Career Advice from Michael Mosley

All life is an experiment, believes MICHAEL MOSLEY, creator of the Fast Diet, who tells ANNE HARRIS why over a lunch in London Ottolenghi hotspot NOPI


Perhaps it was the vampire facelift that did it, but Dr Michael Mosley and I, with one voice, go for the vegetarian starters in NOPI, Ottolenghi’s new London restaurant.

The facelift, his latest self-experiment, along with other vampire procedures, about to be aired on his television programme, belong more to the world of the Grand Guignol than that of the quintessential Englishman sitting opposite.

Men who wear glasses have always had a fascination for me. It’s an early Clark Kent imprint: the idea that behind the self-effacement lies a supersonic ability to move the earth and change lives.

As the man who made fasting fashionable and exercise minimalist, Mosley’s achievement has soared way above the ordinary. The 5:2 Diet and HIT (High Intensity Training) books have girdled the globe and conferred health gurudom on him, but is he a Superman for our time?

Not surprisingly he has cycled from the BBC to NOPI, on Warwick Street, just off Regent Street. It’s a relief to find he is not fasting in this penitential period. We have met for lunch in the past and it’s been miso in EAT. Today he’s ordering enthusiastically (sea bass stuffed with black kale and a selection of sides and “nibbles”) from the heavenly banquet on offer from the Israeli chef.

To all outward appearances, Mosley is cool and self-contained. Those who know him, by which I mean the millions of people who watch him on Horizon, recognise that he burns with desire to know the secret of everything. Knowledge, not as laboratory research. Knowledge as experience.

“It’s the one thing my wife, Clare, worries about,” he says.“The self experimentation.” Clare has been his companion since their first days as medical students at the Royal Free Hospital in London. “The Dean told the assembled students  four of us would marry. Clare and I were one couple and the other couple are our best friends.”

Psychiatry was his purpose. So why on graduation did he immediately apply to become a television producer at the BBC? He saw an ad, he says. I wonder. He didn’t like the reliance on medication in psychiatry. More tellingly, he has never done quite what was expected of him. Before medicine there was a humanities degree from Oxford, two years as a City banker and a bit of self searching at an ashram in Iona.

“Curiosity,” he says is the constant and driving force of his life. That and the BBC, though now 30 years there, he worries that he has become institutionalised and it’s refreshing for me, for once, to be the one doing the reassuring. Mosley’s mind, like some exotic bird, has always been too bright to be caged.

At the BBC he soon became a member of one of those iconic groups who set the cultural tone of an era. There was Janice Hadlow, who later became BBC Controller of Programmes, and Pavel Pawlokowski, who has just won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and who was texting Mosley from the red carpet. “All beautifully out of control here,” said the text. “Big alchoholic kiss from LA.”

If Pawlokowski, who left the BBC some years back, finally found his natural métier, so too has Mosley. Over the years he did everything: business, children’s, Newsnight, Troubleshooter; his Last Days of Pompeii drama achieved a record eleven million viewers. “But I was becoming obsessed with the idea of self-experimentation.”

He was inspired by Barry J Marshall, who won the Nobel Prize for overturning medicine’s understanding of stomach ulcers by dosing himself with a bacteria and then curing himself.

“Year after year, I pitched an idea for a self-experimentation programme. To no avail,” he says. Until finally Janet Hadlow agreed. Then came the problem of finding a presenter. “Who will do it?” he asked Hadlow. “You will,” she replied. It was an inspired choice. All the career twists and turns, down to his health problems (type 2 diabetes) suddenly made sense.

Like a latter day Leonardo da Vinci – dissecting cadavers in order to better portray flesh – Mosley exploits his own flesh in order to better portray science. Calorie restriction (fasting) guarantees near perfect health, so he fasted for lengthy periods (“too difficult”, hence the 5:2, whereby one fasts for just two days out of seven), he challenged his cardiovascular endurance, has injected himself with botulinum and most recently with his own blood. No wonder Clare worries. It’s brought success too, though he insists that just meant being able to buy a flat for his student offspring. And he looks great.

The “vampire” facelift involves taking blood from parts of the body and injecting it into the face. “Rather painful,” he winces, “it’s primarily about wound healing.” For now perhaps. “There’s a whole new vampire trend in the medical world,” he explains. “They’re now taking blood from young people and injecting it into old people to see the results. It’s not a new idea. One of the popes regularly drank his own blood.”

Right. That puts an end to any notion of dessert. And as he prepared to shoot off to the BBC on his bike, leaving a cloudtrail of ideas in his wake, I am left wondering about that early imprint. Did I mention my fascination with the Renaissance Man archetype?

The Reckoning:

Mixed seed lavosh, avocado

Two seabass, cavolo nero, preserved lemons, anchovy butter

Chargrilled broccoli, Lebanese cucumber, chard, almonds,  yuzu

Roasted aubergine, black garlic, chilli, broad beans, basil

One Earl Grey tea, one Americano

Total: £82.01

NOPI, 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1;

Anne Harris

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our November issue, out Thursday November 5.

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