Lords of the slimmers: Incredible shrinking men

Heavyweight Hollywood director Peter Jackson's startling transformation into an elfin charmer proves its not just female celebrities who crave to the pounds disappear. John Walsh takes a closer look at the Tolkien king and five fellow chubbies who have become shadows of their former selves
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The Independent Online

Peter Jackson, film director. Lost five stone

It's perhaps the most spectacular physical special effect since Andy Serkis metamorphosed into Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. The most startling, film-related bodily transformation since John Hurt endured eight hours in make-up to become The Elephant Man. Peter Jackson, the New Zealand film director, shocked fans and media watchers when he appeared in New York on Tuesday at the premiere of his £116m remake of King Kong, looking positively slender.

Gone was the triumphantly unhealthy, corpulent, bespectacled über-Hobbit in the straining tuxedo and the sweat-streaked hair who bore away a dozen Oscars at the end of the Rings trilogy. Instead, Mr Jackson, 44, appeared healthy, fit, specs-free and, despite his unrepentantly wild hairstyle, almost handsome. Photographs from the Tolkien film sets had shown a grotesquely overblown figure in elephantine shorts, XXXXL T-shirt and tree-trunk calves; the director's new incarnation would not look out of place in a Hugo Boss catalogue.

He revealed that he had lost five stone in 10 months, though other reports put the figure at up to 110 lbs as consternation spread through the diet-conscious purlieus of Hollywood.

What was his secret? Annoyingly, it isn't a diet-and-fitness regimen that many people could easily follow. Mr Jackson disdains to follow any South Beach fad, any low-carb nonsense from the likes of Dr Atkins. His weight-loss strategy, he says, involves intense work - a punishing, 21-hour working day on the set of King Kong, shooting by night, cutting and surviving on three hours' sleep a night.

He had laser surgery to improve his eyesight (because he had "grown tired of being outside with rain and dust on the glasses.") As for sustenance, "I just got tired of being overweight and unfit, so I changed my diet from hamburgers to yoghurt and muesli and it seemed to work", he told one reporter; to another, he confessed: "It was just cutting out junk food." It sounds too simple to be true. The New York Post lost no time in dubbing it "The Skull Island Diet."

Jackson's weight loss flies in the face of an unwritten law that says the best movie directors tend, in their prime, to be built on generous lines (Fellini, Hitchcock, Eisenstein, Welles, Coppola); but he is in the vanguard of a remarkable trend: famous fat men in sporting and artistic circles who have shed huge amounts of weight to become unfeasibly slim. From Alexander McQueen, the once-podgy fashion designer to Robbie Williams, the once-beflabbed pop god, former committed endomorphs are discovering new and healthier lives - even if it means stitching up half their stomach capacity or Bungee-jumping down Californian mountains. Here are some of the front-runners.

Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lost: 70lb (five stone) in 10 months

It was nine years ago, in 1996, that a frightening figure was seen in public. He resembled a shrunken, indeed wizened, version of the comfortably rounded ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer under Mrs Thatcher. He had been portly, well-fed, possessed like Shakespeare's Justice of a "fair round belly with good capon lined." He looked like one of the business fat-cats for whom he once obligingly reduced the top level of income tax from 98 to 40 per cent. The new version, by comparison, looked more like a skinny marmoset. Colleagues in the Lords were alarmed that he might have got cancer. But he hadn't. He'd shed five stone, lost 12 inches from his waist and reduced his collar size by three and a half - all because of a diet tailor-made for him by his wife, Therese. It was low-fat, low-starch and free of sugar. No butter, no milk, no chocolate - and, most painfully of all, to certain temperaments, no cheese and (aargh!) no alcohol. Despite these privations, The Nigel Lawson Diet Book became a Number One bestseller.

Alexander McQueen, fashion designer. Lost: 56 pounds (four stone)

When he was appointed head designer at Givenchy in 1996 as the successor to John Galliano, the East-End fashionisto became noticeably larger, perhaps as an expression of inner turmoil and dissatisfaction, perhaps not. He had a big chocolate habit and his waistline grew to 38 straining inches. To achieve his current slimline figure, he embarked on a course of liposuction - but later admitted it hadn't worked entirely well for him. He supplemented it with a dietary drug called chitosan and rations himself, these days, to a small packet of Cadbury's Chocolate Buttons once a week.

Jack Osbourne, celebrity. Lost:70lb (five stone) in six months

This summer, internet sites processing information about the Osborne clan began circulating photographs of Jack Osborne, the multifariously unattractive son of Ozzy and Sharon. Once a moon-faced, spotty, defeated-looking, 16.5-stone ugly duckling with a double chin and middle-parted ringlets, he emerged transformed into a svelte 11-stone lounge lizard with an ironing-board stomach, a suit and the air of one who has recently discovered Lynx deodorant. Net gossips instantly began asking: "Did he get the gastric?" The truth was more interesting. Like Peter Jackson, he found a training programme that coincided with earning a living. Commissioned to front an ITV2 "extreme sports" show called Jack Osbourne's Exciting Ways to Die, he went into a tough detox programme in Thailand (with daily colonic irrigations), followed by three weeks at an élite fitness camp near Bangkok to learn Muay Thai, or Thai kick-boxing. He lost 20lb, and another 20 mountain-climbing and bungee-jumping in California. It probably helped that he also gave up drinking, and the painkilling drug OxyContin. These days he gets up at 7am and takes a 45-minute run before breakfasting on fruit salad. Not very rock 'n' roll, but still.

Diego Maradona, former footballer, now TV presenter. Lost: 110lb (eight stone) in 7 days

In March this year, Diego Maradona, the Argentine football player and handball prestigititator, who had metamorphosed in recent years to the proportions of a human-sized Big Mac, checked in to a clinic at the Colombian seaside resort of Cartagena and had a "gastric bypass operation." As with the Nuffield operation, this treatment contrives to shrink the stomach area to a pouch which is connected to midway along the small intestine. The larger stomach area is "fenced off" and becomes merely a producer of gastric juices, while the smaller one admits only tiny amounts of food and drink - just two fluid ounces. By limiting the amount of food a person can consume, it forces the body to use stored fat instead. When Maradona went in, he weighed 226lb. When he emerged, he had shed 110lb (nearly eight stone, just under half his body weight.) Impressed by the results of the iconic footballer, several obese Colombians flocked to the clinic this summer.

Buster Bloodvessel, singer. Lost: 252lb (18 stone) in 10 months

Until this year, Douglas Trendle, better known as the pop singer Buster Bloodvessel, was a spectacular flab-mountain of 31 stone. The colossal front man of the 1980s band Bad Manners continues to perform 25 years after his heyday, singing his hits "My Girl Lollipop" and "Lip Up Fatty" offering new life and hope to thousands of flesh Zeppelins. "I was living up to an image," he said. "People expected Buster to be huge. I liked the idea of being fat - eating, drinking, being jolly - to me those are fine qualities." Fine, but potentially lethal. Performing every night put a palpable strain on his heart, but surgeons refused to operate on him, for fear that he might not survive. Then Professor Michael McMahon of Leeds Nuffield Hospital stepped in. His pioneering surgery involves inserting a tube into the stomach, stapling the stomach alongside the tube, cutting off the blood supply from the remaining stomach area, leaving the functioning area reduced by half. As a result Bloodvessel shed an astonishing 18 stones over 10 months.