Diana Moran: 'My mother died from an inherited blood disorder at the age of 47 ... I expected to pop my clogs years ago'
The Green Goddess talks to Gabrielle Fagan about feeling fit and youthful as she approaches 80, and how she has coped with having a potentially lethal gene mutation
Blonde, glamorous and ultra lithe in her emerald-green leotard, Diana Moran - dubbed the 'Green Goddess' - was the face of fitness back in the Eighties, and led the nation through morning workouts on BBC Breakfast Time.
Her career partly came about as a result of personal trauma: her mother's premature death aged 47, and living with the knowledge that her own life could be cut short by the same inherited blood clotting disorder, Factor V Leiden. Both things, Moran says, helped inspire her fervour for health and fitness.
"I found my mother dead at home when I was 15. She'd had a cerebral haemorrhage and was the last to die of her four brothers and sisters. The youngest was only 32," says Moran, now 79, who seems blessed with limitless energy and optimism, and has just launched a bespoke exercise class for over-60s residents at Richmond Villages retirement developments.
Factor V Leiden is a gene mutation, which Moran carries, that results in thrombophilia - an increased tendency to form blood clots, which can block blood vessels and possibly lead to complications such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and clots in the lungs, stroke, heart attack and pre-eclampsia.
"When their parents died, my cousins all came to live with me and my brother and my father ended up as the 'umbrella' carer for everyone. Coming from this tragic family, we've all expected to pop our clogs years ago. It probably explains the fact I'm so interested in physical health," says Moran, who celebrates her 80th birthday in June, when she'll make her ritual toast to "survival".
"We cousins and my brother always get together at birthdays, raise a glass and go: 'Hallelujah, we've got to 40,50, 60!' Frankly, we celebrate we've survived," she says. "We feel lucky to have had far more years than our parents. All of us are joyful and live life for the day. I have an absolute thing about not wasting life."
She's certainly never done that. At the height of her success, the Bristol-born fitness pro was the face of leading skincare brand, Oil of Ulay (now Olay) and rubbed shoulders with the royals, and she's written a series of bestselling books (the latest - Beating Osteoporosis: The Facts, The Treatments, The Exercises - is out in June).
But along with her successes, Moran has faced personal traumas as well - miscarriages, divorce and cancer.
Here, she reveals her recipe for staying youthful, how she's coped with adversity, and why she feels "fearless"...
How do you feel about being the Green Goddess?
"She totally changed my life, so I can't knock her. I call her 'Mrs Green'. She has her own separate identity from mine, with her own green wardrobe. I never wear green 'off duty' at home, because people recognise me and it gets a bit tedious. I can still fit into the original Lycra costume - it's safely in a drawer alongside a keep fit Barbie doll dressed in green - they made one in my likeness. The ultimate honour!
"I'm very proud of helping kick-start the fitness industry, but very sad about the obesity epidemic and worry this generation will not be as fit as the last."
What's been your biggest health crisis?
"I was 47 when I was told I had breast cancer, and suddenly I was facing the possibility of dying, which was shocking even in our family, where we lived with an expectation of premature death. No one talked about cancer in those days, which made it even more terrifying.
"It was a very dark time, until one of my sons and his wife told me they were expecting my first grandchild, Charlotte, now 25. That news gave me the focus, courage and determination to battle through. I totally concentrated on staying alive to see her, and eventually my other three grandchildren, grow up. It made me realise if I had my family and my health, I could cope with anything."
How did you learn you carried the inherited blood disorder?
"Nearly 20 years ago, doctors were investigating gene therapy and took tests to see if I was at risk of further breast cancer. They told me I didn't carry the breast cancer gene but the bad news was, I did carry Factor V Leiden.
"It meant I'd been at high risk during my pregnancies. I did have several miscarriages. Now I'm older, the risk is lower and I take medication and have never smoked, which can raise the risk."
What's your secret for staying youthful?
"Looking after your health. It's vitally important to stay fit and active as you age, so you can enjoy the final third exciting stage of life. That rocking chair and slippers image is so out of date.
"My inner age is 60 but mentally I feel even younger because I mix with my four grandchildren. They call me 'GG', short for Granny Goddess, and keep me up-to-date. Listening to youngsters is so important, to help people avoid getting narrow and bigoted in their views as they age."
What's got you through the tough times?
"I've had so many difficult moments in my life that I'm fiercely independent - I've been married twice but have lived alone for more than 20 years. I'm pretty physically fearless, except about heights, which really scare me.
"Death doesn't frighten me at all, but the thought of not being physically or mentally capable at some point does go through my mind at times. I'm happy I've made all the arrangements legally, so that my sons could sort things out if I needed help or care."
What would your older self tell your younger self?
"Keep out of direct sun. I loved sunbathing and paid a price for it by ending up with skin cancer. It's been successfully treated and I have regular check-ups. I've followed the advice I was given when I was young: take advantage of every opportunity and never put off a challenge or opening because it might never come again. I live by that."
How do you look after your wellbeing?
"I believe in everything in moderation. I'm too busy to go to a gym, so I do my own 20-minute fitness routine every day at home. I walk, cycle and did a triathlon for charity six months ago.
"I follow the Mediterranean diet, with lots of vegetables, fruit, fish, and eat meat only occasionally. I have osteopenia (weakening of the bones which can develop into osteoporosis) and take calcium and vitamin D supplements to combat that. I'd never dream of retiring. I've got a busy, inquisitive mind and I love having a purpose. "
- The Green Goddess, Diana Moran, is back in the gym with Richmond Villages creating The Richmond Routine - a bespoke exercise class aiming to keep the over-60s fit and healthy and help them to live their best lives at Richmond (richmond-villages.com)