Charlie’s quest to lose a million pounds

DAVID SIMPSON speaks to former London marathon winner and Olympic medallist, Charlie Spedding about his big plan to tackle obesity and help the nation lose a million pounds in weight

Charlie Spedding
Charlie Spedding at home near Durham. Photo: David Simpson

A former North East Olympic marathon medallist has launched an ambitious online campaign to help thousands of people lose millions of pounds in weight.

Charlie Spedding, 64, is the owner of ‘Who Wants to Lose a Million Pounds’ a venture that hopes to tackle the nation’s escalating obesity problem, helping people become healthy without feeling hungry:

“I have this collective idea of a whole group of people losing a million pounds” says Charlie, one of the region’s most successful athletes, referring to losing the ‘lbs’ rather than the ‘£s’.

Born in Bishop Auckland and raised in Ferryhill, Charlie started running at school where cross country was compulsory:

“It was the first thing I was any good at” he recalls.

Charlie came second in the English School Championship for 1,500 metres in his final year at school and at 16, joined Gateshead Harriers, regularly taking a bus trip from Ferryhill to Gateshead just to train. Charlie proved not quite fast enough for the middle distances, but moved up to 5,000 and 10,000 metres before finally making his mark in the marathon.

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Winning the London Marathon in 1984

The pinnacle of his career came in 1984, when he won both the Houston and London marathons and claimed Bronze in the Los Angeles Olympics, narrowly missing out on silver to Irishman John Treacy by two seconds.

Considering the marathon’s central place in the Olympic story, Charlie can take particular pride in being the only Brit to have won an Olympic marathon medal in the last 52 years. Furthermore he is one of only six British athletes to have won the London Marathon since its inception in 1981 and is the third fastest British marathon runner of all time, after Steve Jones and Mo Farrah.

I met Charlie at his home in a village near Durham to talk about loseamillionpounds.com the website at the heart of his new business venture. First, though, I ask Charlie if he thinks he should be better remembered for his past achievements.

He’s somewhat philosophical and modestly recalls that there were some great gold medallists around at the time like Seb Coe and Daley Thompson but he proudly reflects on a prized photo of himself with Steve Cram and Mike Mcleod fresh on arrival back at Newcastle from Los Angeles in 1984.

By trade, Charlie is a pharmacist and has been for most of his life, training at Sunderland Polytechnic Pharmacy School, before starting his pharmacy career in Ferryhill. In more recent times he owned a pharmacy business in Wallsend and along with his athletics experience this gave him a sound knowledge of diet, nutrition and how the body works at the chemical and hormonal level.

In his work as a pharmacist he became acutely aware of the dietary problems that many people have: “I just noticed that most of the people I saw regularly had what you call metabolic diseases, not infections” he says “their internal metabolism had gone awry, it wasn’t working properly, they’d been taking medication for years and hardly any of them got any better”.

He concluded that medication was treating the symptom, not the cause of the problem and felt that it would do a lot more good to prevent the cause.

'Junk food' high in catboydrates
Sugary, high carbohydrate food is a big cause of obesity according to Charlie

“A lot of metabolic diseases are caused by lifestyle and the most important bit of lifestyle is diet” he says. “I know a lot of people would expect me as an Olympic marathon runner to say exercise, and exercise is very important for mental and physical health” but he quotes the words of influential NHS cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra, who says “you can’t outrun a bad diet”, a point on which Charlie agrees.

Charlie notes we are told that one third of the UK has a BMI (Body Mass Index) of over 25 and that another quarter has a BMI of over 30. “It’s not good, but how do you visualise that?” he asks.

As part of the argument Charlie assumes a BMI of over 25 is about 2 stone overweight and a BMI of over 30 is 5 stone overweight. With roughly 60 million people in the country one third of the population is 20 million and one quarter is 15 million. Charlie equates this to a UK population that is a staggering 2,000 million pounds overweight. On this basis, the North East, which has one of the highest levels of obesity within its 2.5 million people, is around 85 million pounds overweight. Charlie thinks that if he can gather together a group of people on his site to collectively lose a million pounds it would be a great start in beating obesity.

