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Gladiator 'Hunter': I dislocated my shoulder five times on show... the pain was terrible, like getting shot

One of the stars of the hit Nineties TV show, James Crossley, tells Gabrielle Fagan about the pain of fame, dating Ulrika Jonsson and his mission to get the over-40s fit


James Crossley’s mission is to get people active

James Crossley’s mission is to get people active

James with singers Sandra and Maria Bossy, the Siesta Singers, in 1996

James with singers Sandra and Maria Bossy, the Siesta Singers, in 1996



James Crossley’s mission is to get people active

Blonde, tanned and known for that megawatt smile, James Crossley (aka Hunter) found fame as the youngest member of Gladiators - the action-packed competitive series that was one of the most watched shows of the Nineties.

Although he was only 19 when he joined the series (which ran from 1992 until 2000) he'd trained in bodybuilding since the age of 12, and boasted a 6'3'' frame, 19 stone of rippling muscle and a whopping 19-inch arm circumference.

He became a household name, dated Ulrika Jonsson and went on to pursue an acting career until he returned full-time to the world of fitness in 2012.

Here, the 44-year-old reveals the physical price he paid for being in Gladiators, why he turned his back on show business, and how he wants to help the over 40s get fit.

How do you remember Gladiators?

"Gladiators changed my life. When I was a child, I saw three Rocky films in one afternoon, and I was originally determined to be a boxer... but then I became hooked on bodybuilding.

"My aim was to gain a stone and add an inch to my arm circumference every year. As a teenager, I took part in bodybuilding events, competitions and I was featured in fitness magazines. At 19, I had started training as a printer when the Gladiators producers spotted me and signed me up.

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"It was an amazing time. Although the show was slow to start, we were eventually watched by 18 million viewers. I was doing something I loved, mastering new skills, taking part in events and travelling the world. Some of us reunited last year for the 25th anniversary of the series. We have such a bond and we'll never lose that connection or those memories."

Have you ever suffered injuries during your career?

"I dislocated my shoulder five times on Gladiators. The pain is terrible - it's like being shot. The first time it happened, I dropped to my knees and I remember being carried off the show, gritting my teeth and thinking to myself, 'Keep smiling', because I didn't want the audience to see I was in agony.

"On the very last show, I dislocated it again on the first event. The producers wanted to pull me out of filming completely, but I refused. Looking back, it was crazy - I ended up going straight to hospital after the show, but I'd won so it was worth it.

"I've since had two operations on my shoulder and it's definitely my weak link. Last year, I completely tore my shoulder off and my doctor told me I had to stop competing in Strongman competitions. Instead, I've adjusted my training - after 33 years, I know how to avoid hurting it. I've decided this is my last year of competing. "

How did you feel about being in the spotlight when you dated Gladiators presenter Ulrika Jonsson?

"It was fine for a while, but it got a bit awkward when photographers chased us when we were shopping or out for a meal. I was never really into the fame side of things.

"We were together for about 18 months [1996-1997] and it didn't end on a bitchy note. We're still in touch, we worked together a couple of years ago and we message each other every now and again."

How do you look after your wellbeing?

"I have a very busy mind and I find it hard to switch off, but doing Yin yoga twice a week helps. You hold poses for longer than usual, so it's a very slow practice, as opposed to faster styles, which I used to do. Yin helps with breathing, muscle flexibility and is restorative, so I sleep better.

"Also I've played guitar for 23 years and I'm in a band called The Watch. We gig all over London which is a brilliant way to relax."

What's the secret of your success?

"Visualisation is something I've used throughout my life, even on Gladiators. It helps my mind to get ready for what's ahead and visualise the path to success. I've always said that 30% of my power is in my mind. I'm not a naturally strong guy, or a natural athlete, but I'm very good at focusing and training for something. The mind is the most powerful tool and you have to find your own way to channel into it."

What's been your toughest challenge recently?

"The Dinnie Stones competition in May, when I broke the world record. I held the historic giant boulders in Aberdeenshire for 34.58 seconds. One stone weighs 144.47 kg and the larger 188.02kg. It was such a massive feat of strength, for which I trained for four months with replica stones in the gym. A lot of it was about pain management. Since I was a child, I've been obsessed with different challenges and I cried when I realised I'd broken the record."

You've just released your own workout DVD for people over 40. Why now?

"My aim is to show ordinary people, with my Fit At 40+ workout series, how physical activity and some lifestyle changes will to help them improve their bodies, their health and their fitness.

"People are so busy these days, but have very sedentary lives - doctors call it a 'sitting disease' because it causes so many health problems. Plenty of people can't even find time to get to the gym. With my home workout, they can get themselves onto the path to better health and more confidence."

James Crossley's Fit at 40+ is available on DVD, £10.95, from Amazon or via Vimeo

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