The first time James Smith flew first class, he asked the cabin crew a question which baffled them: "when do we get to eat?"
James's shock at the response ("your chef can cook you what you want whenever you want") reveals a man whose ascension had been both rapid and unexpected. "I was like, chef? What? I was still buzzing over having metal cutlery!"
The high life came as a result of the 29-year-old British-born Personal Trainer becoming an unlikely fitness influencer since moving to Bondi at the end of 2016. His quick rise to Insta-fame (292.2k Followers) is, perhaps, ironic: Instagram is one of his many targets. ("Want an app that'll demoralise you fifteen times a day? Just download Instagram.")
Profanity for engagement
Smith's controversial approach to health has made him a cult-like figure in the health and fitness world.
It's the swearing. It's very much part of his brand, and what has catapulted him to social stardom. His videos to his 326k Facebook followers are almost always expletive-ridden.
"I'm intentionally crass, so my videos will be engaging" he says.
The videos create 15 per cent conversion to the James Smith Academy, where members receive an online training program and no-bullshit health information via bespoke videos.
In his renowned videos, James is refreshingly candid but unflinching. No topic is off limits, and his truths border on brutal. His unique take differs from your polished, pristine traditional health influencer: his advice cuts through 'wellness' myths and marketing and falls back on common sense.
Celery and celebrities
His delivery is often comically exasperated, both in his videos and his posts. One recent post lampooned the before/after bikini shot, with a mocking picture and caption: "I made two-to-three celery juices a day and washed my genitals with them. I can feel the difference already!"
When we meet at a cafe he works from daily in Bondi, I'd love to say that the swearing is all a persona, but it isn't. Every other word is "f***." Somehow, it's more charismatic than confronting.
"Celebrity endorsements are lying" he says.
"They've changed their bikini and held it in a bit. Or it's photoshopped. All the celebrity women, like Katie Price, who posed for BoomBod (which markets itself as a weight loss drink) didn't need to lose fat."
It's a topic he posts about regularly, with devastating wit, but a serious undertone.
"These are impressionable teenagers. It's sending the wrong message." The worst, he says, are reality TV stars. "They're a hairdresser one week then go on Love Island the next. They're getting £2000 (A$3666) for a post promoting lies. Why not do a nightclub appearance instead? Or go back to hairdressing? They don't realise the damage they're doing."
So here it is guys! 😍✊🏻💦 - It’s not been the easiest month but over the last 2 weeks I’ve really detoxed and alkalised stuff around the house. - . Over those tough 3 weeks I implemented a fasting protocol where I didn’t eat until first thing in the day and reduced sugar by eating more fruit. - Over that 2 month hard period I tracked my cortisol and kept insulin from wrecking my love life. I made 2-3 celery juices a day and washed my genitals with them and I can feel the difference already. - I was in a full skate of Ketosis for 20-40 minutes a day and colonically irritated myself each lunchtime with apple cider vinegar. - Couldn’t have made this LEGITIMATE 👀 transformation without my Sponsors BoomBod & The Daily Mail who definitely didn’t pay me to make this transformation. #lAD
On certain topics, he comes into his own with that characteristic honesty. One is the calorie deficit, which is why people scream it at him in the street.
"Anyone who has ever lost fat in history has done so by a calorie deficit in a sustainable way. Everyone else promising weight loss is selling a dream whereby consumers have to stay within your method, without seeing the principle."
Another topic given the James Smith treatment is steroids.
He admits to taking them once ("they ruined weight training for me and skewed my relationship with my body") because he bought into a certain idea of what a PT should look like.
"The lack of transparency with steroid use skews men's perception of what's accomplishable in a year. No-one with an average body has been on the cover of a fitness magazine in ages. I'm probably Sydney's only personal trainer with over 100k followers without a six pack. I'm not overly bothered by that" he says, adding that the Brazilian ju-jitsu he practices daily, doesn't require one.
Performance or profit?
He's concerned about the multi-million dollar fitness industry pushing pricey products onto men and creating body dysmorphia.
"People don't need all this heavy supplementation. It's nothing but a revenue builder. Guys who've taken steroids for ten years promote supplements that do nothing. Stick him on gear, cash in – that's their attitude. Get educated, I say. Learn the fundamentals."
Why do people buy it?
He's frank about this, too: "People are gullible and desperate. Easy prey."
Australia, he says, has the "world's best lifestyle – and coffee." But Australians are, he says, obsessively body-conscious.
"I think it's the weather and a Sydney thing. Aussies take care of themselves – but they're the most narcissistic and insecure people too. The Australian fitness industry can overcomplicate fitness with jargon but it's pseudo science in an attempt to sound superior. Really, you have to stick to the basics."
It really is all about the calorie deficit.
And that's the last truth bomb we share as he slurps the last of his green smoothie. He's off to record some more home truths for his eager followers.