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HEALTH & WELLBEING: Radio 1 DJ Greg James on inner confidence and learning to run a half-marathon

By Weekend  |  Posted: August 03, 2014

Radio 1 DJ Greg James

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Radio DJ Greg James knows more than most how to make dreams come true. As he aims for a personal best in the Great North Run, he tells Weekend what motivates him

If you're one of the millions who've seen Greg James' YouTube parody of Miley Cyrus's infamous nudity-filled Wrecking Ball video, chances are you'll find it hard to imagine that the Radio 1 DJ was ever the quiet and reserved type.

But self-confidence wasn't something that came naturally to him when he was younger, he claims, and he can't imagine what being a teenager is like today.

"It must be a nightmare to be a teenager in 2014," says James. "I'd hate it.

"There is just so much pressure. I can't imagine there being social networks at school. You must get upset and distracted by the wrong things.

"I'm 28, and I find it overwhelming the amount of stuff that you have to watch or go through that's just all around you, advertising this is how you should be, this is the thing you should have, this is how cool you are, this is the music you should like," he adds.

"It's really important, I think, to be happy with yourself, and be confident and comfortable with yourself and find your passions. There is so much to see and do that anyone who can stand up and encourage people to just go and do stuff can only be a good thing."

That's kind of what James is hoping to do himself, by taking on his second Bupa Great North Run challenge.

He's currently training for the half-marathon, which takes place on September 7, and, this time, he's determined to smash the time he achieved in 2010.

"Last time, I did it in two hours and eight minutes, which is OK, but I would like to do it much quicker. I'm definitely going to go for sub-two hours, and try to get around the one hour-50, one hour-55 mark," he says.

"I'd like to try and impress myself and prove that I can do it to quite a competitive time.

"Before, my only goal was to not die, survive it and say that I've done it. This time, I wanted to up the stakes a little bit and get a proper training plan in place."

It's all part of his agreement to support Bupa's Your First Step campaign, encouraging people to set goals - and get out there and achieve them.

As well as the satisfaction of meeting his goal, James hopes he can help inspire youngsters to be more active, and develop personal interests beyond social media.

"Being an ambassador for doing fit and healthy things can only be a good thing, because there's much more to life than hashtags," he says. "I think it's important that I try and get across that life's about more than being obsessed with a band, or One Direction, or the Kardashians and stuff.

"It's really important to delete that Kim Kardashian app and get some running shoes on and go and just see the world a little bit. I'm trying to be a positive role model for all that kind of stuff.

"Sport was massively important when I was growing up, and I'd hate to think that it's taking a back seat and kids are obsessed with their phones and on Twitter all the time, or Facebook, or whatever," he adds.

"That's obviously part of life now, but it's really important that you stay healthy, and don't become a fat slob when you're 40!"

Clearly, as his naked-wrecking-ball-swinging action testifies, James doesn't suffer with shyness any more. His career has helped, he says, and his confidence is still growing all the time.

Broadcasting his first ever show on BBC Radio 1 the day after he graduated from the University of East Anglia in 2007, where he studied drama, James went on to gain a regular presenting slot.

Since then, his career's gone from strength to strength; moving from breakfast to the afternoon slot in 2009, and eventually the 4-7pm 'drive time' show which he presents now, garnering him more than a million Twitter followers and a legion of loyal listeners.

He's also done TV work, presenting and appearing as a guest panellist on various shows, and, of course, there have been some unusual opportunities along the way; last year he rowed down Africa's treacherous Zambezi River for Comic Relief.

"They're things I never thought I'd ever do, like running marathons, going down the Zambezi and stuff," he says now. "If I talked to my 13-year-old self now, and said, 'This is what you're doing', he'd never believe me. He'd be too shy and unconfident and worried about everything.

"Now I feel like my job has given me a lot of confidence, so doing things like the Zambezi has been mental. It was really scary. Canoeing past hippos, which are about three metres away, is insane. They are not like [the game] Hungry Hippos, let me tell you!"

Having the chance to experience life in a different culture was invaluable too, and James says the trip helped put things into perspective.

"That's sort of what's made me get on my soap box about this whole 'stop getting obsessed with the wrong things' thing. People there [in Africa] are actually probably happier than a lot of the people in this country, because they don't know any different.

"They don't want to have a new car, a better job, a bigger TV or something, because it's not really part of their life. In a weird way, it's blissful ignorance," he says.

"Obviously, they have huge problems to do with illness and all that kind of thing, but in terms of the superficial stuff that we worry about, it's nonsense.

"They have a really tough time, but when they find a bar near them that has a dodgy satellite link up to watch the football, that's like the best thing of their week.

"That's what I'm talking about," he proclaims passionately. "People getting out there and travelling and seeing these things. I think it makes you a more understanding and interesting person."

Of course, he may be comfortable sharing his philosophical side, but James is happy to admit that he's still the same "silly" person, whose job, essentially, is doing "stupid stuff on the radio or YouTube".

"I don't have any shame any more," he says happily. "Since working at Radio 1, I think you don't take anything too seriously."

Us Brits shouldn't be so serious when it comes to admitting we have goals, too, he reckons.

And that's why he's proud to admit that he's putting in four runs a week, determined to achieve that much-wanted PB in September.

"As a nation, we are shrinking violets really. I think we would benefit from being a bit more positive," says James.

"I think it's great to have a personal goal, you don't need to shout about it necessarily but, personally, it's nice to have something to aim at and feel proud of."

:: Greg James is working towards a PB for the Bupa Great North Run on September 7, to inspire people to challenge themselves as part of Bupa's Your First Step Campaign. For more information visit www.bupa.co.uk/running

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