The Belfast granny who says she felt old, ugly and fat until a young personal trainer inspired her to get fit and wear a bikini again
In a hugely inspiring interview, Belfast woman Linda Gregg tells Laurence White how meeting Aamir Ishtiaque at her gym helped her shed more than three stone and look decades younger.
Belfast woman Linda Gregg is not a typical gym bunny. For a start she is 70, but that doesn't prevent her doing routines which would put people decades younger to shame.
She proudly says that she can leg press 300 kilos, four times her body weight, can do press-ups as well as many male members of her gym, and does a full range of workouts on weights, bikes and treadmills, as well as flexibility training.
Her dedication has worked wonders for her - she has dropped her weight from 16 stone 12 pounds to 12 stone 3 pounds, but, more importantly, has improved her health and her outlook on life.
Linda, a former civil servant who worked with Assembly committees for the last 10 years of her career, said: "I was always unhappy with how I looked. I had this vision of an ugly fat person and I had such low self-confidence and low self-esteem that no one could change me.
"I was bit lost, an old woman who had nowhere to go and didn't see a bright future."
Then she met Aamir Ishtiaque, a personal trainer. Linda recalled: "I joined a gym about nine years ago but it didn't really have the impact on me that I hoped for. That was no fault of the trainers I used, it was more to do with my outlook.
"However, when I met Aamir it all changed. He had just graduated, he was just 23. He was friendly and his smile lit up his face. He didn't treat me as an old woman and slowly he changed me completely. Changes don't happen overnight, especially when you are older."
Linda's real eureka moment came after a visit to her doctor in 2015. He advised her that she needed to take some hard decisions on what sort of life she wanted to lead.
"Then one Monday in June that year I decided that my life was going to change for good, and I have never looked back," she explained.
"It was like someone had thrown a switch. You hear of people getting religion. Well, I got health.
"I was never good at finishing things I had started. I always said the only things I had ever finished were my three children (two boys and a girl). I didn't finish my university course and, when I went back to do a BA (Hons), I didn't complete that either.
"But I was determined to reach my goals in the physical training. Sometimes I would go seven days in a row - I even went 16 days in a row on some occasions. I wanted to be the best I could. I even qualified as a personal trainer just to prove to myself I could do it."
The change in her appearance and outlook was dramatic.
"I now have a shape. My waist goes in and all the other bits look like they should," she said.
"Last year my son and his family took me on holiday to Lanzarote, the first time I had ever been away on a sun break. I took seven bikinis with me and wore every one of them during the holidays. I used to walk around the pool feeling like a 17-year-old instead of a lady of 70.
"I could even see that some men were giving me long looks. I worried at first they were laughing at me. But since I have come home I have been on dates with a number of men.
"I was divorced many years ago and don't really feel confident enough to commit to another man, but I am on a number of dating sites just for fun. My profile has been viewed thousands of times, even by some surprisingly young men. I must admit I don't like old men because I feel so much younger myself. I have been told I look 20 years younger than I am. I am far happier in the company of young people, and that is why I have got on so well with Aamir. We are good mates."
It is a feeling that is mutual. Aamir (27), who lives in Belfast with his wife Talitha and daughter Brooke, even invited Linda to his wedding, and he was a guest at her 70th birthday.
He said: "I think it is phenomenal what she has achieved. A lot of people her age give up and don't realise the potential they have. All I did was give Linda guidance - she was the one who followed it through and who changed her personality and her appearance.
"I believe she is an inspiration to other more mature people who might want to take up fitness training."
Aamir, who graduated in physiotherapy from Northumbria University in Newcastle, got into personal training almost by accident. He had just completed his first fitness competition and, having performed well, felt persuaded to become a trainer.
"There were few physiotherapy jobs around, so I changed direction," he explained. "Linda actually is not the oldest person I have ever trained.
"I had one man who was 83 and had Parkinson's disease, who felt that a higher level of fitness might aid him."
Aamir, who works out of the DW Fitness gym in Belfast's Boucher Road, revealed that his training regime begins by changing clients' eating habits.
"Many people comfort eat if they are not happy with their lives, and I have to bring some kind of structure to their diet. This, as was the case with Linda, can be a very slow process because if you try to change things too quickly people tend to give up," he said.
Variety, he insists, is the key to successful training. "Linda works out with me three days a week. On the first day we concentrate on upper body exercises, then lower body the next day, and, finally, flexibility."
Aamir is also a very successful competitive fitness and fashion professional, winning major awards in the UK, and has also trained a mixed martial arts fighter, done strength and conditioning sessions with several boxers and worked with many rugby players.
His wife, who is 31 weeks pregnant, is also a fitness trainer.
Away from the gym - where he has up to 12 clients a day - Aamir runs an online coaching service where, for a subscription, clients can access special training advice.
So what does he do in his spare time? "Every Saturday night my wife and I go out to a different restaurant and eat what we like. As I tell my clients, if you work hard during the week then you can have a treat at the weekend, whether that be in the shape of food or drink."
However, Linda avoids such treats where possible.
"I still love buns and sweets and cakes, but I don't touch them. Part of the reason is that I know if I opened a bag of sweets, for example, I would eat the lot. Instead, I concentrate on foods like rice, tuna, steak, salads and loads of vegetables.
"I also don't need to drink alcohol because, for me now, the future looks so bright.
"I only wish that more people would realise how good they could feel by taking regular exercise. I am now looking properly at life, and life is beautiful.
"Perhaps my proudest moment was when one of my grandchildren told his teacher 'My granny can run now'. I may not run very often because it can damage my knees but I know that I can now play with my five grandchildren - one boy and four girls ranging in age from two years to eight years. It is great to feel fit enough to run about with them."