'I was a size 22 and shovelling food into my mouth all day every day'
Jules Coll gives Barry Egan the low-down on how she lost nine stone, fell in love (platonically) with Rik Mayall and is looking for Mr Right
The darkest day in Jules Coll's life wasn't the day in 2014 when she looked at the weighing scales and realised she was 19 stone. She had a plan for dealing with that. No, it was the day in 2006 when she found out that her love life - admittedly pitiful - was the subject of much talk behind her back.
Her mother Jan sat Jules, then 25, down and told her that rumours had been circulating that "I may be gay and afraid to come out of the closet." Jules was gobsmacked. Her mother, doing her best to be nice about it, said: "Now it's absolutely fine if you are gay."
Jules immediately cut her mother off: "I'm not gay! I just haven't met the right guy yet!'"
"It's the most upset I've ever been in my whole life," Jules says now, adding that she cried for days over it, "but not about the fact that people were assuming I was gay, I'd never had a boyfriend so that's a logical conclusion people could come to. It was the fact that people were talking about me behind my back. "
Jules went into "a panic to try and find a boyfriend", but all to no avail. "But I don't blame men for it though. I don't think they looked at me on a night out and thought, 'Ugh. Look at chubby there, no thanks'. I know that at that time because I believed that I was so unattractive because of my weight that I wasn't worth chatting up. Because if I had believed that I was attractive and lovable, then men would have mirrored that back to me and I'd be getting chatted up all the time. But my self-worth was non-existent, and as a result so was my sex life."
Born on August 9, 1979, in Dublin, Jules Coll is the rather uproarious author of the brilliant Flabyrinth: My Escape From Maximum Insecurity Prison. The penal institution she is referring to is, in fact, as she writes in the book, "A prison of fat".
"At the tender age of 19, fresh out of school and living the life of Reilly, unbeknownst to me I had subconsciously sentenced myself to life in the slammer. It would take 10 years for me to wake up and realise I was trapped in prison. It would take a further five years to realise that I was, in fact, on death row as I had become morbidly obese."
Jules says she "shovelled food into my mouth all day every day" for two main reasons. One, because when she was eating was the only time that she could "mute" the voice of her "inner bad bitch" whom she refers to as Siobhan. Jules gave her a name because she feels "like a separate entity to me. She's the voice of the 'perfect' me who tells me when I look at myself how fat, ugly, flabby, disgusting, unattractive, cellulite-y and vile I am."
As her weight went up, her self-esteem went down. "So I was feeding my despair. I was at a loss as to what I could do to get things under control."
In every other aspect of her life she was happy. "I was a high achiever, with big dreams for myself with my life and career," says Jules, who works as a screenwriter and producer for RTE, "but the only thing I couldn't get my head around was losing weight. I perpetually failed."
Consequently, for the first time, at the age of 35 - weighing 19 stone and only fitting into size 22 clothes - Julie-Ann Coll had to say to herself: 'I need help. I can't do this by myself'.
At that point Jules says she was "morbidly obese with a BMI of 42 and my health was at risk. I needed an intervention and that came in the form of a gastric bypass, which is keyhole surgery to rearrange my digestive system and essentially shrink the size of my stomach - reducing my capacity to eat and give me the tool to control my overeating."
Jules had the surgery in the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin on November 1, 2014. "The surgery was my turning point, it helped me finally help myself, it was the crutch I needed to carry myself over the line."
Six weeks after the operation, she started training. Initially, Jules was just walking, which she found tough initially. "I stuck with it and built up my fitness over a few months and after losing three stone I found the courage to start going to the gym. I worked out every single day. However, I was trudging along on the treadmill bored out of my mind and knowing that I was going to give up exercise if I didn't find a way to start enjoying it. Then along came personal trainer Matt Keatley".
He approached Jules in the gym after seeing her on RTE's The Late Late Show in September. (Jules had gone on to promote her RTE documentary, Nine Stone Lighter, for which she'd had her surgery filmed).
"Matt and I chatted. I knew straight away that the encouragement of a trainer was exactly what I needed to keep me motivated and, most importantly, accountable. When he told me that sugar was the main reason everyone was ballooning, I was shocked. I thought fatty foods made you fat, but the big culprit these days is the devil that is sugar due to the simple fact that excess sugar consumed is converted to fat and stored in the body."
Jules lives by herself in Dublin. "No cats yet, thankfully," she jokes, "but my friends are under strict instructions to shoot me if I start adopting them."
Jules has been single all her life and has never had a romantic relationship of any type. She described a date not so long ago but she never heard from him again.
Her ideal man? Jules says that she'd already met him, but she couldn't have him because he was married and now she can never have him because he's passed away.
"You know who that dream man was? The pan-global phenomenon and human tripod that was comedy god Rik Mayall," she says of the happy married Mr Mayall and her platonic relationship with him.
"I'd idolised him since I was a teen and found him massively attractive because he was so funny, outlandish and bold and unpredictable, and when I met him in real life when he played a part in our series Damo & Ivor he was even more insanely attractive than I had even dreamed of because it turns out that in addition to this bonkers personality that I loved so much, he was an absolute gent with a heart of gold and a depth that would make my heart melt during many of the magical chats we had on set while filming."
Jules says she's presently going through "an auditioning process" to find a partner. "I want us to be there for each other through the good times and the sh***y times and I want all the typical romance that I've missed out on while I've been a sad singleton. I'd love him to buy me flowers and lie to me and tell me I'm beautiful when I'm violently hungover.
"And I want to cook for him, but it'll be all healthy food so he won't get fat! I love a man with a bit of a belly though - six packs don't do it for me."
She adds, most poignantly of all: "And I want a man, because if I'm truly honest, I'm lonely. I'd love to have someone to love and who loves me in return. Don't we all?"
Flabyrinth: My Escape From Maximum Insecurity Prison by Jules Coll, published by Gill Books, £16.99. To read an extract visit www.julescoll.com