From fastest chef in the RAF to gym-owning fitness trainer, Roger Bradley seems to have led a charmed life. ‘How many of us are able to find what we want to do in life and follow our dream?’, asks Laurence Marks, renowned sitcom writer and one of Roger’s select clients. Here he takes up the inspiring story of how Roger did just that …
Salvador Dali said, ‘There are some days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.’ Had the surrealist been pumping iron in a gym in Clanfield, Oxfordshire, then he would have been referring to Roger Bradley. Next year, Roger will celebrate 20 years of an overdose of satisfaction as a physical fitness trainer.
By anybody’s standards Roger Bradley is a lucky fella. How many of us are able to find what we want to do in life and follow our dream? Roger has done so not once, but twice. At the age of 14 it occurred to him that he wanted to be a chef in the Royal Air Force. And so it was that in 1986, aged 19, Roger left home to join up. ‘On 3 July I got on the train to go to Swinderby, Lincolnshire. I remember the date because it was my mum’s birthday. I was a quiet young man, and my mum waved me goodbye and said she thought it would be the making of me.’
She was right.
After six weeks’ basic training, Roger was sent to Aldershot to learn to be a chef. When the RAF felt they trusted him in their kitchens he was shipped off to RAF Brize Norton. In any walk of life you have to show promise and Roger certainly did, for after a year he was moved from in-flight catering to the Officers’ Mess, bypassing all the stages in between.
It was in 1990, though, that Roger’s success story took a turn he could never have foreseen. ‘I was posted to RAF Lyneham and that presented me with another opportunity.’ Right place, right time. Roger continues: ‘After being there a short time, and knowing I was sporty, the deputy mess manager suggested I join his running club. I always used to do all sports, but did I realise my own potential? I don’t think so.’
At the Swindon Road Runners, Roger was placed in one group, promoted to the next, then the next … and it wasn’t too long before it was clearly established that he was too good for even the top group in this club. Soon Roger was asked to run for the RAF Catering Corps. Tall, slim and muscular, Roger wasn’t the usual vision of a chef and when he started winning races he was asked to run for his station – and all progressed from there.
In 1995 Roger became the RAF 800 metres champion. ‘At first I didn’t really know what to do on the track, but my idols (after Roger Bannister of course) were track stars like Seb Coe, Steve Cram and Steve Ovett – all 800m runners.’ Following their lead, Roger became the fastest chef in the Royal Air Force.
He did two detachments in the Falkland Islands, and on one of these set up a gym and circuit training for both civilians and the military. ‘I loved the Falklands’, Roger tells me as we sit together in his gym – he in his habitual outfit of training shoes, shorts and a T-shirt. I have known Roger for more than 20 years and I don’t believe I have ever seen him in trousers. ‘It was great and I loved the quiet, the sea, the weather, the views, the wildlife, and that the islands were really remote.’
Such was his love of his career, Roger enthused about how ‘I took a weekend cheffing job and this work, for a private catering firm, took me to the Wimbledon tennis championships, where I was cooking lunches for guests in the royal box, and then I was asked to go back to RAF Brize Norton to cook for Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher, who were attending a high-level meeting on the Oxfordshire air base.’
Roger laughs at the memory of Soviet security guys patrolling his kitchen. ‘They were checking everything out, seeing that we weren’t poisoning the food to be served to their President. We had dogs sniffing all around the kitchen, but the security guys felt more uncomfortable than we did because we turned all the cookers up and they were all in thick black suits. We saw them sweating quite badly. If you can’t stand the heat …’
So it is reasonable when Roger explains that at this time in his life he had no thoughts at all about leaving the RAF.
And then a woman entered his life. All bets were off.
‘I met Jenni when I was running for the Swindon Harriers, and I was asked to teach circuit training for the club to get them fit. One of the club members also played hockey with Jenni so asked her to come along. I saw her, I thought she was nice and we started going out together. Four years later we got married.’ As Roger is relating this chapter of his life to me I wonder whether he took Jenni to be his lawful wedded wife while wearing his trainers, shorts and a T-shirt …
It was in 1999 that Roger suddenly had an epiphany – he would leave the RAF, though he had no idea to do what. ‘A few friends, colleagues, and especially my wife, were saying that I was very good at teaching and communication with sports people, as well as helping with the Witney and Oxford Hawks Hockey Clubs and the Witney Rugby Club, so why didn’t I go in for fitness training? I thought it was a great idea, but I hadn’t thought of it because it was so obvious.’
Roger informed the RAF that he wanted to leave their service to become a fitness trainer, and they had no hesitation in helping him in his ambition. They sent Roger on fitness courses all around the UK, as well as on their own in-house courses. It was at this point that the realisation of being self-employed struck home, when Jenni – a naturally cautious person – talked through the pitfalls of striking out on your own. Roger was confident that he could make a success of it, ‘but I always knew I had cheffing to fall back on’, he says now with the benefit of hindsight. ‘Luckily I’ve never needed it.’
