His sharp fuchsia jacket reflecting a new confidence in his stance and spring in his step, Jason Manford feels a surprising lightness in his slim shoulders.
The comedian reveals he has shed almost 3st since New Year’s Day when he made a resolution to lose weight.
But it’s not just a physical thing, this light, carefree feeling.
It comes from not worrying about how heavy he is. He says: “You get to the point where you go ‘Am I getting enough joy out of life if I’m thinking about my weight?’.
“I think I’ve thought about my weight every day of my adult life.
“Not crying about it, but gone upstairs and tried to put something on that doesn’t fit, or got out of breath chasing the kids. To get to a point where I’m thinking about it in a positive way feels good.”
He admits: “What I don’t want to be thinking about is camera angles, ‘Do I look fat from that angle?… Is my belly showing from there?’”
There seems little danger of that now, having gone from 17st 5lb to 14st 10lb. Seeing the figure on the scales tick down is a constant boost for Jason.
“I get a bit of a buzz out of it,” he says. To discover the TV presenter has been troubled by his appearance all these years is a surprise.
For many years it was his shtick. It was during an early stand-up gig aged 17 that he was first called “the fat Michael Owen”.
The heckle flew out of the baying crowd and whacked the Mancunian harder than any football.
But if briefly winded, he decided it was quite good, and that he would use it.
“I remember going ‘What?’. Obviously everyone is a fat version of a professional athlete,” he laughs.
“But then I started to write jokes about being overweight – you can take the power away from the bully or the heckler – they were my defence.
“I used it a lot, the fat Michael Owen was one of my first jokes at my first Live at the Apollo appearance.”
It stuck. Jason, who was collecting bottles at a Manchester comedy club before getting a chance on stage, rapidly grew in popularity.
He joined Channel 4 panel show 8 Out of 10 Cats, then began presenting BBC programme The One Show in 2010. In an interview at the time, co-host Alex Jones was asked to name one of his gags and answered: “He’s a fat Michael Owen.”
Jason, 40, says: “Most comics I thought were funny were overweight. If you are lean and good-looking an audience will go ‘What’s your struggle been?’.
“You think ‘Will I still be funny if I’m slim?’. I had a routine about getting stuck in a water slide as someone was coming down behind me.
“It was a good 20-minute routine and I thought, ‘If I did start losing some weight now, I’d have to lose these jokes’.”
While quipping on stage that Vimto and Jaffa Cakes should be included in your five a day, off stage Jason was repeatedly trying diets, at best losing a couple of stone, then gaining it again.
A few years ago his doctor warned him he was obese. Climbing on the scales on New Year’s Day and seeing he was 17st 5lb shocked him into action.
He began recording his weight every day and counting calories – aiming for 1,500 to 2,000 a day – and keeping in deficit, walking more, going to the gym maybe twice a week, but not banning any food.
When we speak he is 14st 10lb, and has managed to get in size 34 jeans after reaching size 40.
He says: “I tried every diet – Keto, Atkins, Cambridge, low carbs. I had a colonic once and thought ‘I won’t be doing that again’. One year it [was] just milkshakes – I lost weight but felt rotten. One awful one [was] a 10-day fast with water with maple syrup, lemon, cayenne pepper. It was awful – you couldn’t be more than two doors away from a toilet.”
The key now, he says, is keeping it simple – eating less and moving more.
Jason has been supported by his wife and children – he has four from his first marriage, and two from his second – but also by a Facebook group he set up in 2017 during an earlier diet attempt.
The Jason Manford Weight Loss Support Group – initially The Jason ManFat Weight Loss Group – has 78,000 members. They include new mums, people trying to avoid weight loss surgery, even a woman who needed to lose weight to qualify for fertility treatment and who now has a child.
Manchester City fan Jason, who has appeared in musicals such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, says: “Often, caring about appearance can be seen as a female thing. So to see some of the men say ‘I’ve been struggling’ is moving.
“They can laugh about being the chunky one of their friends’ group, but actually they don’t like it and don’t want to be that person any more.”
Is that him to some degree? “I guess so,” he says. He insists his weight hasn’t made him “sad”, but admits to low mood and anxiety earlier this year. Various things were on his mind. He says: “The times we are going through, wondering if you will work again; my gran’s not getting any younger, health with my parents; and then my kids.
“There’s a presumption you’re on the telly and you’re fine, but like anyone, your problems are your problems.”
Last week he had surgery to deal with one problem – bone spurs in his ankles.
He says: “I’ve been meaning to have it done for a while as it’s been causing me a bit of pain, but it’s all good now.”
His weight loss has helped his outlook. Jason still has treats, the odd pudding or kebab, he just keeps an eye on calories.
From August he will start a 180-date tour called Like Me. Minus fat jokes.
Can he still be funny as a thinner man? “Onlytime will tell,” he says laughing. “I’m not worried about going on tour and looking like an Adonis, that is never going to happen.”