No tricks to fitness, it's mind over matter
Tanya Sweeney talks to mentalist Keith Barry about making the weight vanish, staying in shape while touring with his show, and recovering from his 2007 accident
When he's not hacking into brains, Keith Barry is also wowing crowds with daredevil stunts and feats; something he needs to be in tip-top condition for. And even amid the carousel of his hectic life – regular US travel, nationwide touring – his workout regime rarely suffers.
"It can be difficult when you're on the road for two-and-a-half months, but I get a head start on the diet by drinking a smoothie for breakfast," he notes. "I stock up on nuts, protein shakes, protein bars, seeds, and have them everywhere – the car, wherever – for when I'm on the move. In the past, I'd slipped a bit when I was touring; you'd be coming back from a gig and getting coffee and something to go with the coffee, or the lads would want to stop at a chippy, and you'd end up eating crap. But now, I'm better at training on the road . . . These days, I average at four workouts – six days a week when training for stunts and three days a week even when I'm on the road."
Alas, it wasn't always this way: though he was an active teen in his native Waterford, he went to college to get a chemistry degree at the behest of his parents ... and bought into the typical student lifestyle.
"By the time I got to college, I started to drink and got fat," he says. "Back in those days – and you're going back 20 years – there wasn't the information available about food."
Clocking in at sixteen-and-a-half-stone, a wake-up call was just around the corner, alongside his first big career break.
"I remember meeting my manager Eamonn for the very first time, and one of the first things he said to me was, 'you're fat. The first thing you need to go is get to a gym'," he recalls. "It was quite a wake-up call. I got a bit angry initially, like 'the cheek of him', but I'm quite a pragmatic and thick-skinned person, so I just went ahead and joined the gym."
And give it his all he promptly did, dropping three stone from his frame in two months.
"I was always kind of an average weight, but got a bit chubby," he explains. "If you look at the first TV stuff I did years ago, I've a pretty chubby look about me. I went at it quite hard in the gym at the time. If any footage of me ever came out from those days, I would genuinely die. I did step aerobics to lose the weight, and then I literally ran and ran the weight off on a treadmill."
Five years ago, he met trainer Paul Byrne ... and has been a regular at his gym since. The impetus for sourcing a personal trainer wasn't borne so much out of vanity as sheer necessity. In 2007, Keith and his manager Eamonn were badly injured in a crash; Keith suffered severe trauma to his left leg and knee.
"I did physiotherapy after that with Mark McCabe, a great guy who literally got me back on my feet. A while later, I looked at myself and realised I was half the man I was before the accident. I looked terrible. All of my muscle had wasted away."
Regardless, Paul and Keith's trainer, Maija Rumjanceva, put Keith through his paces once he walked through their door. "Maija is pretty merciless, which I like. Within six months, my whole body had transformed. I had a 32in waist, which I probably hadn't had since I was 16."
As to the secret of his success with BodyByrne's regime, he adds: "They take no prisoners. I've trained with trainers in LA and they get complacent. They're used to dealing with celebrity egos, so they cotton-wool you a bit. Maija likes to chat and all, but chat comes second to the workout."
All the while, Maija is mindful of Keith's physical on-stage requirements: "If, for example, I'm doing an escape act that I need to train for, we'll train differently," says Keith. "I'll be hanging upside down on monkey bars and doing weird manoeuvres. On stage, if I need to get flexible to a point where I practically need to dislocate my shoulder to escape a device, I need to strengthen my shoulders up.
"On stage a few years ago, I had to escape from a 100ft rope that two random guys from the audience would tie me up in, and my head was also wrapped in cling film," he explains. "I had to train for that by holding my breath for two minutes at a time while I trained. Seriously, Maija had a clothes peg on my nose."
Keith's laser-like focus and dedication has always paid off: once he finishes up on his forthcoming Irish tour, he will continue filming the pilot for a light entertainment show in the UK. All the while, his career in the US is always bubbling under nicely with regular TV specials. And amid the regular commutes to LA or New York, Barry still manages to keep his regime on an even keel.
"The thing is, when you get used to having a trainer, it's hard to train without one," he muses. "I don't push myself to the same extent without a trainer, though when I'm in LA I mix it up. I'll train on my own or with a mate. If they're going to the gym, I'll tag along."
While TV3's Brain Hacker is largely concerned with messing with the minds of the great Irish public, Barry's celebrity friends are still in the picture.
His rolodex of buddies – both on-screen and off – reads like a who's who of Hollywood: think Matthew McConaughey, Keanu Reeves, Nicole Scherzinger and Justin Timberlake.
Though he is doubtless in tip-top shape, does he ever suffer even a mild crisis of confidence when faced time and time again with Hollywood's physical ideal?
"Not really ... for me it's about being in good nick and not carrying extra weight on screen. I'm getting close to 40 and I just want to stay healthy and ensure my body's gonna keep going at the pace it has been. I love Hollywood – the madness, the chaos – but I'm not a fella for waxing or Botox," he adds with a laugh.
Keith Barry's Brain Hacker tour hits Athlone, Thurles, Waterford, Arklow, Portlaoise, Naas, Dublin, Letterkenny, Tullow, Castleblayney, Galway, Ennis, Drogheda, Mullingar, Carrick-On-Shannon, Sligo, Killarney, Wexford, Cork, Limerick, Cavan, Kilkenny, Navan, Clonmel, and Donegal from March 14-May 25. keithbarry.com.