Pippa almost upstaged her sister when we got that famous view of her sensational bottom at the Royal Wedding. And since then, everyone wants one. Margot Campbell, pilates guru and the instructor behind Pippa’s behind, tries not to reveal any secrets.
Gaining entry to Margot Campbell’s studio isn’t easy. Not just because the building in which it is located – at the end of a Southwest London street safely hidden from the gaze of the paparazzi – is so difficult to find, but also because demand for Margot’s time, and her own brand of pilates, is so great that the only hour available is 6am on a dark, damp winter’s morning.
Carefully following the instructions I have been given – to ‘ring the white doorbell when you arrive’ – I wait to be scanned by the security camera and buzzed in for my meeting with Margot. Inside I follow a maze of anonymous doors and make my way – in the footsteps of the privileged and perfectly formed clientele that Margot is anxious to protect – to the place where miracles truly can happen.
Pilates has always had the power to change bodies. A system of integrated physical exercises originally called Contrology that was evolved by Joseph Pilates (who died in 1967 aged 83), it focuses on strengthening the core postural muscles that support the spine and balance the human body. The beauty of the system is that it lengthens, strengthens and tones the body without building muscle bulk so that you become lean and toned and your body will be, as Pilates himself put it, ‘as supple as that of a cat and not muscular like that of the body of a brewery truck horse’. Pilates once claimed of his method that ‘in ten sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 you will see the difference and in 30 you will have a whole new body’.
Margot’s interpretation of Pilates’s system (which she calls Pilates on the Go) adds a cardio element to the moves, boosting the effects in such a way that she has built up a growing group of devoted fans that includes a clutch of celebrities (none of whom she will name) and, most famously, ‘her royal hotness’ Pippa Middleton. ‘Pippa started coming just after I opened the studio in June 2009. Some of my clients are well-known and some are not, but they are all equally important; no one gets special treatment. In my group sessions – which are limited to seven – someone well-known might find herself working out next to an ordinary mum from round the corner, but no one cares and no one is treated differently,’ says Margot in cautious tones once she has allowed me into the studio and we are drinking cups of chai latte.
We are meeting today to talk about her new book which gives us all the chance to achieve, in our own homes, the kind of results Margot delivers in her studio. With a 14-day programme – including a healthy eating plan – and specially formulated short-burst work-outs to improve specific parts of your body such as your arms or your tummy, the book has the power to change lives.
Since it was revealed that Pippa Middleton is one of her clients, the press attention has made Margot nervous of saying very much about her own private life, let alone revealing anything about her involvement in the toning and moulding of the derrière that – clad in a white Alexander McQueen bridesmaid’s dress at her sister’s royal wedding – triggered worldwide interest, including being ‘a hit’ with Justin Bieber and prompting Justin Timberlake to comment that ‘us American males are big fans of Pippa’.
In fact, the effect of the frenzied Pippa publicity has made Margot so secretive that she will not even reveal her age, laughing when I randomly suggest numbers from 21 (‘a lovely age,’ she says) to 85 (‘that’s a lovely age, too’). Whatever age she is – and I suspect she is in her 30s – Margot is clearly a true follower of Joseph Pilates who claimed that ‘the only real guide to your true age lies not in years or how you think you feel, but as you actually are as infallibly indicated by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life’. On that basis, she may well be 21.
Born and raised in East Kilbride (she has a soft, lilting Scottish accent), Margot – who is single – didn’t set out to become the go-to guru of pilates. Having completed a degree in marine biology at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, she moved on to the University of Wales to do a master’s in environmental science and, after a period living in Malaysia, she returned to the UK and began working as a health and safety consultant to a variety of different companies.
Always active and interested in different methods of achieving fitness, she loved running and aerobics classes but wanted to find something that was relaxing and could introduce some balance into her hectic life. Pilates started out as a hobby, but when Margot trained as a teacher and developed her own methods, it gradually became an alternative career. ‘I started out thinking that I would teach pilates part time and continue with my career as a health and safety consultant. I called it Pilates on the Go because I began by teaching clients in their homes and was always on my bike cycling from client to client. But as my client base grew I decided to open my own studio and see how it went, knowing that if it wasn’t a success I could go back to my original career. Luckily I loved it, and it has more than worked out,’ she says with a grin.