Charlie’s particular dietary approach to tackling the problem will have its critics. He is an advocate of a LCHF based diet (Low Carbohydrate, High Fat). There are a number of eminent supporters of this approach but in the UK there are some major heavyweight opponents such as the NHS who are broadly opposed or at least very cautious and the British Heart Foundation who are a significant opponent. High fat diets are often associated in some minds with heart disease but Charlie refutes this research.

He acknowledges that his approach does not fit in with official guidelines and his website makes this clear. His opinion has been informed from extensive research and he encourages people to make their own decisions with their own research.

In truth, major aspects of Charlie’s campaign are hard to deny. Reducing sugar, present in so many processed foods (a particular bugbear for Charlie) and sugary drinks is a key part of Charlie’s campaign and certainly a key factor in tackling obesity. Charlie is a great believer in what he calls ‘real foods’ as opposed to processed foods and advocates the importance of cooking as opposed to ready meals.

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‘Real foods’

Widespread processed foods, excessive carbohydrates and sugary drinks are a relatively recent feature of the human story and Charlie believes humans are not equipped to cope with this change. Foods with more fat content are in tune with the way we have evolved according to Charlie.

He feels the terminology of ‘fat’ is something of an issue. “The problem is we use the same word for dietary fat as being fat” he says. In fact scientists call the fats within our body ‘lipids’ but it is understandable that in the public mind it is hard not to associate ‘being fat’ with dietary fat.

“It’s carbohydrates that make you fat”, says Charlie.

He notes that fats of various kinds are an essential part of our body’s structure and that much of the body is made from fat. The brain for example is around 70% fat and our cells are encased in membranes made of fat while our nerves are encased in protective sheaths that are fat. Charlie notes that while the body is made up of proteins and fats, “no part of the body is made from carbohydrates” and advocates that fats are a perfectly good source of energy.

He argues that saturated fat as part of a diet became demonised, especially after 1977 when official US dietary guidelines encouraged a diet based on carbohydrates (bread, potatoes, pasta) and discouraged fats (butter, lard, cream, eggs, cheese). Much of the world followed suit, but Charlie highlights a graph on his website that shows a very sharp and continuing increase in obesity in the US since 1977 which he associates with the dietary changes.

Graph showing rise in obesity in the United States from Charlie's website
Graph showing rise in obesity in the United States from Charlie’s website

According to Charlie some researchers think a low fat diet and lack of correct nutrients increase health and mental health problems and he points to a theory that Alzheimer’s Disease may actually be type 3 diabetes.

It’s seemingly the excess glucose from carbohydrates that is the big problem. The liver turns extra glucose into fat and this makes you fat and the high levels of insulin that come from high blood sugar content prevent the burning of the fat.

Although LCHF diets have picked up a significant following in recent years there is a significant body of opinion that disagrees with Charlie’s approach. As with many issues in the modern world it is sometimes difficult to get to the truth.

Clearly, processed food manufacture is a multi-billion pound business and sugary drinks are amongst some of the world’s most powerful brands and Charlie is cautious of this: “Big business definitely affects some of the research” he says “when I see a scientific paper on nutrition, I always look to see who paid for it. In my opinion it’s nearly always funded by the sugar industry in some form or another”.

Charlie is clearly animated and excited by his new venture and is aiming for at least 20,000 subscribers in order to achieve the million pound weight loss. “I want people to join and learn more about what a healthy diet and lifestyle is” he says.

There are opportunities for family membership (£8.99 a month) so that families can work together for mutual support and individual membership is £5.99 a month. The site includes a personal page for each member to record their progress, calculating how much weight has been lost and plotting it on a chart. There are regular articles and updates on how to enjoy delicious foods that satisfy and nourish, video clips, recipes, meal suggestions, articles, ideas on exercise, information on childhood development and lots of regular blogs.

“I’m aware I’ve got an uphill struggle” says Charlie, using what might be seen as a runner’s metaphor but that seems unlikely to deter him given his proven track record for endurance.

Charlie Speding's wbesite at loseamillionpounds.com
Charlie Speding’s  site at loseamillionpounds.com

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Note: This article is not intended as an endorsement of loseamillionpounds.com or Charlie’s views by the England’s North East site. As with all diets, consult your doctor if you are not sure. The opinions  expressed on loseamillionpounds.com are based on intensive research however they are not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional.