So the day arrived when Roger took the plunge. He was 31. He had written a list of ‘things to do’ and gave himself a year to turn over £22,000. He actually achieved his goal in seven months, which he puts down to being focused and driven, coupled with good luck and good planning. But things could so easily have come to a grinding halt before he even got under way.
‘I couldn’t afford a van, so I used my car – a Volkswagen Polo – and on my first day I loaded it up with all the weights I bought in my first week as a fitness trainer. I packed it all into the car and set off. It was a wet day and I was driving through Witney when I came to a set of traffic lights that had turned red. I hit the brakes and the car wouldn’t stop. I went sliding through a red light, and was lucky I didn’t hit anyone or another car.’ Roger was also lucky that there weren’t any police around or his career could have been over before it began! He realised he needed more than a small car and that weekend bought himself a second-hand Nissan van.
Roger Bradley Fitness was now up and running, with no more sliding through red lights. Within a year he was running into profit. He acquired his clients by word of mouth, T-shirts and billboard advertising, and before too long Roger was working Monday to Fridays, from 7 in the morning until 6 at night, as well as teaching on Wednesday evenings, which meant he was not training as hard as he wished to keep up his own level of fitness.
FOR BETTER, NOT WORSE
Regular client Louise tells us how Roger’s training helped prepare her for her wedding – and life in general …
I’ve known Roger for a long time now – 15 years? I used to go to his regular Monday-evening classes at Henry Box, which are great sessions, and I combined this with some running through the week. Last year, however, I decided that I’d like to begin personal training with Roger as I felt my running routine – while keeping me fit – was not really toning me up or developing my muscles (so I was prone to injury). I also wanted to look good in my wedding dress the following year! Roger really helped me tone up all over, get fitter and generally have more energy day to day. I’m now hooked! It’s more about training smarter than just harder. Of course, I do have to put the work in but I’m really pleased with the results!
Roger’s first client, one he retains to this day, was a lady who first came to see him because she wanted to lose some weight. Although she was a happy lady, she lacked confidence. With Roger’s help – and her own tenacity – she managed to lose eight stone and keep it off. ‘I encouraged her to start eating healthily,’ says Roger, ‘stop eating processed and sweet foods, and cut out sugary drinks, which she did. I drip-fed this advice to her because if you do it too quickly then people get bored and eat too much. She got into running, joined a local running club and has competed in races up and down the country and abroad. Look at her now – she’s incredible and an inspiration to others.’
Roger came to realise that he was spending two hours a day going from client to client in his van, which meant he was losing good earning time just driving the roads of Oxfordshire – and, what with petrol and other expenses, he felt the solution was to find his own gym.
‘I started putting a few feelers out looking for a venue. You know, asking around, saying I was looking for a space. I came across a couple of possibilities in Witney but they were too expensive. I had set myself a budget. I had to kit out a gym and that was going to set me back £20,000 just for the basics. What I wanted to do with my gym would cost me a lot more.’
An ex-Royal Marine officer in the gym Roger used to work out in had told him that he was working as a carpenter on a farm in Clanfield, Oxfordshire, and was renting one of the outbuildings. The Marine suggested Roger might look at some of the other outbuildings on the farm, which he did, and at last he had found just the space he had been looking for, which would push his business to the next level.
The business progressed and today, in the farmyard gymnasium I have been attending since it opened, Roger trains clients all day and every day, Monday to Friday. They are diligent, very focused, really want to do well but also have a lot of fun. Roger tells me, ‘I think when you are at school and you have to do PE you do it because you have to not because want to. But when you are older, become more health conscious and you’re paying for it, you have the focus that is required to become fitter.’
Roger’s is a real success story. There haven’t been any significant obstacles along the way, and Roger says, ‘If there have been they’ve been small and I’ve managed to get over them.’
Over the years Roger has helped train a few celebrity clients, including the lead singer of a rock band. Roger taught him some workouts so he’d be able to warm up before going on stage. ‘I was a hero for a while,’ says Roger. ‘I would go out running with him and people would come up to me and ask “Is that who I think it is?” I suppose he drew people to me: “If he’s training a celebrity then he’s got to be really good!” Oh, and then there’s you. You’re famous.’
The business is thriving. Roger is as happy as any man can be, and next September he will celebrate 20 years in the fitness business. Will there be a party, I ask. (No alcohol, of course.) ‘Yes,’ he replies, ‘I’ll be with my clients at a sports camp in Lanzarote, celebrating my business success and wondering “Where did it all go right?”’
To find out about Roger’s gym and the services he offers, visit www.rogerbradley.co.uk
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