It isn’t just Margot’s method that is a little bit different from an ordinary pilates class – so too is her studio. Bright and light, it has all the usual equipment that Joseph Pilates developed (with names such as the Cadillac and the Wunda Chair), as well as all the ‘toys’ (from small, spiked foot massage balls to the familiar big pilates exercise balls) but the cool cream interior is brightened by pillows and props that Margot has had covered in pretty Cath Kidston designs. ‘And there is absolutely no whale music or sounds of seagulls – it will be Adele or Beyoncé and sometimes classical music,’ she says with a laugh as she attempts to instruct me in some basic moves.
There is, she says, no age limit to pilates. Her oldest client is in his 80s and her youngest ever – another client’s child – is just ten. ‘It totally works at any age. A lot of clients are worried about the problem of childhood obesity and with less sport at school and today’s sedentary lifestyles, it’s very easy for children to put on weight. So they come with their parents and I teach them some simple exercises that they can do at home. The great thing about pilates is that whatever your age you can incorporate it into your daily life,’ she says.
Margot’s studio clients will initially attend a private session with her in which she devises with them a customised routine that will help them improve their general fitness while toning and moulding those parts of the body that they feel are a problem. ‘Sometimes the perceptions that women have of their problem areas are strange. I will have clients who say, “I need to lose two stone” and I think “from where?”, but most of them will need a little coaxing to reveal which bits of their bodies they have issues with. They might confess that their bingo wings are waving at them or that they hate their ankles or their thighs. I am very straight with them, telling them what is achievable if they are prepared to put in the effort.’
Would it be possible, I ask, for Margot to give every woman a perfect Pippa derrière? ‘Well, I can’t take full responsibility for that – Pippa does a lot of other stuff as well and after all it isn’t me who is putting in the effort, it is the client. Most of my clients are into other forms of exercise, too, and I really encourage that. The more you do – swimming, tennis, running, Zumba – the better the results,’ she says, carefully avoiding revealing too much about Pippa’s routine. (On the Pilates on the Go website, Pippa has left a glowing testimonial in which she describes her sessions with Margot as a ‘weekly necessity’.)
But what if, I persist, someone wanted to look as good as Pippa did in that curve-skimming bridesmaid’s gown? ‘Well, you need to work the glutes – those are the gluteal muscles in your bottom – with squats, and the side leg series of movements. Lunges are really good too for lengthening and slimming the leg. If you follow the bottom and thigh work-out in my book – and keep it up – you will definitely notice a difference,’ she says, demonstrating a few of the moves with almost balletic elegance.
Margot doesn’t believe in faddy diets, preferring to follow a sensible eating plan that allows a little bit of everything – even chocolate – and advocates ‘portion control’. Has she ever had a weight problem and what does she weigh? ‘I have no idea what I weigh; I never weigh myself and nobody weighs themselves in the studio. I advise my clients to try to be aware of any weight change in their body or in the tightness of their clothing. Why on earth would anyone – particularly after pigging out at Christmas and the New Year – want to weigh themselves? It’s counterproductive. Every woman sees something in herself that she doesn’t like and you have to remind yourself that few women – even a supermodel like Elle Macpherson or a young woman as slim and fit as Pippa – are going to look good in a bikini in January. I certainly don’t want to look at myself in the mirror in a bikini right now – pale skinned, and probably a few pounds heavier after Christmas – without a wraparound sarong and a fake tan.’
It is just after 7am, and coming to the end of my allotted time for the interview. As I make my way back through the maze of corridors I pass a well-known woman (whose name I cannot reveal) in dark glasses and designer work-out clothes heading towards Margot’s studio. Someone else, I imagine, who wants to discover the secret of looking like ‘her royal hotness’.
Pippa’s praise for Margot
‘As someone who is always “on the go”, pilates has been a wonderful escape from my busy lifestyle in London. Whether it’s seven in the morning or seven at night I always leave feeling calm, refreshed and invigorated. Over the past few months I have noticed a huge difference in my core strength and posture, and couldn’t recommend Margot more highly as an instructor. From breathing techniques and muscle toning to overall flexibility and relaxation, my pilates sessions have become something of a weekly necessity that keeps me fit, happy and energised.’
The Perfect Pilates Bum DVD and Pilates on the Go, Margot Campbell’s book are available on Amazon, or from www.loot.co.za. Enjoy!
Written by Liz Gedye, this piece originally appeared in the Daily Mail