Useful links

 

 

Three brothers, four starring roles and one proud mum

DAVID SIMPSON speaks to the proud mother of three North East brothers who will be starring in four different musical productions this year

Siobhan Bales
Siobhan Bales

Show business talent often runs in families and for one Whitley Bay mum this is a particularly big reason to be proud. Siobhan Bales, 46, is Head of Marketing at Tradebox UK Ltd, a software company based at North Shields Fish Quay which she runs with husband, Stephen. Upbeat, positive, yet  humble, Siobhan clearly has a drive and ambition that she has seemingly passed on to her three talented sons.

In the coming months Siobhan’s three boys, Tom, Oli and Gabriel will appear in key roles in four separate musical productions, three of which are in the North East and one in London. The Bales brothers certainly sound like future talents to look out for.

Siobhan and Stephen don’t have any obvious stage connections: “There’s no performance history in our family” says Siobhan, “so I’m not sure where it comes from, though we do have singers and my mum used to dance”. Apart from that it seems the three brothers simply caught the performing bug, starting with eldest son, Tom, who displayed a natural talent for singing from the age of four.

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Tom Bales in Grease (2013)

Now 20, Tom is a student at Arts Educational Schools (ArtsEd) in Chiswick, west London, the esteemed performing arts school at which Andrew Lloyd Webber is president. It’s a major point in a performance progression for Tom which all started when, at four years old, he joined the Stagecoach performing arts school for children in Whitley Bay.

“He loved singing, dancing and dressing up” says Siobhan speaking of the four year old Tom,  “he could sing pitch perfect”.

By the age of 7, Tom appeared as Young Scrooge alongside Tommy Steele in Newcastle Theatre Royal’s production of ‘Scrooge’ and at 9 joined the chorus of urchins in ‘Oliver’ at Whitley Bay Playhouse. At 11 Tom attended a dance school in Newcastle, although by the age of 14  GCSE demands meant he had to make a choice and shift focus from dance to performing in more shows. Singing was a key talent for Tom as North Tyneside’s soloist of the year, aged 13 and at 16 an intensive six months of singing lessons culminated in top grades. By 17 he was playing the lead role in ‘Aspects of Love’ at Whitley Bay Playhouse.

Many young people dream of making it in performing arts and it’s an interesting insight into the work, drive, dedication, time and talent that’s needed to achieve such goals. In terms of his training and education Tom’s enrolment at ArtsEd is the present culmination of all this work and you have to be exceptionally talented and driven to get this far.

Siobhan explains that from around 3,000 auditions at ArtsEd only 45 actually get in. “It’s good to have a particular strength but you must have an all round talent for singing, acting and dancing that are all at a similar level” she says, adding that “musicals are very competitive” .

There isn’t any sense of a pushy parent or of young people with big egos from speaking to Siobhan as she describes her family. There’s more a sense of modesty, enthusiasm, dedication and drive. Siobhan is keen to note that ArtsEd certainly look for people who are driven, talented and grounded. “they are not looking for prima donnas” she reflects “they are looking for people who are humble, modest and open to learn.”

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Tom Bales playing the lead in Summer Holiday when he was 16 (2012)

The school certainly has a good reputation with an alumni that includes Martin Clunes, Julie Andrews, Darcey Bussell, Nigel Havers and Will Young. Typically, Tom might catch a glimpse of Colin Firth in the school corridor and has met with film director Trevor Nunn as well as being taught to act by the now retired head of acting Charlie Barker, daughter of the late comedian, Ronnie.

In such a competitive and talented environment Tom seems to have more than held his own and will be appearing in the ArtsEd production of ‘Titanic’ from Friday January 20th, 2016 in the Andrew Lloyd Webber Theatre at Chiswick for a run of 11 shows. Tom opens and closes the show with solos, playing a lead role as Titanic designer, Thomas Andrews, complete with a learned Ulster accent. Around fifty people, including friends, family and members of dramatic societies in North Tyneside are heading down to London from our region to give their support.

Meanwhile back in the North East brothers Oli and Gabriel are also preparing for their own starring roles, seemingly inspired by their elder brother’s talents. Sporty middle brother, Oli, aged 16 (there’s a four year gap between each of the brothers) is currently in his first year studying A’ Levels and has proved to be a bit of surprise to his family with his growing interest in theatre:

“Oli is a rugby player and into boxing, taking a different path to his brothers” says Siobhan but GCSE drama soon ignited the performing arts spark for brother number two.

