For Olivia Cox, cover star for our April 2017 issue (on sale 23 February), fitness has always been a big part of her life. At one time it was an essential aspect of her career in the British Military. Now it’s the rock that keeps her stable, while working in the chaotic world of the media.
If you’ve not already come across Olivia before, perhaps presenting at London Fashion Week or fronting a campaign for Bobbi Brown, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to discover she’s a TV and radio presenter, fashion, fitness and beauty blogger and is currently filming her debut film role. Yes, she’s flippin’ gorgeous, charismatic and makes running look more glamorous than a night at the Oscars.
You’d be more surprised, though, to discover she’s served as an officer in the British Military, run a three-hour-40-minute marathon and couldn’t be more elated by the prospect of running 26.2 miles in desperately humid conditions this May at the Street Child Sierra Leone Marathon. This lady is a certainly tough one and not one to shy away from a challenge.
Joining the military upon leaving school, fitness has always been – and remains – a huge part of Olivia’s life. “I was 18 when I was told by a colonel at my school careers evening that if I joined I’d get paid to go skiing (I love skiing!),” she explains. “As soon as I started telling people I was applying to join the Army, I got laughed at and told I was too small, blonde and girly to get in. I’m super competitive, so that was it – I had to pass. I did, and I ended up at Sandhurst [Royal Military Academy].”
Olivia started running before joining the Army, but really found a love for it once stationed in Germany. “There’s something so inspiring about having the Osnabrück forest on your backdoor,” she says. “One of the big challenges upon leaving the Army was finding ways of fitting running and fitness into my life when it was no longer a regimented part of my day. But it’s just a case of planning a little more carefully.”
While her time training at Sandhurst and serving as an officer tested and developed her physical strength, mentally and emotionally she believes it was an invaluable learning experience. “Training at Sandhurst was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” says Olivia. “But it’s also an incredible grounder. I remember looking across the mess hall at Prince Harry, sitting on his own, with crazy-short hair, thinking, ‘You all right mate?’ That’s the thing about being an Army officer – one minute you’re wet, tired, hungry and secretly hating life. Next you’re getting silver service, black-tie dinners in the mess. It’s a very peculiar existence. Although training was tough, I have no regrets about joining the military. Men and women I served with were inspirational and the most driven people I’ve ever met. When I left Sandhurst, my parents said I’d changed. I couldn’t immediately see it, but, as time goes on, I’ve noticed how much more confident and pragmatic I am.”
Her down-to-earth demeanour was apparent upon first meeting Olivia – as was her degree of self-drive. After a quick cup of tea
and a chat before our photoshoot, it soon became clear she’s perfected the art of spinning plates. Not only does she have her own breakfast show on Fm1Fm radio and a weekly radio show on Hoxton Radio, she keeps busy blogging, presenting regularly on TV, anchoring a new adventure travel show on Sky and launching her first jewellery collection – oh, yes, and she has marathon training to do too. She tells us she likes being busy, though, as she trots back to the van for another costume change.
Olivia’s career took an enormous change at the age of 22. Obtaining a degree in history from the University of Exeter, while serving part-time in the reserves, she decided to leave the Army and begin a media career as a style and beauty writer, soon becoming a well-established name in the field. “I enjoyed the challenge of a career U-turn,” she says. “Going from wearing green kit with mud on my face to getting chauffeured around London with people looking after me has been a huge culture shift. But I think my background is what keeps me grounded and is to thank for where I am now.”
For Olivia, maintaining her fitness – and continuing to run – as she transitioned from life on the barracks to in front of the camera has also played a role in keeping her grounded and true to herself. “In an industry of such highs and lows, plus huge uncertainty, running is the constant that helps remind me who I am,” she explains. Like most, she also finds running a crucial outlet in managing her emotions. “Running is my release. I train when I’m happy and I train when I’m sad,” she says.
This was never more true than in 2012, when Olivia run her first marathon, the London Marathon, in memory of an ex-boyfriend who’d been tragically killed in Afghanistan the previous year. “Dave and I had always planned to run a marathon together, so I really felt like I was running for him,” she says. “I finished in 3hrs 40mins which was a time I’m sure he’d have been proud of.”
Keen to run a second marathon, Olivia signed up to this year’s Street Child Sierra Leone Marathon – a race whereby funds are used to help some of the world’s poorest children access education. While she anticipates that “re-visiting the head-space [she] was in for the 2012 marathon will be difficult” psychologically, she is keen to re-experience the marathon, while raising money for a cause she feels passionate about. “The Sierra Leone marathon is unique, in that all participants are running for the same cause, which lends a sense of camaraderie I miss from my Army days. We get to visit the people we are fundraising for, which I think will be a hugely rewarding experience. I love a challenge and am obscenely competitive. I can’t think of a better way to push myself than running in extreme heat and humidity, thousands of miles from home!”
That said, she recognises that the challenge will be no mean feat and is throwing all she has into her training. And, given her jam-packed schedule, has had to trial new innovative ways to fit in sessions. “My travel diary this year is really hectic, so I’ve downloaded a new fitness app called Vent Up,” she explains. “It’s basically like the fitness version of Uber, and gets a PT to you within two hours, whether you’re at home or not. It’s perfect for when I’m travelling for filming work with long hours and busy days. Since the middle of last year, I’ve been training with a PT at Duo Chelsea. Each week I do two sessions with Kristy, and make up my remaining three sessions with boxing at BXR and running outside.”
While she did admit to us that, given that obstacles “like heat, humidity and jet lag will keep things interesting”, and that she’s “just hoping to finish”, during out morning together Olivia never once gives the impression she might have bitten off more than she can chew. The erstwhile Army officer is not one to be defeated.
Indeed she’s grateful she has the opportunity – and the choice – to be able to train for such events. “I have the hugest respect for active people whose ability to train is taken away from them through illness, disability or misfortune,” she says. “I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t work out.”
Hear about Olivia’s favourite routes and training tips here: