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Mr Motivator on racism: ‘I was asked why I hadn’t said I was black’

TV fitness star Mr Motivator has opened up about the racism he encountered early in his life.

The 67-year-old, whose real name is Derrick Evans, said in an early job interview in Leicester he was asked why he didn’t tell the firm he was black.

He moved to the city from Jamaica aged 10, became a TV regular in the 1990s as Mr Motivator and has this year appeared on the BBC’s HealthCheck UK Live.

Evans is one of many black celebrities to speak about George Floyd’s death.

The unarmed African American’s killing by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis last month has spurred global protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It hurt me watching that, it’s taken me a while to get up and speak about it,” Evans said.

Derrick Evans and friendsDerrick Evans – second from the left on the front – said Leicester in the 1960s was a “melting pot” of cultures

The TV star said his first memory of overt racism was at a job interview at a knitwear firm in Leicester, aged 16.

“I’d spoken to the guy on the phone, I walked in and he asked me ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were black?’.

“And I said to him ‘Because you didn’t tell me you were white’.”

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Derrick Evans and friends
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Evans moved to the UK in 1962 to be with his adoptive father, who had emigrated from Jamaica four years earlier. He spent the next 11 years living in Leicester.

“The government policy during the Windrush years was if you came from a particular island, they would almost recommend that you went and stayed in a particular area,” he said.

“So, for example, in Leicester there were lots of people from Jamaica.”

Derrick Evans on a bikeEven as a young man, Derrick Evans inspired and entertained

Leicester, like it is today, was “a melting pot” of cultures, he said, and he went to school with children from India and Pakistan as well as the West Indies.

But it was when he moved to London in 1973 that Evans became more aware of overt racism.

“I was walking with a white girl under my arm, and people would look at me. I used to turn and wave.”

Derrick EvansEvans first started working in the television industry as a trainer for producers and presenters

He said he continued to encounter prejudice when trying to break into television.

“I was training all the presenters, and a producer said they were going to bring in the keep fit association of Great Britain.

“I pleaded with her to give me a chance to get on TV, and she said the advertisers didn’t want a black man doing fitness on television.”

Latest news and stories from the East Midlands

Eventually he got his big break on GMTV in 1993 as Mr Motivator, the fitness instructor with boundless energy, synonymous with spandex outfits.

“I’ve always really believed that if I just keep on working away, not carry a chip on my shoulder I’d break through,” he said.

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Mr Motivator
Evans continues inspiring people with Mr Motivator regularly performing at festivals

“But it has been tough, even when you break through, you get the feeling that people don’t give you the opportunities to grow.”

Evans, who now lives in Manchester, called on TV producers and people in the media to nurture talent regardless of race, and end what he refers to as “tokenism”.

“We should be giving people the same opportunities and nurturing them and providing them with the right support mechanisms.”

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