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Oli Bales

Oli’s not a complete stranger to performance though. Siobhan mentions Oli has done busking, plays guitar and has a “rocky voice”. He’s now joined the annual musical at Whitley Bay High School, playing two roles as Prince Charming and also as The Wolf in a production of ‘Into the Woods’. “It shows his charming, satirical side as well as his dark, manipulative side” says Siobhan.

In a separate production Oli will also be playing Nathan, the son of the lead in ‘The Full Monty’ for Whitley Bay Operatic Society at the Playhouse where he has recently joined up. Recently he’s managed to squeeze in time as an extra in BBC children’s drama ‘The Dumping Ground’ which is filmed in Newcastle and as an extra in the filming of ‘Inspector George Gently’ around Durham. In addition he’s been learning dance at the Gillian Quinn School of Dance Theatre in Whitley Bay and hopes to follow in his older brother’s footsteps with an audition for ArtsEd at Chiswick in October.

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Gabriel ‘Gabe’ Bales on the set of Beowulf (2014)

Youngest son, Gabriel, who is 12, is not to be left to out. Siobhan describes him as very similar to Tom in character and “naturally good at dancing”. In May, Gabriel will be playing the principal role of Zach in Tynemouth Operatic Society’s production of ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ with a number of solos to perform. Based on the novel by Michelle Magorian, some readers may recall the 1998 TV movie of the story, featuring John Thaw.

Gabriel’s other passion is making and editing films and has ambitions to be a film director. His current projects include parodies which he edits on his home computer and publishes on YouTube. For TV. Gabriel has appeared as an extra in the production of ‘Beowulf’ filming near Consett and Barnard Castle in the Durham Pennines.

In an age where ‘reality TV’, bis egos and sometimes outrageous behaviour are often seen as shortcuts to stardom, the hard work, passion, determination and dedication of Siobhan’s three sons is a refreshing and interesting insight into the actual reality of nurturing talent and achieving success in the challenging, competitive yet rewarding environment of performing arts. It is something for which Siobhan can be justifiably proud.

 

USEFUL LINKS

Stagecoach: Performing arts schools for children aged 14-18

Arts Educational Schools, London (ArtsEd)

Gillian Quinn School of Theatre Dance

Whitley Bay Playhouse

Whitley Bay Operatic Society

Tynemouth Operatic Society

North East England Amateur dramatic groups

Tradebox Uk Ltd

How Electricity Works

Science

In the latest science blog for England’s North East ALBERT SIMPSON explains how electricity works.

Man’s discovery and ability to utilise the natural phenomena of electricity has perhaps changed the world like no other. From its beginnings, bringing daylight to the darkness of night, right through to its facilitation of the modern digital age, there is certainly no denying electricity’s importance.

As far as North East England is concerned few regions have played such an important part in the development of electricity as a resource to serve man and this was particularly the case in the pioneering developments of electric light during the nineteenth century.

Joseph Swan (left) Charles Algernon Parsons (right)
Joseph Swan (left) Charles Algernon Parsons (right)

The region saw the invention of the world’s first electric light bulb by Sunderland’s Joseph Swan (1828-1914), whose later Gateshead home was the first to be wired for electric light. Further north Cragside in Northumberland was the first house in the world to be lit by electricity generated from water power.

In Newcastle, Moseley Street was the first street lit by electricity and the city’s Portland Road saw engineer J.H. Holmes manufacture the first quick break electrical switch.

The Tyneside-based engineer Charles Algernon Parsons (1854-1931) can perhaps make an even greater claim, being occasionally referred to as ‘the man who invented the twentieth century’ from his development of turbines that enabled wide-scale generation of electricity. However we will leave the industrial pioneers for another day and ask a question:

What exactly is electricity?

Despite the huge role electricity plays in our lives few understand it and it is a wide ranging subject. Usually if you open any electrical text books you are quickly thrown into an array of complex laws and mathematics.

I will avoid the text book stuff and explain electricity as we most encounter it, as an energy supply channelled via wires.

My previous blog  something about nothing  explained how over ninety nine percent of each and every atom is in fact empty space and that less than one percent is mobile particle matter: namely protons, neutrons and the much tinier electrons. It also explained how interactive push and pull forces between those highly mobile atomic particles give an atom its space, volume size and shape, and how atoms are then joined to make the solids, liquids and gases of our world.

