"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book


Happy? Fat chance! - Roger Lewis

Blog | By Roger Lewis | Jun 13, 2022

Roger Lewis – or is it Robbie Coltrane?

Roger Lewis hates everything about being fat – from the coronavirus danger to comparisons with Robbie Coltrane

I always thought Covid was a Welsh Christian name, like Arnall or Iestyn. But no, it was in actuality a death sentence for the likes of me – the old, the ill and the stout.

Especially the stout. If one is a bit of a blobby, starts to cough and splutter, and an ambulance has to be called – basically, it’s curtains.

‘Obese patients,’ says a government report, ‘are more likely to end up in hospital with the coronavirus and are more likely to die than those who are a healthy weight.’ Fat folk commonly have breathing difficulties, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and are not terribly keen on taking exercise.

Guilty as charged – and when I do take exercise, eg waddling to the chip shop round the corner, wittily named Oh My Cod, it’s only to be shouted at by vile joggers, mown down by cyclists and tripped up by extendable dog leads. It’s simpler to stay at home and loaf about, watch telly and say it’s work.

Yet I was not always as you see me now. Until I was 40, I was snake-thin. Then for some reason there was this mudslide; the entrails sagged. Fly buttons flew off, zips broke and jackets wouldn’t do up. I blamed my metabolism, genetic inheritance and the fact that my grandmother, four foot 11 and 96 when she died, was as packed as a sausage and as spherical as a cannonball. If we walked down the street together today, you’d swear we were sisters.

Now and again I have signed up for Slimming World – Alcoholics Anonymous for the fat. Except you can’t be fat and anonymous, as the one thing we are is conspicuous. Anyway, I sit there in a leisure centre surrounded by big lasses getting in trim for their wedding, and frankly everyone seems to delight in their chubbiness. It’s simply an evening out.

The sessions start with a communal weigh-in, followed by a group discussion – group therapy. Those who have shed a few pounds or ounces are applauded; the rest of us have to think up an excuse. ‘It was my sister’s birthday – so I had a flan,’ was one comment I remember. Another I’ll never forget: ‘I weighed more tonight because it’s gone cold and I’ve got my big knickers on.’

It is the case that fat people are funnier – Zero Mostel, Roy Chubby Brown, Oliver Hardy, Jo Brand, Harry Secombe and Johnny Vegas. They wouldn’t be comical if they were skinny. When I myself was skinny, I was a Junior Research Fellow at Oxford University. When I was fat, I wrote a book about Charles Hawtrey.

There's something philosophical and reflective about the plump. Because we tend not to be handsome and sporty, and are not admired for physical attributes, our wits have been sharpened instead.

You can reliably expect us to be chortling, robust, expressive and never conceited. Falstaff, for example. And we stop being funny if we lose weight – Peter Sellers was a big rubber owl in the Fifties and early Sixties. When he became cadaverously slender later on, after a couple of heart attacks and marriages, and wanted to play James Bond in Casino Royale, the laughs went.

Diets are so boring – bowls of roughage, skimmed milk like chalky water and low-fat cheese as exciting as ceiling tiles. As a Slimming World member, I ate so many bananas I should have been swinging from the trees.

The only way I lost a lot of weight – three stone – was to stop boozing for seven years. At first, I missed the sugar component in alcohol and was always in the cake shop. That ebbed and I became a fizzy-water dilettante. I had to buy smaller-sized togs. Into the back of the wardrobe went my Elizabeth Taylor kaftans and ballooning lady’s nightdresses. A waist reappeared, as did ribs. I saw my feet for the first time in decades.

Weightwise, like the moon, I waned. But, in the end, I waxed. I had a bout of sciatica, the most painful thing ever to be endured. The doctor prescribed Valium. I thought if a relaxant was what was required, hand me that corkscrew.

Suffice it to say, I am now the most loyal customer in the history of the Wine Society, with Majestic Wine as back-up. You’ve heard of ‘recovering alcoholics’? Well, I recovered. I am back to being mistaken for Robbie Coltrane and Don Estelle. I’m not joking. People often ask me for autographs, even though Don’s been dead for years.

Naked, sideways, I look like the letter Q. I have circulation problems in my legs and, because I resemble a specimen in a travelling fair, my diabetic nurse, Nurse Bezzle, thinks I should be on antidepressants, the medical profession’s answer to everything. What I do fear is that I may soon be a statistic, like Eddie Large.