It’s been over two years since PT and bona fide superstar of the UK fitness scene Alice Liveing was last on the cover of Women’s Health. Two years jam-packed with success, growth and highlights aplenty, sure. But she wants you to know that the surreal life of a wellness influencer isn’t just one long dream sequence…
Life very much imitates, if not art, then theme, on the morning I go for tea with Alice Liveing. I’m assigned to interview her for the story to appear alongside her Alice in Wonderland-styled photo shoot and, thanks to a spontaneously grounded Jubilee Line, I end up bounding through the doors of London’s Sketch as harried as the White Rabbit, brandishing an iPhone rather than a pocket watch. Late for a very important date with she, who, perched on a round blush-pink velvet sofa, looks just as doe-eyed and cartoon-perfect in expensive-looking black activewear as her namesake did in a blue dress and white pinafore.
This isn’t my first meeting with Alice; her prolificacy within the wellness bubble means we’ve schmoozed at WH Live, spoken in depth about an abusive relationship in her teens for a mental health piece and indulged in food and industry gossip on a #spon beauty trip to Rye. The week, following our chat, she'll join Women's Health's finest in a gaudily decorated house in Essex to shoot images a world away from anything she's done before. It’s fun – frothy, even – and I’d assumed the temperature of today’s chat would veer towards that, given how comfortable the stage school alumnus is with the media, and how she is – by all accounts – professionally and personally thriving. But when I put to her, minutes into our interview, that she’s existing in a veritable wonderland, she’s quick to open up about the lows.
‘I’ve struggled with anxiety all my life – I’ve always had an anxious disposition – but, last year, shit just hit the fan with all of it,’ she explains, before adopting a wide-eyed smile to thank our eager ‘tea mistress’ for the stack of finger sandwiches and elaborate sweet treats she sets down between us. ‘It got to a point last year where I sort of, like, I wouldn’t say I had a breakdown, but there was a point where I was convinced that something was wrong with me. I was absolutely certain that I was dying, basically. I was in there [my GP’s surgery] being like, “I have something wrong with me, I’ve got cancer, I think I’ve got this…”’ It coincided with Alice suffering excruciating pelvic pain from then-undiagnosed adenomyosis (a condition similar to endometriosis, where the womb lining grows in the womb’s muscular wall), and being prescribed a contraceptive pill that caused her to have a
I ask if she was experiencing full-blown health anxiety? Though neither her GP, nor the psychotherapist she subsequently referred Alice to, described it as such, she believes that was the case. ‘I remember sitting on the sofa and turning to [boyfriend Paddy] and being like: “I think I’ve got leukaemia. You have to believe me, I do! I know what all the symptoms are.”
It’s a sobering image: someone who’s made a career out of inspiring and educating others to be their healthiest selves buckling under worries about her own. Does she think it’s too much of a reach to link the two? ‘There’s definitely something in that,’ she nods. ‘I’m less interested in knowing about everything I “need” to know about my health. I think that sometimes we can be overloaded with information.’ When it comes to the wellness world’s latest culture war - those motivated by metrics versus those who are intuitively feeling their way - Alice comes down firmly in the intuitive camp. ‘I’ve had to,’ she says. ‘If you go back five years, I was so obsessed with data, feedback from your body and whatever...it’s just too much information, and it’s another thing to worry about…’
Alice sees this personal evolution reflected back at her. ‘I’ve seen a really positive shift in the way people approach exercise, in the way people are taking care of themselves a bit more,’ she says. ‘The whole mindset around fitness has shifted to more of a health- focused approach, rather than an aesthetics-focused approach.’ It’s a change that Alice believes has allowed her to understand that her value as a trainer doesn’t depend solely on how defined the lines on her stomach are. ‘I don’t have to be ripped with a six-pack to be a [great] personal trainer,’ she says. ‘And it’s taken me years to learn that.’
But what does this new, more intuitive approach to health look like? ‘I eat without following rules and, with exercise, I’ve become way more intuitive in terms of waking up [and thinking], what do I feel like doing? You know, I’m resting a lot more,’ she offers. But this shift doesn’t mean Alice goes easy on herself. Being guided by her body usually sees her do three or four 45-minute strength sessions each week, following a gym programme set by fellow Third Space trainer James Ralph and elite PT Andy Vincent. In addition, there’s some ‘stretching and mobility stuff’, a leisurely weekend walk and her Saturday morning boxing class, too. Alice went along to boutique Kobox for the first time last summer when, following on from that spell of disabling anxiety, she couldn’t bring herself to train in the gym. ‘There was something about punching a bag’ - she giggles, almost apologetically - ‘visualising all the shit that I was feeling anxious [about and] just, sort of, getting it out on the bag.’
