that.
“Everyone finds different ways of getting that to happen. Kirsty Gallacher’s got a guy she trains with, and she sees that as her time to zone out from everything.
“Another thing that came across was to make a habit of exercising, make it part of your daily routine, so you just do it and don’t think: ‘Maybe, should I…?’. It becomes what you do, and as soon as you can get that – and I don’t know how many weeks it takes for something to become routine – that’s when you start to notice the big difference.
“Colin Jackson loves chocolate – there were a few people who don’t necessarily do all the ‘good’ things. Obviously Colin trains really hard and looks after himself, but he’ll snack on sugar, particularly chocolate. You don’t have to be a monk, you don’t have to be completely good all the time – what you’ve got to do is start to sway the balance in the right direction, focusing on your fitness and exercise, your mental wellbeing and what you eat. But you don’t have to do it all at once. That’s the key.
“Aljaz [Škorjanec] said he spent lockdown sitting on the sofa – that’s what his body needed because he’d not stopped and was at a level where he needed the break. His body was telling him he didn’t need to go out and go crazy and run and stuff, what he needed was a break. It’s different for everybody, and finding what you need is the key, and finding a way of making something work for you.”
Do you drink much these days?
“When I started Dancing On Ice, I stopped drinking – and that for me is a big thing, especially when you’ve got a bit of adrenaline and you’ve done something really exciting, particularly when you’re skiing and you’ve had a really incredible day and your heart’s pumping. A little bit of alcohol can feel great to just take the edge off that adrenaline spike, but the trouble I have is that it’s never just a little bit.
“So I’ve probably lost about 6kg in the first few months of stopping drinking. I gave myself a few days off over Christmas and New Year, and my birthday on January 4, so I wasn’t completely abstemious, but it’s been pretty much since I started training for Dancing On Ice back in September.”
Are you going to stay off the booze?
“Am I hell! I’ve certainly changed my relationship with alcohol though. I’m allowing myself the occasional drink now, but will keep the fitness training up, and I’m looking forward to getting out on the river kayaking once the floods have gone down.”
How have you coped without skiing?
“I am missing skiing, but I’ve been so engrossed in skating, it’s the one thing that’s been keeping me going. I’m very glad I’ve had some kind of distraction.
“We’re hoping skiing does come back this winter, but I just can’t see it. Maybe the lifts will open in France and Italy before Easter, but getting out there and getting back, you’d have to be tested a lot. It would be impractical and I think the ski season is done for any British.”
Graham Bell hosts Decathlon UK’s podcast The Power Of Ten (decathlon.co.uk/landing/podcast-series/_/R-a-podcast).