How Belfast boy Adam Maxted beat his school bullies to become a reality TV star and champion wrestler... with a little help from mum
As a teen, the Love Island contestant was the target of vicious bullying. He tells Ivan Little how the experience pushed him to become a successful wrestler who has launched his own clothing line
Belfast-born professional wrestler - and ex Love Island TV star - Adam Maxted has thanked the bullies who made his life a misery at school. "Without them I wouldn't have become the man I am today," says the one-time self avowed mummy's boy whose erstwhile tormentors would probably run a mile if they saw him today.
For the once skinny teenager has now bulked out into a giant of a man who's currently enjoying a busy double life not only as a wrestler but also as a fashion designer.
It's a new and potentially lucrative twin career that Adam admits has been buoyed by his high-profile appearance on the controversial Love Island series in 2016 when he was a target for the paparazzi in England.
And his love life made headlines in the gossip pages of the red tops.
But Adam insists he exploited the TV programme and the newspapers, rather than the other way round.
He adds: "It was all designed to help me promote myself as a wrestler. I talked about my wrestling ambitions a lot on Love Island so that people would take notice of me. And it helped."
In the last two years, Adam has been flat-out in the gym and in the ring to help make his grappling dreams come true.
His good looks and impressive physique have led to him being described as "the most handsome man in wrestling".
And after comparatively small-scale shows Adam is moving into a bigger league.
A series of much-anticipated encounters will culminate at the start of March with a return home to take on World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) legend Rey Mysterio at the SSE Arena in Belfast.
And Adam is hoping that the forthcoming televised scraps on 5 Star Wrestling's heavily promoted 11 city tour could open the door for him into the mega money world of WWE, the largest wrestling company in the world.
If WWE do sign him it would necessitate a move to America for 25-year-old Adam, who says: "I've already had a tryout with WWE and I am hoping that I could make the breakthrough.
If that happens and Adam ends up in the millionaire bracket with other WWE stars like John Cena and Roman Reigns a few of his former schoolmates in east Belfast might just be glad that he's not a man to hold grudges.
"Yes, I was bullied at school," he recalls. "I was quite tall but I was very skinny and it was probably no surprise that the bullies had a field day with me.
"But that's all forgotten now and I've even had apologies from some people who were my contemporaries at school."
In his teens he quickly resolved that he had to do something to stand up to the hasslers. Adam, who jokingly refers to himself as a former mummy's boy, admits that he was a pushover for his peers.
He never knew his father and he was raised in the Belmont area by his personal trainer mother Belinda, who at one point took him out of school to educate him at home before he moved to another college.
"But I was bullied there too. I realised that I couldn't run away from things and that I had to face them. And that turned me into the motivated guy I am today.
"So in a way I'm glad the bullying happened because it made me into who I am. No one messes with me now," says Adam, who went to the gym where his mother worked "to put on a bit of muscle to change the way I looked".
He adds: "I'd always been a wrestling fan and later on as I got bigger I went to see people involved with wrestling in Belfast and they reckoned I had possibilities.
"I'm happy to say that things have really been taking off for me, especially after I made the final of Love Island. The profile it got me was huge."
Adam now lives in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and spends an hour and a half every day working out in the gym to maintain his physique.
He also trains two nights a week with a wrestling coach as he sets his sights on the top of the game.
But it's not all glitz and glamour just yet. Adam, who once toyed with the idea of becoming a bodybuilder, has to travel the length and breadth of Britain for wrestling shows at the weekends.
And that often means grabbing late night fast food meals - bad food, he calls it.
"But it doesn't really do me any harm to eat like that at the weekends," he says.
"During the week I stick to a strict, mainly protein-based, diet of eggs, chicken, fish and steak, but that isn't always possible on the road, when I can be travelling for maybe eight hours," says Adam, who doesn't drink alcohol.
Such is the worldwide appeal of wrestling, however, that Adam has already travelled to France, Pakistan and to the USA for shows which might only last 15 minutes.
And the world could soon be his oyster, with no limit as to what he might achieve in the future.
In the past, stars like Jackie Pallo and Mick McManus made a decent living out of wrestling, which is a very different proposition nowadays.
Few people see wrestling as anything but an entertainment, but Adam, whose nickname is Flex, isn't content to just rest on his wrestling laurels. Which is why he has joined with three other associates in Belfast to launch a new Northern Ireland-based fashion range, called Set in Stone.
He says: "For the moment we are concentrating on spray-on type jeans for teens right up to mid-30s
"They really are the fashion nowadays. If you see any stars out and about they will all be wearing the spray-on jeans, which are really tight."
Adam says he has been involved with designing the jeans and the plan is to expand into T-shirts, jackets and other clothes.
"We want to be different and unique. And we put a heavy emphasis on quality," says one of Adam's partners, Ahad Miah.
So far Adam has been the sole model for the jeans - and that's another reason for him to stay in shape in the gym.
"Some people see it as a chore. But I'm happy to go there every day. I enjoy it."
Adam, who was famously quoted as saying that, unlike other Love Island contestants, he didn't have sex on the show, now has a steady girlfriend. He and Carly Taylor live together in Newcastle.
"She is very supportive," says Adam. "She drives me to a lot of my shows and she cooks my meals after training."
Adam clearly enjoys the media attention that his wrestling brings in its wake, but one thing loathes is being described as a "former stripper".
He says: "I wasn't a stripper. I did the odd hen or birthday party as a butler but they weren't overly raunchy shows."
Another thing that has rankled with him is the online abuse that his girlfriend has had to endure since their relationship started.
Adam has hit back at the trolls, saying their comments about Carly were degrading.
Not unlike the bullying he suffered himself back in Belfast.