Dorian Yates - raw and brutally honest
Dorian Yates - raw and brutally honest
By Gary Chappell
Ab Salute columnist
ALMOST five years ago, I did the first major interview to appear in the national press with six-time Mr Olympia Dorian Yates.
His brutal honesty about anabolic steroids, his time in a young offenders’ institute and his rivalry with fellow professional bodybuilders, caused a stir back then.
Two years ago, Yates released his autobiography, From the Shadow, which at the time I also reviewed when working solely for the Daily Express.
And so, during these strange times of national lockdown, I thought we could do with a change of pace, an extra bit of motivation for when things return and so have selected some of the best excerpts from those interviews for Ab Salute gym members, with a link to the full versions below. I hope you enjoy them.
IT tells you something when Mike Tyson – the ‘baddest man on the planet’ – pays Dorian Yates what can only be described as a glowing compliment. They crossed paths during one of Yates’ many trips to the mecca of bodybuilding, Gold’s Gym, in Las Vegas during the 1990s.
“We had a bit of chat,” explains Yates. “He then looked me up and down and said, ‘man, you’re a bad n****r’. That was pretty cool coming from Tyson.”
Such was the regard in which Dorian Yates is still held by anyone with a remote interest in lifting weights or constructing their physique. Indeed, the actor Jason Statham sought out Yates during the after party of Mickey Rourke’s premiere of ‘The Wrestler’ in 2008 to tell him what a big influence he had had on his own training.
The revelations within this book run deeper than gushing praise, however, including a brief mention that the late Michael Jackson used to come over to the house of Lou Ferrigno – who rose to fame as the Incredible Hulk in the 1970s TV series – in the early mornings to train in his garage.
In the anecdotes about his upbringing, the reader can begin to see how his tunnel-vision focus for his career was forged; the lack of warmth Yates received from his middle-class mum and working-class dad as a child growing up on a small holding in Staffordshire, those golden genetics for muscle he inherited from his mum, having no TV and feeling more close to his maternal grandparents.
Yates’ dad died aged 42 and his mum, it seems, did not even bother to tell a 13-year-old Yates the truth, leaving him to find out the extent of his dad’s accident at work from one of his mates during school. To this day, Yates has no idea where his dad is buried.
Fans of the sport – in particular those currently competing – will learn of the consequences of the sacrifices they are making. Once enough muscle is built and a competition identified, it is time to cut down body fat to levels about three to five per cent in order to be ‘stage ready’. That can take anything up to 20 weeks of dieting. During his early days, Yates used to move out of the family home during ‘contest prep’, something which always upset his son Lewis.
Later, Lewis recalls a time he stayed. “He didn’t like me to savour my food too much,” says Yates junior. “One time I was eating a Fab lolly while sitting next to him, eating it bit by bit, sprinkles and chocolate first and he said: ‘get out and eat it in another room’. At the time it was a bit upsetting having your dad do that to you.”
YATES ON DRUGS
“I never see bodybuilding on the sports pages and it is not considered to be a sport because of the drug question – because of steroids – let’s be honest.
“Steroids are used, they are an integral part of professional bodybuilding. Not to say they are not used in other sports. Most sports where you need any increase in size or strength or speed they are being used. It is just not as much maybe, or not as openly.
“I mean, does anyone seriously think there are no drugs in Olympic sports just because they do some kind of testing? They are highly competitive sports with highly competitive people and just with competitive business people do whatever they can do to get ahead.
“That is the nature of business. If you are in business and you can do something to get ahead of your rival business you are going to do it.
“These compounds have been around and have been used since the 50s. It was already ingrained in the sport when I came along.
“Now steroids are so widespread that guys are using them as a cosmetic improvement just as girls are getting breast implants or botox.”
STEROIDS: THE DRAWBACKS
“There are two drawbacks to steroids: one is the potential problems with your health and the second one is that it’s very easy for people to dismiss everything you have put into it by saying, ‘yeah but he takes steroids’.
“Well obviously it is not because there are millions of people who take steroids and there are not millions of people who look like Mr Olympia.
“It gives you a certain advantage but years and years of hard work and years of sacrifice and dieting go into one of those physiques, so for people to dismiss that is one of the main drawbacks.
“But they do not make the champion. The last estimate was that there are more than 100,000 steroid users in the UK and we have not got 100,000 Mr Olympias walking around in the UK.
“I had my local GP on a council estate check me over, nothing sophisticated. I went to him and I said, ‘look, I started using these steroids and I’ve started competing’. and initially he was very negative, until he saw me on the TV doing the World Games and he understood I was doing something serious and I was trying to make a career out of it.
“So that is good advice for someone who is considering doing it. Be responsible if you’re going to do it and monitor your health."
STEROIDS, STROKES, SMOKING
“There are over-the-counter things that could be more dangerous [than steroids]. I’m not saying there are no health risks there, especially if you abuse it and take massive amounts.
“Anything could harm you but, used in a controlled way, it is mostly in the long term where you are looking at dangers. It is like smoking, if you smoke 20 fags a day for a year or something it probably won’t have that much effect on your long-term health.
"But if you are smoking that much for 10 or 15 years then we all know the consequences of that. I’d put it [steroids] in a category like that – though probably not as bad as smoking.
