This article was first published in Attitude issue 285, July 2017.
Words: Adam Duxbury
Photography: Bartek Sznigulski
As the charming host of Channel 4’s First Dates, French Maître d’ Fred Sirieix is the man many guests really want to take home. But you might have to go 10 rounds to win him over…
Is it true that you do 300 press-ups every day before work?
Yeah, I get up and within 10 minutes I’m down on my knees and doing 300 push ups — 301 to be precise. But I vary my training, it gets me going in the morning and mixing it up keeps it interesting. So, what I do is exactly 30 minutes of exercise, it’s what I call “tuff’ training. This morning I did five sets of 20 push-ups and alternated those with some kettlebell exercises and then another 100 push-ups with some bicep curls and then I finished with some light squats. Thirty minutes and done. Then I cycle to work and cycle back home at night. Sometimes if I have time in the afternoon I’ll do another 20 to 30 minutes in the gym, so I break down my training in that way and then I don’t feel as if I’m working out too much. It’s more-orless two hours of sport every day, but because it’s broken down like that, it’s easy. I go sparring in the boxing gym on Saturday and then on Sunday I try to do nothing. I’ve always exercised, I need to exercise — if I don’t do that, then I don’t feel good. I need to get things out of my system.
You mention boxing; what is it about that sport that you enjoy so much?
Boxing is about you, it’s just you and your opponent — you can’t lie in a boxing ring. Either you’ve got it or you don’t, either you’ve trained enough or you haven’t. Even if you haven’t trained, you can give it your best but you’ve got to have that belief. Or you’ve got to have that determination that no matter what, they are going to have to come and take the victory, you’re not going to give it to them. I think that the greatest victory in boxing is just to step in that ring because it’s very scary. You’re going to fight; you know that someone is going to try to punch you — to hurt you — and you’ve got to stay there. It’s like going to the edge of the cliff and the only one who can take you back is you. Boxing has so many combinations: there’s the physicality of it, you need to be fit, but it’s also very technical, so you need to concentrate, have that mental side. And all that has to work in unison. That has a knockon effect in your life. The impact of boxing in terms of your confidence, your self-esteem, your discipline – it’s something you can feel in your daily life.
Your interest in the inner workings of the mind comes across in First Dates.
I don’t think that you can be physically fit only — mental fitness is very important, too. The Romans believed that you needed a healthy mind and a healthy body but which one comes first? I think it’s very important to join those together. Any real champion — be it Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, or whoever — they condition their mind as well as their body. At that level, if you’re in the ring with somebody the thing that will separate you is the mental fitness, the ability to go one step further. I’m getting older — I’m 45 — and I feel the pain like never before. Four years ago, I did not feel that pain, and it’s only because my body is getting older and my mind is telling me, “Fred it’s getting tough now.” But I have to push it, if I don’t I’ll just stop. I can’t let my body tell me it’s over. When you do it, you feel good, you feel that sense of satisfaction and you feel confident and it means you can eat more butter and drink more champagne! And I think being a good sportsman makes you a better lover.
So, do you think being fit helps people find a partner?
No, not at all because people come in all shapes and sizes. It works for me and I believe in it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I enjoy the sports, I enjoy the adrenaline; it makes me happy. It’s been scientifically proven that the release of endorphins is a bit like when you take drugs, only it’s a much lighter and healthier and more long-lasting thing. It’s like love.
Perhaps some advice; men are… ?
Lovely, men are lovely! I want to say that. I love men, they are great. It’s true. Not enough is said about how good men are, men are beautiful. Let’s write this down! Men are amazing.
Well, we love celebrating men in this magazine! But as much as we celebrate men in Attitude, and we like to show men who are healthy and look good, men are under more pressure than ever to look a certain way. And that’s especially true for gay men. What advice would you have for those who feel that pressure?
I have quite a few gay friends who are very fit and look very muscular. Others are big and fat. In fact, I had a couple [of larger men] in my restaurant a while ago. They were not the most attractive men in that Adonis sort of way, but then why should you be so obsessed with what you look like? At the end of the day, it could be about metabolism. I’m quite lucky I’m slim — even if I wanted to I couldn’t put on weight. Even if I eat, eat, eat, the biggest I’ve been is 80kg and that was a fluke. Lots of people are obsessed with the way they look and how people perceive them. But what matters is what you think. If you’re confident and you accept yourself then at the end of the day the world will accept you. What matters is how you feel inside. Anyway, are we ever happy with how we look? Men always want to be bigger, faster, stronger. You can want that but also be satisfied and happy with yourself. And that’s also true if you’re big. One of my friends is really large but he likes himself. He eats a bit too much, he smokes a bit too much and he drinks a bit too much but he’s happy. And he’s made that choice.
What first attracted you to work on First Dates?
You have to take a leap of faith. You work with the team — and it is a real team effort — to make it what it is. It’s not a case of me sitting back and just taking it. I’m an active participant and I’m very vocal in giving suggestions and feedback. I’m tiny on this programme but I’m fully invested in it; body and soul. We have a common vision and that’s rare. I think that I liked the vision and the values of the programme first. The intention of everyone is pure, it’s just to put people together. We match them to perfection and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
A restaurant is a good place for a first date but where would you take someone for a date with a bit more energy?
Maybe a bar. You want to be somewhere you can talk one-on-one. Mind you, it depends on your age and what you are into. I’d suggest a tapas bar. You can order one or two dishes, have some wine and if it’s going well you carry on. If not, you just make your excuses and leave.
I suspect you’ve been in the UK long enough to have a good perspective on this; is the cliché that French men are more romantic true?
Well, some people say that the French are the best lovers. That’s what they say… I won’t deny or confirm that [laughs]. But let’s say: there’s no smoke without fire!
You can see Fred on First Dates and in Tried and Tested: The Ultimate Shopping List, both on Channel 4. His second book, Secret Service, is out in October.