AS nicknames go, “The Beast” has never been the most flattering.
However, standing 6ft 6in, and almost as broad as he is tall, The Chase star Mark Labbett has always happily played up to his famous moniker — but not for much longer.
The ITV quizzer has lost a staggering 10st, now tipping the scales at 19st, and after a lifetime of ordering bespoke XXXXL clothing, can now fit into “off-the-peg M&S chinos”.
The 55-year-old Oxford graduate — he got an MA in maths from Exeter College — credits a new two-meal-a-day regime and daily walks for his dramatic weight loss.
At his heaviest, in 2003 — his last year as a full-time teacher — Mark weighed 29st, and now he says: “This is the lightest I’ve been in 25 years.
“I’m now under 20 stone, and I am really feeling the difference, as well as seeing it.
“I’m now down to a 44-inch waist, my chest is 54 inches, while my neck measurements are down to 19 inches, which is fantastic for me and the top end of a normal man’s range.
“My knees really feel the difference. I will never be athletic again but I just move so much better for not carrying that extra weight.”
And Mark — nicknamed because his surname sounds like the French for The Beast, La Bête — adds: “As soon as the shops open again, I’m due to do a mega-shop of all the big high street stores because I can now wear Marks & Spencer’s trousers and chinos in an XL.
“It’s the first time I’ve been able to buy off-the-peg in as long as I can remember. I actually ordered a load of sweatpants from M&S but they accidentally sent me some 36 to 38-inch waist ones instead but, shock horror, I could fit into them.
I met a lady from Towie. It was a bleak conversation
“Granted, they were tight, and they wouldn’t have been comfortable for a gym session, but the fact that I could even put something like that on was amazing.”
Brainbox Mark, arguably the most popular of the Chasers on the hit ITV quiz show hosted by Bradley Walsh, has done it the hard way, with no gastric band, no quick-fix diet pills and no gimmicky fat loss clinic.
A big-boned child, he says he has always struggled with his weight, cruelly dubbed the “Incredible Hulk” and “Honey Monster” at school, “along with other appalling nicknames which I won’t share.”
After being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2016, he started to cut down the amount of sugar in his diet.
A self-confessed sweet and chocolate junkie, he was advised that a gastric bypass or band wouldn’t work on him because the sugar would go straight through it.
A battle with Covid last summer also triggered weight loss after he lost his appetite. Since then he has upped his exercise regime — gym, in non-lockdown times, and walking — and now largely exists on just two meals a day.
He adds: “Sugar has always been my sin, and it’s why I never contemplated a gastric band.
“But sumo wrestlers die 20 years younger than the rest of the population, and I could do the maths, I knew I had to make a change.
“The more sugar you have, the more you want. Now I’ve reduced it, I’m just not that hungry any more, and often when I’m filming, I miss lunch.
“I always try to have a decent breakfast, a cooked breakfast, because it’s actually quite good for you, and maybe just a muffin or two for lunch if I’m filming.
“I’m often just too exhausted in the evening to eat, and just go to bed without. It works for me.”
Fans need not worry too much — he probably won’t waste away any time soon. “I’m a big fan of the Toby Carvery,” he says proudly with a smile. “I have a fabled gold card, so I can get free roasts.”
However, so (relatively) rippling is the Devon-born star looking, he was also recently made an ambassador of MuscleFood, a bespoke food delivery programme used by elite athletes and gym-goers.
Mark credits its largely meat-based plan for helping him shift the final stone this year. The weight loss has also seen a dramatic lowering of his blood pressure, and today he is almost diabetes-free.
After competing on the UK quizzing circuit for years, appearing in both University Challenge and Mastermind, a notably bigger Mark sprang — well, lumbered — to fame in 2009 after landing the gig on The Chase. So different is newly single Mark’s appearance nowadays, he has garnered a rapidly growing female — and male — fan base.
Earlier this month, comedian Jack Whitehall tweeted: “When did The Beast from The Chase turn into an absolute dreamboat?! Mark’s had the glow-up of the century.”
Indeed, a recent photo Mark posted on Twitter of him wearing glasses led to scores of comparisons to Clark Kent, and hundreds of fans admitting they had a crush.
Handily, the dad of one has timed his “glow-up” to perfection. In September he announced his split from pretty NHS worker wife Katie after the couple tried, and failed, to make their open marriage work.
The pair, who have a four-year-old son together, remain good friends.
Mark reckons he is ready to start dating again, although it seems his perfect woman is right under his nose.
“I like smart women,” he muses. “I don’t want to name and shame, but I met a lady from Towie who should have been the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
I won’t be seen with a girl on each arm
“Instead, after about ten minutes, I tried to pitch my conversation to her level — and missed. It was a bleak conversation.
“But I will tell you who I’m getting on really well with, and we love having a chat — Carol Vorderman.
“She’s smart, and she and I have a lot of fun together. She’s got an IQ of 154, mine is 151, it’s great chatting to her, and we both love rugby.
“She’s great fun to be with. She looks fantastic, you’d never know she was 60.” Cambridge-educated Vorders, who will doubtless be thrilled with her age check, is also single — she was recently spot-ted on celebrity dating app Raya.
But while she may be Mark’s perfect woman, she has some compet-ition. He gets countless indecent proposals from fans hoping to see more than his big IQ, while ITV gets around 15 emails a week from fans asking to be set up with the star.
He adds: “I have to be careful how I reply, because I don’t want someone getting one of those huge obsessive crushes, so I try to let them down gently.
“A phrase I use quite a lot is, ‘I’m married to my work’.”
Although Mark had his Oxford AstraZeneca Covid jab on Thursday, he admits he isn’t the greatest of prospects.
Speaking from his hotel room at the Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, where The Chase is filmed, he explains: “I am not officially autistic but let’s face it, I am on the cusp.
“There are some parts of me that are, and some that aren’t. The attention I’ve been getting is hugely flattering, and I’m half expecting to be named Weird Crush of the Year, but I really do like being by myself.
“Obviously there’s the physical attraction side of things, but at the same time I am really comfortable in my own skin.
“I don’t want to get into a relationship that will be problematic. I don’t want a high-maintenance relationship.
“I certainly won’t be seen going around the clubs with a different girl on each arm, and my idea of Netflix and chill is me sitting there on my own, watching a film and enjoying my own company.”
Good luck, ladies.
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