PJ Gallagher tells us all about his new fitness obsession, and shows us the results
OVER the years, I have done interviews in the back of speeding taxis, on the side of L.A. hills when the mercury hit 50°C, in plush penthouse suites across three different continents, in changing rooms on film sets and even once atop a floating restaurant 150 feet up in the sky. This is the first time a celeb has told me to meet him at a sweaty gym.
Funnyman PJ Gallagher is best known for two decades of stand-up comedy, his hilarious TV exploits as Jake Stevens and various other fictional comic geniuses, and more recently for his dalliance into acting and his brilliant morning radio show on Classic Hits 4FM.
But behind the wise cracks and pranks is a 41-year-old Dubliner with a new, very serious obsession: fitness.
Above the busy strip of shops of Fairview on the north side of Dublin is a gym like no other. At Fit Studios, there are no cross-trainers or high-tech indoor running tracks.
There isn’t even a water cooler. And the rules are strict - members are not allowed just drop in; they have to either take a lung-busting class (Fat Burn, 8-Week Abs or TRX) or shed fat the hard way, one-to-one with a personal trainer.
Head honcho PT is Steve Doody (above) who, alongside Chopped (salad bar chain) owner Brian Lee, set up the urban fitness studio which focusses on turning ordinary people into muscle machines, and changing the way they think about food and exercise. Over the last six months, Naked Camera star PJ has been their star pupil.
Looking almost unrecognisable, the chiselled comedian invites me to tag along to one of his sessions.
“I haven’t lost a single pound,” he reveals. I’m gobsmacked. “This is going to sound a bit preachy, but it is not about weight. The results are everywhere but on the weighing scales. I have dropped two jean sizes though. I was a 36-inch waist in January and now I am a 32. My t-shirts were always large or xtra-large, now they’re medium. My shirts don’t fit me anymore because my chest has grown. But I haven’t lost a pound.”
A few years ago, after his third surgery on his leg (following a serious motorcycle accident), PJ was told by doctors that he’d never be able to run again, and that he’d only ever be able to play five minutes of football before needing to stop.
“What a load of bo**ix,” he blasts. “It’s all bullsh*t. I’ve tried several gym stints and loads of diets through the years with mixed results. None of them lasted long.
“In here, Steve has changed everything for me. I was obsessed with weight loss, but now I ignore the scales. It’s about inches. When I sat down with him at the start of the year, he set out a plan for me. It was daunting, if I’m being truthful, but I decided I’d follow everything he said about food and exercise for two months straight.
“The results were amazing, and pretty instant. There are no crazy diets either. Steve lets me eat loads of delicious food. He’s good like that,” the Dubliner smiles as his trainer listens in from across the gym floor. “I knew my body was changing as people were doing double-takes when I’d pass. Glenda Gilson looked at me and said: ‘PJ, there is something different about you. Is it your hair?’
“A few months into my training plan I went for a walk in the park and I decided to start running. The doctor told me not to, so I just aimed to run to a monument up ahead of me. When I got there, I kept going to the end of the park, and when I got there I ran for a few laps. It was a complete eureka moment for me. Genuinely. I videoed myself doing it and sent it to Steve. I was howling laughing in the video. I couldn’t believe it.”
One of the trademark successes of Fit Studios is its goals system.
“My first ‘goal’ was to be able to lift my own body weight. That sounds ridiculous in itself. But the effort over the couple of months I had to go through to get to that level of strength was really intense. But I got there, and now I want to aim for twice my bodyweight. I can deadlift 140kgs and squat 100kgs.
I’m addicted to the whole thing now.”
Realising that he’s in danger of sounding like a born-again gym freak, PJ assures me: “I still enjoy myself. I still drink and sometimes I eat shite, but I am watching everything. It’s not a burden, it’s just the new me.
"I went off drink for seven years a while back. I was bored of it so I took a break. Then I went back on the gargle, to the relief of my mates. I stick to whiskey, or maybe a pint of Smithwicks or two. But wild nights are a thing of the past.”
Despite his seemingly-confident character and years of performing on stage, as well as on the small and big screen, PJ is shy when it comes to being in front of our camera.
When we suggest he takes his top off to show the full effects of his hours in the gym - and salad-munching - he is hesitant, claiming he doesn’t have the body for it.
His trainer, Steve Doody, says: “The plan with PJ was simple. I could see his injuries really got to him, so we needed to focus on confidence through strength and fitness before any fat loss or aesthetic training. I told him we needed him to get strong first, and then good things would happen. I made it my goal as his coach to show him how well the human body does when it gets stronger.
“From no strength and confidence to this machine you see here, who is squatting 100kgs and deadlifting 145kg, is incredible. He can deadlift 100kgs by 30 reps,” Steve says proudly, slapping his golden boy on the back.
“For a guy in his 40s to do this, which is well over his bodyweight, is unheard of in big gyms. That’s why smaller businesses like Fit Studios succeed; we have such a personal bond with our clients. PJ did his first pull-up at the age of 40 and can now do 25 in the one session.
“PJ trains four times a week. He’s hard to train because he always makes me laugh. We end up having the banter.”
Steve adds: “It has been great to help PJ. I’ve helped many like him. If people just took a chance instead of living with pain and accepting that they are ‘not fit’, we as a nation would have fewer health problems.”
PJ’s morning radio show on Classic Hits 4FM means that the old life on the road is a thing of the past. Worryingly for his fans, it also means less comedy.
“I’m only doing a few big festivals this year. It is the way things are going for me. Radio is my priority now, I love it. Then I’d put acting and comedy on my list of priorities too. I am in a new film called The Young Offenders [released in September] which is premiering at the Galway Film Fleadh next Friday. It is a comedy road trip based on real events in 2007, when that huge boat capsized off the coast of West Cork with all the cocaine on it. I play Jock, who tries to find one of the bails worth €7million. Everyone needs to go out and see it when it hits cinemas.
“Other than that, I’m just planning on gigging at the big festivals, like the Vodafone weekend in The Iveagh Gardens as well as Castlepalooza, and trying not to get fired from my radio job,” he laughs.
“I still have lots of goals here too [at Fit Studios]. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, but I want more. It’s a weirdfeeling. I’m addicted to it. The hour of pain I go through gives me 24 hours of joy. Then I start over again. To think about what I was told by doctors and physios over the years... It is mad compared to what I am doing now.”