“Some people take massive amounts of steroids thinking it is going to help them get there quicker and it doesn’t, so there are people who have health problems in the short term and there are people with health problems in the long term, with increased risk of heart attacks and strokes – and that will be the same with cigarettes.”
TESTING CREATES UNFAIRNESS
“It [sport] would be more honest [if you abolished testing]. With the drug tests throughout the ages you actually create more of an imbalance because, the people with the funding and the doctors, they can really avoid getting a positive [test] and will be at a bigger advantage than someone from a poor country or less facilities, so does it make it a fairer or even sport?
“It [taking steroids] is not like you are putting a rocket pack on your back in the 200m, you still have to run it, it is still your body, you’re enhancing an aspect of it. I actually think it will be more honest not to have the drug test.
“The guy who used to supply me steroids in the 1980s had customers who were household names and that was back then, 30 years ago, and I’m sure nothing has changed.”
WHY I STARTED BODYBUILDING
“I never started bodybuilding because I thought, 'I’m not big enough, I’m not strong enough'. If you look back at my earliest photos, they would probably do well in a fitness contest now, so I probably came from a different point of view.
“A lot of people, especially the young guys, ask me, ‘When you look back at those photos, don’t you feel like ‘man I wish I looked like that now?’’ Not at all, that doesn’t apply to what I am doing now. I need a functional body that can cycle up hills. Before, I could lift 600lbs in squats and all incredible stuff in the gym but if I walked a couple of miles I’d probably get out of breath. So it’s just not practical for me now, that’s the way I look at it.
“As long as I’m in good physical shape, that’s a passion for me, to be physically fit. That’s the main thing now, the look is secondary.
“But if you start training and building your body because you feel inadequate or not confident then your whole confidence is tied up with having that physique then of course it’s very hard to let go of it because you think, 'now I’m bigger and stronger and people respect me more and I feel more confident' and people don’t want to give that up.
“I mentioned that with the whole steroid thing; once you get on the merry-go-round, if your self-esteem is tied up with having big muscles, you’re not going to want to let go of that.”
NIGHT THAT LED TO PRISON
During the riots in Birmingham in 1981 Yates, who was then in a skinhead gang, was out for the evening when on of his friends decided to undress a mannequin from the smashed shop window of a gentlemen’s outfitters. The rest of the glass already broken soon came crashing down.
“Within about 30 seconds there were 20 coppers on top of us,” said Yates, who served three months in a youth detention centre. It was in there, amid a cacophony of crying kids, that the penny dropped and not just because he found bodybuilding.
“Something that sticks in my mind was a guy having an incident with one of the screws,” said Yates. “The prison officer was saying, ‘if you don’t change your attitude, you are going to spend the rest of your life in and out of prison’. And the guy looked him in the eye and said, ‘yeah and I don’t give a ****’.
“And I thought to myself, ‘well I clearly do give a ****’. I never want to be in this situation again where I am not in control of my life and not free to do what I want, where I want and when I want to do it. You are a number - you’re not even a person.
“The only thing I knew was that this thing I was doing [bodybuilding] was positive and if I did it and was disciplined enough, something good was going to come out of it.
“Three years later I was British champion. I didn’t have a car, no spare money but I didn’t care, I was really enjoying what I was doing.”
GAZZA WOULDN’T JUST DO BALL TRICKS:
"It was a big thing in the gym world in the UK what I achieved but that wasn’t really reflected in the media. There was one TV show who were trying to put me in a position where I couldn’t come out and talk about the sport.
"They wanted me to come on and just pose in my posing trunks – but then you are just a spectacle. I said I’d love to come on but I want to come on with my clothes on, then afterwards I can do some posing. But I would like to sit down and have a conversation because you are not in a position to get any point across if you are there in your underwear – and they couldn’t understand it.
"At the time Paul Gascoigne was the top footballer in the country and I said, ‘listen, if you get Gazza to come on TV, you won’t expect him to come on in his football kit and kick the ball around doing tricks for you, that’s what you are asking me to do. I would like to get some points across about my sport and hopefully people can understand it a bit more and appreciate what goes into it, instead of being a monkey in a cage'."
ME AND SHAWN RAY
"We were never anything like friends. We were polar opposites. If anything Shawn represented the previous face of bodybuilding. He was from California, he was a good looking guy, seemed to have success very early and he was quite vocal and cocky. And I represented the new breed, raw, working class, lifting heavy weights, nothing to do with California and the beach scene. I just wanted to be a monster and break barriers.
"Shawn was always protesting about things and how the posing round should be taken more into account. But isn’t this a physique contest? If the posing round was more important well then, theoretically, Michael Jackson could come along and win that round because none of us can compete with Michael Jackson. But he is not a bodybuilder and it is a bodybuilding contest.
"It’s important to display your physique and the product you have, I agree with that, but what you want to say is that you’re smaller and more agile and better poser and you’d like that to be taken more into account.
"So there was a bit of needle between us. Now we get along OK but the guy used to irritate me with his constant whining."
Yates 2015 interview: https://www.express.co.uk/sport/othersport/593333/body-building-dorian-yates-mr-olympia
Yates Uncut [Part 1, with links to further articles]: