Health conscious choose Lucozade over champagne

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WILD NEW Year parties are out. Sobriety is in. A record number of Britons, exhausted by 1994 and the excesses of Christmas, last night toasted in the New Year with Lucozade at health farms.

At many of these retreats, the regime was austere. Ragdale Hall, a converted 18th-century hunting lodge in Leicestershire, renounced the traditional New Year's Eve party, did not lay on champagne and ran the usual schedule of exercise, massage, and lifestyle lectures. Last night the bar closed at 10.30pm and any rendition of Auld Lang Syne was confined to the sleeping quarters.

The hardy souls on Ragdale's "Shape up to 1995" package prepared for the New Year with a Paraffin Wax exfoliating treatment, vacuum suction and a cholesterol test.

Dean Hodgkin, former World karate champion and Ragdale's product development manager, said: "We don't put on anything special at all at New Year. We try to promote healthy eating. Our menu is the same as usual. People don't come here to drink. They want to get away from all that."

At 7am, instructions from fitness gurus reverberated through the building as guests switched on videos for their pre-breakfast workout. After unsweetened muesli or a wholemeal muffin (290 calories) there followed a full programme of coaching, facials anddietary advice.

"I compare it to prison, but in the nicest possible way. The beauty therapists are all like prison warders. You don't have to think for yourself," said Gary Dutton, a plastics manufacturer on a four-night stay with his wife.

Many of the guests, who ranged from 30-something couples to middle-aged women on their own, were worn out after a hard year and wanted pampering. Others, who had binged at Christmas, were after a healthy start to 1995. Some were nauseated by the prospectof a New Year bash.

"We don't want to go down to the pub and get drunk - we like the healthy regime," said a retired executive from London.

Traditional party organisers saw their custom slump at New Year as would-be revellers chose to shed pounds. "We are not doing any parties on New Year's Eve and we are one of the biggest companies," said a spokesman for Party Planners.

Other leading health farms such as Hoar Cross Hall in Staffordshire, Chewton Glen in Hampshire, and Henlow Grange in Bedfordshire, reported full bookings over New Year. Champneys, frequented by the Princess of Wales, Elton John and Ringo Starr, has also seen New Year bookings increase.

"An overriding number of people want to be revitalised before they get back to work. It's a relaxation period for them," said Neil Bates, deputy manager at Hoar Cross Hall. "Almost 200 people are booked over New Year."

At Ragdale Hall beauty therapists recommended their in-house hangover cure, the equilibrium massage, to those who over-indulged at Christmas. Meanwhile, gym staff coached the chronically exhausted in "chair fitness", where guests exercised sitting down.

But some spent more time in the smoking room, or "sin bin", than on the treadmill.

Joan Crabtree, head of Cardiff Institute of Higher Education, came to Ragdale on her own. "I came to get away from the stress of education. It's sheer indulgence," she said, stubbing out her second cigarette.

Ragdale's two-night Hogmany package cost between £198-£238 per person.

But not all guests were entirely convinced by the diet of carrot juice, yoghurt and bean sprouts.

Dr Haydn Pugh, a Kent doctor who runs dietary and anti-smoking clinics, smuggled in champagne and wine to quaff at midnight.