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Dublin: 14°C Saturday 16 October 2021

Move it... And tone it: How Mr Motivator championed the power of dance fitness

It all started with an insult and became a triumph against racism on TV.

Image: YouTube

IF YOU’RE OVER the age of 18, you don’t need this article to tell you that the 1990s were a brilliant time for music. It was the decade of one-hit wonders like Jump Around, Torn and You Get What You Give. And it saw the birth of the world’s easiest dance.

But one man armed with nothing more than some colourful Spandex and a few great beats managed to epitomise the entire decade with his craft – bringing the art of dance fitness to the fore.

First appearing on UK breakfast TV, Mr Motivator (also known by his non-dancer birth name Derrick Errol Evans), performed live fitness sessions that soon spawned a series of bestselling workout videos. The gym was out – dancing was in.

There were many memorable moments from his days on daytime TV – from the time he showed Ant and Dec the ropes to the time that Mr Blobby ran over to him mid-workout on live air, his work outs were never boring:

Source: Mr Blobby/YouTube

But who was Mr Motivator? And how did his enjoyable fitness craze grip multiple nations, and to this day, thousands of people at festivals? (This September, you’ll get a chance to catch him at Electric Ireland’s Throwback Stage at Electric Picnic).

According to This Is Money, his route into being the much-loved exercise star of breakfast TV was less than conventional. Originally, he became the personal trainer to GMTV breakfast show hosts Lorraine Kelly and Eamonn Holmes through a chance meeting on a plane.

Though at that stage, Holmes had heard about Evan’s brilliant workouts through Northern Irish BBC and ITV presenter Gloria Hunniford – so you could thank the small world of UK broadcast media for putting him in the spotlight.

Evans recalls how one day while waiting for Holmes in GMTV, he spotted a man with a large stomach and walked over, saying “Oi, you need to sort that belly out”. Unimpressed, the man replied “clear off” – turns out he was the programme controller of GMTV at the time.

Evans made the unusual decision to find out where his office was and to place an exercise bike in it. Two days later, Evans returned and told the controller that he needed to use it. Long story short, Evans soon whipped him into shape and the controller decided that Evans was destined for TV.

Source: FABTV/YouTube

However, Jamaican-born Evans didn’t think that advertisers would want to spend money around a segment with of a black man doing a fitness workout. He explained: “The advertisers instead wanted a blonde white woman with two kids”.

But when he overheard a woman on the GMTV production team talking about how she’d like to get someone in to do fitness. Speaking about it to This Is Money, Evans explained: “I told her to put the phone down, and she did.”

Fortunately, she was convinced that ‘things have a way of changing’. And of course, they did – Mr Motivator’s segments impressed not only the producers, but the audience and the advertisers.

Soon enough, Evans released a number of best-selling fitness videos. At the time, Mr Motivator quickly broke records for most fitness DVD sales in the UK ever. And his unique style definitely helped – something Evans credits to an accessories business he ran in the 1970s. He explains:

I started out wearing black leotards but I soon realised that TV fitness instructors who wore a similar get up were no longer around, so I needed to think carefully about how I marketed myself.

And ever wonder where the bum bags came from? Originally they served as a mic storage solution and a means to ensure that it wasn’t in his way during his high-octane workouts -  but it soon became a fashion statement.

These days, Mr Motivator splits his time between the UK and Jamaica (where he moved to help his daughter’s asthma), and he runs an eco-resort with his son called H’Evans Scent.

In his spare time when he isn’t doing charity work, he has appeared at music festivals such as Electric Picnic in 2013 (and you’ll get to see him there this year too, when he returns to the Electric Ireland’s Throwback Stage).

mrmotivator Source: RTE Archives

Want one final treat from the dance master? Check out this archive clip from the time he did a full workout with Gay Byrne on The Late Late.

Source: Electric Ireland/YouTube

Suddenly feeling nostalgic? Electric Ireland’s Throwback Stage at Electric Picnic has hosted throwback legends like S Club Party, The Vengaboys and 5ive, to name a few. This year is no different with Bonnie Tyler, Mr Motivator and Lords of Strut performing and throwback movies screened during the day. Keep up with the action across the weekend by following #ThrowbackStage.

Sponsored by:

Electric Ireland

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