The singer talks to Victoria Woodhall about qualifying as a PT, turning vegan and the home workout that has transformed her body and her motivation
If you’ve landed on Fleur East’s Instagram page any time recently, you won’t fail to have noticed that beneath the famous Crystal Tipps afro and the smile so bright you need SPF, is an impressively strong, sculpted body. Fleur, 30, was already an athletic dancer when she narrowly missed out on winning the X Factor in 2014. Since then, she has brought out an album, spent time in LA, qualified as a personal trainer and is about to bring out a home workout kit called the W8 Gym (pronounced Weight Gym, not like the postcode) which has transformed her own body in the past year. We caught up with her at home in Walthamstow, to talk motivation, diet traps, turning vegan and her new obsession – Netflix and HIIT.
“I have always been into fitness from as early as I can remember.”
“My dad was quite militant - he would make me and my sister do push-ups in the morning before we brushed our teeth. From the age of about eight we were doing push-ups in our bedroom. I was always into sports - I was on the netball team and used to run the 200 metres and the relay and do cross country at secondary school. When I left, I joined a dance group and after university (I studied journalism and modern history at Queen Mary University of London) I gave up dancing to concentrate on singing and joined a gym - so I have always been doing something."
“Women weren’t really doing weights when I started, but I saw it as a challenge.”
“After uni when I joined the gym, I didn’t know what to do so I just started running. The treadmill was the easiest go-to until I learned about weight training, when I was about 24. Women weren’t really doing it then, but I just saw everything as a challenge. Whenever I went into the weights room, there were guys grunting and doing squats and I thought ‘I’m gonna do that, I’m going to challenge them’, so I would just follow them around and try to copy their circuit and progressively got better.
"I started making friends with personal trainers and we would train together. They taught me about weight training properly and I never looked back."
“Weights have made me more toned than I’ve ever been.”
“Everything I had done before was cardio-driven. With weights I started seeing different results - I was more toned than I’d ever been and I felt stronger. I noticed the difference mostly on my abs and my legs. I was in a lot of girl bands at the time and many of the girls were dancers - they were really fit, so I had some catching up to do. But soon as I started weight training, I was a lot more toned and felt like I was up to their level. I can now squat 80kg. Squats are my strength - people don’t expect me to squat as heavy as I do."
“When I was on the X Factor tour, it was hard to stick to my daily workouts. People would try to get pictures with me in the gym.”
“My cousin Nick visited me on the X Factor tour when I was in Bournemouth and asked me how I was fitting in my workouts. I said ‘I’m struggling actually,’. On the tour, people were figuring out where we were staying, so you’d get people in the gym asking for pictures and autographs which was very off-putting. He said, ‘I’m actually working on something that might help and I’ll bring it to you soon’. And that’s how the W8 Gym came about. I can work out at home, I don’t have to go to the gym."
“I'm excited about my new fitness business.”
“My cousins are both really into fitness. We have all experienced what it’s like to lack motivation, not wanting to travel to the gym and how hard it can be fitting the gym into your schedule. Nick is an actor who lived in LA for years – he was in Titanic and Beethoven and so many other things and so he understands what it’s like to try to fit fitness into a hectic schedule. Clive has been busy working for TV companies editing. Our shared love of fitness brought us all together.
“The guys invented the W8 Gym and brought me what I think must have been the 10th prototype. I decided to live with it and trial it for a year before I got involved. I adapted it and rebranded it.
"Because they were two guys, it was functional and practical but didn’t look great. I brought aesthetics to the table and made it look stylish and sleek and insisted on black and gold. I always have long nails and was trying to lift the back of it off and there was no grip and I said ‘guys, my nails!’. So there’s now a knob which you turn to open it."
“The body that you see on my Instagram is a year of the W8 Gym.”
“I was dedicated - I’ve worked out with it every day for a year, half an hour minimum and up to an hour. I do a HIIT circuit, 50 seconds on 20 seconds rest. We have eight circuits called ‘the W8 Eight’ and I’m doing videos on YouTube when it launches in May. It weighs 14.5 kg in total, has three sets of dumbbells, three sets of resistance bands, TRX handles, which you attach to the resistance bands as well as wrist and ankle straps - so you can literally do everything."
“I’m just finishing my PT qualification.”
“It's been really great studying and doing the W8 Gym at the same time, because weights are really important for muscle development and bone development - so I now know the real benefits of what I’m doing and know what I’m talking about when I’m advising people.”
“When I really want to kill myself with exercise, I do Joe Wicks YouTube workouts back to back”
"One of my good friends is the PT Kyle Maslen - we used to train together all the time so I have learned so much from everyone I’ve trained with and home workout videos. I have used Insanity, Jillian Michaels' The Shred, Les Mills on Demand. I have even done Joe Wicks’s YouTube workouts – I love all of them, the 15-minute ab workouts, or 15 minute HIIT workouts. I've done some of them back to back when I really want to kill myself. I love doing things that are easy, that I don’t have to leave the house for. You really underestimate how much of a sweat you can get from working out in your living room."
