Linda slimmed her way to a perfect 10
Watching the dancer twirl across the floor, I sighed. This was normally the moment when I’d pop a Malteser in my mouth. But I was on a strict diet – not the normal Strictly Come Dancing diet I followed every year, where I’d watch the show and scoff chocolate at the same time.
‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to glide around like that?’ I smiled to my partner Willie Hamilton, 55 then. It was October 2007 and we were snuggled up on the sofa together.
In the past, we’d settled down with a Chinese takeaway and chocolate. Now though, I was trying hard to avoid temptation.
I’d swapped my morning fry-ups for porridge; my lunchtime cheese sandwiches for grilled chicken salads and takeaways for simple meat and two veg.
And, while I wasn’t exactly as fit as the boys and girls on Strictly, I was making sure I took my Scottish Terrier Skye on long walks every day.
‘Wow,’ I gasped now as Matthew Cutler swept Alesha Dixon up in his arms. ‘Imagine that!’
Actually there was no way I could imagine that. I’d lost two stone over the past year but, even so, I was still14 stone and, if any bloke tried to sweep me up in his arms, my bulk would send him crashing to the floor. I could just imagine the look on Len Goodman’s face!
‘I think you’d look cracking in one of those tight, sequin dresses,’ Willie said. Bless him! ‘But I’m Mr Two Left Feet – you wouldn’t get me on a dance floor for love nor money!’
Hmmm – we were in agreement then. As we were about most things….
Willie and I had been friends for more than a decade before getting together two years earlier in October 2005. Willie had been a regular at the Howwood Inn in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, where I worked as a barmaid. While I pulled pints six-foot tall, stick thin Willie propped up the bar, chatting away and making me laugh.
At the time, my marriage to Mark* was breaking down so Willie’s cheery nature was a welcome relief from the stress at home.
And the other welcome relief was food. At home I slouched about in trackie bottoms, gorging on takeaways and chocolate. Thank God my two older kids – Richard, 23 now and Tracey, 20 – had left home and didn’t have to see their miserable moping mum. It was only poor old Calum, 11, who had to put up with me.
My former trim nine-and-a-half stone self seemed a distant memory. Talk about a busty bar maid – when Willie and I had met I weighed 16 stone. And, as I was a relatively short 5ft4inches, I looked like a fat little ball.
Then, in 2004, Mark and I split. We were sad but were rowing all the time. We’d tried carrying on but, after years of misery, both of us admitted defeat.
I’d been comfort eating because I was miserable in a relationship – now I was comfort eating because I was single.
Then, in October 2005, Willie asked me out one night as I pulled his pint.
I was so down I couldn’t believe he’d fancy a fatty like me.
But: ‘You’re beautiful!’ he told me on our first date, in another pub in town.
Forward – but flattering too. And, when he got down on one knee and serenaded me to Westlife’s You Raise Me Up, I laughed more than I ever had in my life.
Soon Willie and I were inseparable and, two months after getting together, Calum and I moved in with him.
A former chef, Willie spoilt me rotten with delicious lasagnes, homemade curries and creamy desserts.
‘I can’t keep eating like this,’ I sighed. Now that I wasn’t miserable I had no excuse for comfort eating. In fact, with Willie in my life, I had every reason to be positive and lose some of the flab that was dragging me down.
It was all happening so slowly though. And I wanted to be slim by the time I was 50, on December 12 2008, a year and a bit away. I was going to do it….
The months passed and I was good as gold. When, a year later, in October 2008, Willie and I sat down to enjoy the new series of Strictly I’d lost two more stone.
‘I’m going to lose another stone for my birthday,’ I gasped to Willie. ‘Then I can really celebrate!’
‘Let’s make the celebration even bigger,’ Willie said. ‘Let’s get married at the same time!’
‘Perfect,’ I gasped, throwing my arms around him.
The next day, I told Karen Lafferty, my boss at the pub, about the wedding – which was happening in just two months’ time.
‘Have the reception here,’ she said.
‘Thanks,’ I cried. ‘It’s going to be the best day ever and, now that I’m slim, I really will feel like a princess!’
‘You should do something extra special to show your achievement in losing all that weight,’ Karen said. ‘In fact, why don’t you get Nicola to choreograph your first dance? You love Strictly don’t you’
Nicola Lafferty was Karen’s sister – and a professional dancer.
I dreaded to think what Nicola would make of Willie and me. She’d traveled the world as a choreographer – but I doubted she’d ever met anyone as hopeless at dancing as us!
‘Are you kidding?’ Willie gasped when I broke the news that night. ‘I’ve got two left feet!’
‘I hated the idea at first as well,’ I said. ‘But now I think about it, I’ve always been too fat to dance. Well, now it’s my turn. I want to dance to Raise Me Up. Let’s do it!’
‘All right then,’ Willie said with all the enthusiasm of Katie Price facing a trial in the jungle.
On our first session, in Nicola’s dance studio, excitement prickled as she showed Willie and I some basic steps. This was just like being on Strictly….
‘You’re a natural,’ Nicola told Willie as he twirled me from side to side.
In between our lessons with Nicola, we practiced at home in the evenings.
‘Close the curtains,’ I’d order Willie. God only knew what the neighbours would think if they saw us!
Then, on our third and final session, two weeks before the wedding, Nicola sprung a surprise on us.
‘You’re both foot perfect,’ she cheered. ‘Now, we just need the wow factor to finish it off. So Willie, I want you to lift Linda and spin her around in your arms.’
‘Lift me?’ I gasped. ‘He’ll break his back!’
Then I remembered – I wasn’t ten tonne Tessie any more. In fact, I only weighed 11 and a half stone. Not exactly Tess Daly-slim but slim nonetheless…
‘Come on Willie,’ I laughed. ‘Raise me up!’
Soon, it was the December 12, our big day.
I slipped on my wedding dress – a shimmering pink size 12 gown. The satin clung perfectly to my new body.
‘You look a million dollars,’ Tracy choked.
And, as Willie and I swapped our vows at Johnstone Register Office, in front of 20 guests, I felt it.
We’d kept the dance secret from everyone, except Karen.
So, when she asked us to take to the floor, our 60 guests were stunned.
Nerves prickled as the opening bars to You Raise Me Up filled the room.
But, as I put one foot in front of the other and realised that I could do this, I felt the most confident I ever had. Move over Alesha – Linda was taking to the floor.
My heart soared as Willie lifted me off my feet and whirled me around in a 360-degree turn. I felt as light as a feather and as high as a kite.
As our guests cheered, Willie and I embraced. He’d raised me up – and I’d loved every minute.
It’s been one year now since our wedding and I’m ten-stone – a full stone lighter than I was when Willie held me aloft. But we’ve never performed our routine again. Now, we’re just happy to watch Strictly – and criticise the dancers.
But I don’t feel envious looking at them because I know that I can do it too. And I’m sure Len would agree!
Linda Hamilton, 51, Johnstone, Renfrewshire