Comedian Rob Beckett has never been backward in coming forwards, as far as his body is concerned.
The Southeast Londoner, 36 – co-star of Sky’s Rob & Romesh Vs and presenter of Undeniable – describes his body as being ‘like a bag of mashed potatoes in his new memoir, A Class Act.
He’s been the subject of endless ribbing about his ‘Jaffa Cake nips’ and hairy back and has made no secret of what it was like growing up as an overweight teenager.
Now, he feels in his best physical and mental shape ever, he says.
“When I was low, I would train out of body shame and panic, and I hated every second of it.
Now I am less harsh on myself,” observes Beckett, who has two daughters, aged five and three, with his wife Lou (you can hear him chat about family life on Parenting Hell, his hit podcast with fellow parent and comedian Josh Widdicombe).
Here, the funny man and working dad tells us more about finding work-life balance, self-worth and overcoming shame…
How do you manage your mental health?
“I have trigger points. I know that if I’m getting overwhelmed and overworked – and my diary is crazy at the moment – I book loads more time off now.
If I’m not working a particular week, I’ll think, ‘That’s because you need to rest, not because you’re lazy’. I don’t have that voice telling me not to have time off.
“I make sure that I ringfence things, so I play football on a Tuesday afternoon with comedians.
That would be the last thing to be taken out of the diary for something,” adds Beckett. “I do lots of Lego, lots of colouring-in, and I love spending time with the kids.
“The worst thing is overworking, which is driven by that poverty mindset of, ‘I’ve got to get the money’. I make sure I protect resting time and give myself space between stuff.”
Do you have trouble turning work down?
“Yes. Sometimes I’ll be offered an amount of money for something that it would have taken me or my parents a lot longer to earn, so you feel a slight guilt. But you have to put your own sanity first.
“My workload has reduced, but by not having that negative voice in my head. I’m enjoying being busy. I’m excited by the opportunity.
I used to be propelled by fear, as I thought: ‘If we get this wrong, I’ve got to go back on to the market (Beckett worked at Columbia Road flower market as a teenager).’ Now, I have self-worth and believe in myself.”
You sought therapy following overwork and burnout just before the pandemic. Were you on anti-depressants?
“I never went on anti-depressants. I wasn’t in a nice place but people have been in much darker places. I respond very well to therapy. Therapy really helped.
When I first went about 10 years ago, I had it on the NHS, but more recently I paid for it privately – I’d rather free up a space for someone who can’t afford it privately.”
How body-conscious are you?
“I hated my body for a long time. I even hated public speaking, because I have dyslexia and had to go to speech therapy as a kid.
That’s why I really enjoyed doing the Rob & Romesh show when you are dressed up stupidly and showing your body.
It’s like exposure therapy. I think, ‘If I do this then I’m done’. The best way to cope with it is to rip the band-aid off.
“I’m not as body-conscious now, because I’ve calmed down the negative voice and replaced it with the positive one.
“As a teenager, I hated my body so much. You couldn’t have told me at 14 that I’d have my naked body projected to a TV screen in Times Square, being cuddled by my mate.”
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
“A very tired dad, who looks half decent considering how busy he is.”
Do you go through health fads?
“I came off booze in September after an indulgent summer and lasted nine days.
I’ve never had a drink problem, so there’s no point starving yourself of it if you have a drink once a week.
“I found out that I’m intolerant to bread. If I eat bread, I get a massive pregnant belly and do loads of farts.
I don’t eat bread at all now and try to avoid carbs, so if I get a burrito, I’ll get a burrito bowl without the wrap. I’ve lost about a stone since January .”
What exercise do you do?
“I’ve started boxing. I’d never really enjoyed exercise, because it was all powered by fear that I was fat and looked awful.
If you feel like that, you’re not training in a positive way. But now I’ve learned to feel self-worth, I get a good buzz out of it.”
Do you still watch your weight?
“I’m not a yo-yoer, but if I don’t eat well, I put on weight very quickly. I’ve just got that ‘fat kid gene’.
As I’ve got older, the weight has slowly crept up as the kids came, because you eat takeaways and aren’t exercising so much.
But I’m 36 and I thought, ‘I either watch what I eat and start exercising now I’ve got time, or I just become a big fat bloke’.”
A Class Act: Life As A Working-class Man In A Middle-class World by Rob Beckett is published by HarperCollins, priced £20. Available now.