While Alice has been increasingly open on social media about her down days, it’s usually after the fact. I ask her whether it’s a conscious choice to share the lows once she’s on her way back up. ‘I’m definitely one of those people who has to breathe and reflect and deal with things myself first,’ she says. ‘When my life has played out so publicly, I can’t go through that - I can’t have the burden of having to talk to others about what I’m going through when I’m going through it. I have to do it myself. Come out the other side. And when I have periods of bad anxiety, I now recognise that I have to remove myself from social media and have time away.’
Some of Alice’s success sits within the realms of relatability: being loved up with her boyfriend and excitedly planning on buying a house together. Some are more out of the ordinary, like three-and-counting activewear collections with retail giant Primark – which described the ranges as ‘sell-out successes’ – and reaching 500,000 downloads for the first series of her podcast Give Me Strength. It’s easy to forget she’s actually just 27 years old, having been on the scene for five years now. I ask if she sees any parallels between her own life and Lewis Caroll’s trippy wonderland, and she answers with candour.
‘I think sometimes it’s very surreal,’ she offers. ‘I have seen and I have known many people who have allowed a sense of fame and being known by lots of people to [cause them to] get a bit above their station,’ she says - cautiously. ‘It’s a very strange world where you get a lot of things for free, and people send you loads of things, and every day it’s your birthday...it’s not normal. You should never become accustomed to that sense of things always being available.’ The strategy she’s developed to stop herself spinning, whirling dervish-style, away from reality? ‘Firmly establishing a life outside of social media over the last couple of years. A lot of my friends do what I do, and I found that quite difficult, and as much as I love and respect them, if you’re constantly with your work colleagues, then [it’s like] you’re at work all the time as well,’ Alice explains. ‘In meeting Paddy and having a wide, diverse group of amazing friends, my social circle has expanded and the stuff that I do now – at weekends and stuff - feel a lot less Alice in Wonderland,’ she smiles. ‘Like going to the pub; watching the rugby; going for a Sunday roast.’
Though Alice wants her life to stay grounded, her mood is naturally buzzy – and she’s no more enthusiastic than when talking about her PT work. But given the many strings to her bow, how much time does she actually get to spend with clients? Not as much as she’d like, is the answer - something she puts down to both last year’s mental health struggles and the demands of other projects.
She’s resolved to build it back up again, training more clients both at London’s Third Space and the Corinthia Hotel. ‘It reminds me: this is why you do what you do, get in the gym and train people. And also, like, I’m hungry for education, I’m hungry to learn more. If I just sat back and I thought: “Nah, I know everything. I’m just going to do videos and make money from it...”’ she makes a face. ‘I’m trying to constantly better myself as a coach, and you only improve by having hands-on time with clients.’
That goal of betterment applies for Alice’s career in general. She wants to put her interviewing skills to use beyond her podcast and her Liveing Well events - on TV. ‘Over the past few months, I’ve worked on pitching a couple of documentaries to different TV channels,’ she says - reeling off interests in politics, current affairs and, fundamentally, people. ‘But it’s such a tricky industry to get into.’ It’s ironic that Alice’s sights are set on TV when she’d describe Youtube as her biggest professional failure to date. ‘I’ve never created videos on there that were quite right. I couldn’t really get my head around it - I’m so old-school with my content…but I’m kind of okay with that, and I’ve accepted that’s just how I am.’
Pleasingly self-aware, Alice wants people to know that she believes she’s made mistakes in her transition from food blogger to influencer to entrepreneur. ‘I had a very restrictive approach,’ she says. ‘I didn’t understand that people are in bigger bodies and that’s totally okay. I thought everyone wanted to be the same as me, which was to be really lean. So, anyone who wasn’t on that path, I thought, “Why not? Why are you not going to the gym?”. I really had to swallow those thoughts and just be like, there’s a whole world out there of people of different shapes and sizes who are all worthy of love and respect.’
She knows that pivoting from Clean Eating Alice to encouraging an intuitive approach could have backfired. ‘Having to have played that journey [out] publicly could have been really challenging,’ she reflects. ‘People could have turned away from me and been like, “Who is this girl? She used to think this, but now she thinks this”. But I think it’s because my journey was very, very similar to many other people’s.
A lot of us start something we think is totally healthy and is completely normal, and we get a bit carried away. And you sort of wake up and you realise: oh shit, it’s not actually healthy. Like, this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing...it takes swallowing your ego and learning, and respecting other people’s opinions - and realising that yours aren’t always right.’
And with that Alice zips up her black puffer, thanks me effusively and bounces out, pink box of ultra-bougie patisserie in tow. What wonderment has she to look forward to for the rest of the day? A call with her accountant to wrap her head around taxes. Reality bites.
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