"Now if I ever go the gym, I do classes, circuits spin or yoga vinyasa flow. I like to mix it up because I get bored easily."
“I want to bust the myth about women and weights”
“A lot of women believe that if you lift weights you are going to look like the Hulk and it’s really not true. That’s a myth that I’d really love to dispel. It actually promotes lean muscle and it all depends on what you are eating. Diet is 80 per cent of the results so if you are eating lean proteins and counting your macros, then weight training isn't going to bulk you up. And you burn more fat weight training.”
“I turned vegan and gained muscle."
"I have been vegan for eight months now. I watched What The Health on Netflix and when I found out what [animal products, according the documetary] are doing to our bodies, that was really my motivation. I became vegan the next day.
"I used to eat chicken every day - Nando’s was my best friend. I used to build muscle very quickly and I was worried that I would lose it. My friend Kyle Maslen said, ‘I bet a month into this you will lose your muscle mass, you will gain fat because you’ll be eating more carbs to compensate for the lack of meat.’ But a month into being vegan, I actually gained three kilos of muscle and my workout stayed the same. Interestingly my protein intake increased on a plant-based diet. That’s another myth about veganism, that you can’t build muscle."
"When I became vegan I did a lot of research."
"Uni helped me in that way, I’m an avid researcher. I went to Google, YouTube and would search ‘best natural protein sources’. In the beginning, I would have frozen vegan meals delivered from Allplants.com and that helped me a lot in the first few weeks."
“I have become a better cook as a vegan.”
“So my sister says - and I enjoy cooking much more. I make a great chickpea curry, a falafel meatball bolognaise with black bean spaghetti - the spaghetti is really high in protein – and it’s spaghetti!! I make a lot of veggie stir-fries.
"If you came round for lunch, the easiest thing to cook is a Linda McCartney Vegan Burger with sauteed greens and sweet potato. For dessert? The other day I stepped it up and made some vegan brownies. Delicious, I never thought you could make brownies without egg and butter."
“I’ve never had a sweet tooth.”
“My dad made sure we never had fizzy drinks in the house, we never had chocolates, we never had sweets. No one would ever give me an Easter egg because I would never eat it. I have biscuits in the house because I don’t want to be mean to everyone that comes around, so I have them as treats for the guests. If it was just me, I wouldn’t have any sweets or chocolate in the house.
"For breakfast, I will have shredded wheat with coconut milk, blueberries, banana, agave syrup. If not then I will have a shake Huel, a vanilla powder which is a meal replacement powder. I will have it with peanut butter, banana, coconut milk and I’ll put cacao nibs in as well – delicious!"
“My new thing for motivation is Netflix and HIIT.”
“If I’m not feeling motivated, there are two tricks - I will get up put on my gym clothes so I’m already in my kit and I will put Netflix on and just work out - time just goes. Black Mirror is my favourite thing, Jane the Virgin is another favourite and American Horror Stories. Those episodes can be an hour long, so I’ll know I will have worked out for an hour. And then I’ll go ‘actually let me double it, put on another episode’ so you ware working out and enjoying the show.”
“I need five hours sleep minimum.”
"I wind down with a bath, with Radox Muscle Soak - my dad bought me a twin pack from Costco the other day. I put some music on and relax. Working out nearly every day takes its toll. I’m always aching somewhere.
“The minimum sleep I can function on is five hours. I usually have six or seven hours, anything over eight is a luxury. I am a night owl and I am most inspired at night. If I’m writing a song it will be at night. I’m a lot more productive at night but I wake up early because I want to get the most out of the day. This morning I did a spin class at 6.45am, it was cold outside and I had no motivation but afterwards, I always feel great. There’s a quote – no one ever regretted a workout.”
“I don’t think anyone should weigh themselves.”
“I did try a diet once – it was coming up to festival season and I wanted to lose weight so I tried a no-carb but it didn’t work. Nothing changed and I just plateaued. My trainer and I worked out that I needed carbs and that I get better results when I eat what I need, in moderation. So I worked out more and reversed meals, swapping dinner with lunch - I'd have a really hefty lunch after I’d trained and a light dinner.
"I wanted to lose body fat rather than weight. I was actually gaining weight because I was gaining muscle. It was more about how I felt. I wouldn’t ever weigh myself unless I was with my trainer and then we’d measure body fat. The scales lie - they really freak you out. I don’t think anyone should really weigh themselves."
"Soulcycle in LA is great for celeb spotting."
“I spent some time in LA last year - hiking was the number one thing, I was hiking nearly every day. Soul Cycle is amazing, if anyone goes out there they have to try that. Once Kelly Rowland was in the class with me and the next time David Beckham was right in front of me – good celeb spotting there guys! Tender Greens was my go-to for salads. For beauty, I loved Sephora. As far as vegan makeup goes, I’m just transitioning. At the moment, it’s more the vegan diet as opposed to the vegan lifestyle. I do have vegan shampoo: Onira Organics, I’m slowly adjusting."