The Electricity of Wired Circuits

Electron particles do not like one another. Any electron moving the most miniscule of distance towards another electron will transfer energy in the form of a ‘push away’ to that electron and cause it to move. Any electron moving away from another electron will reduce the ‘push away’ on that electron encouraging the first electron to follow.

battery

A battery (above) produces extra electrons at its negative terminal and removes electrons from the positive terminal. Consequently, electrons in a wire attached to the negative terminal are pushed away from that terminal and electrons in the positive wire are pulled toward that terminal.

Push and pull forces between electrons act at the speed of light (300,000 metres a second) and electrons, being light in weight and not held too tightly by their parent atoms, respond quite quickly to those transmitted forces and move.

Electrons on the move transmit changed forces to other electrons so that they in turn move and cause other electrons to move and so on. That is how energy is transmitted along wires.

Some people may term the electron movements in a wire as a flow.

However electron movements along wired circuits are slower than tortoise pace. That is so because although electrons move quite quickly between atoms they spend relatively lengthy times in their atom home

I prefer the term electron drift to electron flow.

Let’s be clear, it is not electrons whizzing around circuits that put our lights on almost instantly. It is the light speed transfer of energy via electrons to the electrons in our light bulb that does that.

Amperage is just a measure of the number of electrons involved in a drift. One amp equates to 6.25 billion, billion electrons drifting across a wire cross section every single second. That is a very big number but it is only equal to the number of electrons in about one tenth of a millimetre of wire length.

That is just one half of a metre every hour. Tortoises can certainly travel much, much faster than that.

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Why we use copper in circuit wiring.

Electrons are active in the space volumes around an atom’s nucleic centre.  Scientists call such space volumes electron clouds. Each cloud can have a maximum of two electrons.

Copper atoms have 29 protons, 29 electrons and 35 neutrons. The protons have little hold on outer cloud electrons so much so that some outer cloud electrons wander from atom to atom. This electron wander phenomenon is called an electron gas. Clearly the outer electrons of copper need almost no energy to move them along a circuit from atom to atom.

Copper is a good conductor because there is little energy wasted in moving its electrons along a wire.

Air is not a good conductor. Its atoms will in normal circumstances not release electrons in battery and mains circuits, so a switch that breaks a circuit makes for an easy way of stopping electron drift in a circuit.

Tungsten was until recently much used as the element in light bulbs. Tungsten does not give up its electrons like copper does. Tungsten has higher resistance. Many copper electrons have to move and thereby push or pull to make a single tungsten electron move. When the tungsten electron moves it has much energy and when it re-engages with a new ‘atom home’ it gives up that acquired energy as radiated light and heat.

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Our UK mains supply

When a north magnet pole moves across a wire, electrons in that wire are encouraged to move in a specific direction. When a south magnet pole moves over the same wire, electrons are encouraged to move in the opposite direction.

This link between magnetism and electricity is extensively used by the rotating machines in generating stations and in wind turbines to produce our UK alternating supply or AC alternating current.

In the UK supply system, an electron push followed by an electron pull repeats itself 50 times every second.

Generated supply is three phase and at very high voltage. The high voltage is in fact a high electron push and allows the transmission of high energies at low amperages. This enables the use of light-weight overhead distribution cables. The three phases are actually three lots of similar push-pulls but they are out of sync with each other.

threephase

Our homes are generally supplied with just one of these three phases and at a transformed, lower and safer 250 volts. The electron to and fro movements in the two wire (plus earth) pin plug supply of our homes is happening as a result of energy transfers between electrons (as previously described) but now over hundreds of miles and probably via several transformers.

The live brown wire electrons are being pulled and pushed whilst the neutral blue wire electrons are being pushed and pulled.  This is happening even when our domestic switches are turned off though the electron moves in such circumstances are so small as to not register on our energy meters.

When we close a switch, in a typical home circuit, electrons move back and forth in our wiring about one thousandth of a millimetre, albeit thousands of atom distances.  This shifting of electrons back and forth in a load delivers energy to that load, say an appliance, just as it did in the direct current battery circuit.

The electrical load is the major energy consumer. It always resists electron movement but not always in the way the tungsten bulb did. For instance, the electrical machines in our homes that rotate all resist electron movement magnetically in a sort of reverse of the generating station action.