• He's a popular TV presenter, but how much do you actually know about Dr Michael Mosley? (BBC Worldwide / Simon Bromley)
From the illness that almost killed him, to the phobia that plagues him, and the unexpected career he gave up before studying medicine and working on TV.
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

10 Jul 2017 - 8:28 AM  UPDATED 15 Nov 2017 - 9:45 AM

We probably all feel like we know Dr Michael Mosley. He's the 5:2 diet guy, a British science journalist, TV presenter, author and human guinea pig who has fronted some of your favourite medical and science shows with his winning smile and infectious enthusiasm. (His latest, Meet The Humans, is coming to SBS tonight, as Dr Mosley and his colleagues take a fascinating look at human behaviour.)

But here's a few things we bet you didn't know about the good doctor.

Doctor knows best

Mosley might be a doctor, but he doesn't always eat his vegetables.

"I'm still not crazy about Brussels sprouts," he tells SBS.

"I'm yet to convince myself. I've tried bacon and all sorts of things with it, but it's the one vegetable I can honestly say I do not greet with any enthusiasm at all."

But the most disgusting thing he's ever eaten is fermented fish: "I had some fermented shark in Iceland and it was vile," he says. 

Mosley has never smoked. Aside from being a "really, really square" teenager, Mosley says his father offered him "something like £100 when I was about 11 if I didn’t smoke before I was 18. It seemed like an inordinately large sum of money so I never felt particularly tempted," he told The Guardian.

He does have a weakness for milk chocolate and donuts. And his other vice is caffeine - Mosley admits to drinking several cups of coffee every day.

But, as he revealed during a recent SBS Facebook Live, it's not such a vice after all.

"I consume quite a lot of coffee, four or five cups a day," he says.

"It’s been linked in big studies to reduced risk of death, strangely enough. Particularly suicide, I don’t know why, but it seems to improve mood. So I’m very happy to consume caffeine, and my gut seems to be very happy with caffeine as well.

"Too much of anything is generally bad. Certainly more than four or five cups a day and the benefits begin to wear off."

He's not the only doctor in the family

Mosley met his wife, Clare Bailey, at medical college. As well as being a practicing GP, she is also a parenting expert and the founder of parentingmatters.co.uk.

The couple have four children together, including a son who is currently studying medicine.

Mosley says his wife and kids are all naturally slim, so although they are supportive of his 5:2 diet, they don't do fasting days with him.

Before he was a doctor or a TV presenter he was ... a banker

Mosley studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford Univeristy, and became a banker after graduating.

But he didn't feel fulfilled by his choice of career, and after a couple of years he left and enrolled in a graduate medical training scheme with the aim of becoming a psychiatrist.

When he became disillusioned by "how little could really be done for people with mental illness" he left medicine, became a trainee producer with the BBC.

"I discussed it with people in the media before I jumped. And they all said: 'No, no, don’t do it. It’s a terrible thing to go into, you should stick with the noble art of medicine'," Mosley told The Guardian.

"And most of the medics said: 'Go, go. It sounds much more fun.' So I flip-flopped quite a bit. I thought I would do it for a year or two and see if it suited me and I found that it did."

He worked behind the camera for 20 years on shows such as The Human Face and Pompeii: The Last Day, before it was suggested he have a go at presenting.   

He has a fear of confined spaces

Mosley is known for putting his body on the line in the shows he makes, but he has only regretted it once. 

"[It was] when I was doing a program about fear, and I'm a bit claustrophobic and I told the producer this and so she said, 'great, let's go caving'," Mosley tells SBS.

"I went to the cave and it wasn't great, but I was fine. And then she said 'go down there' and it was a little crack and I got stuck in the ground and I absolutely freaked. It obviously made good television because there was a lot of screams. But after that when I went into a brain scanner for another documentary I couldn't stay there.

"So I can no longer do that stuff, because as soon as I'm there, particularly when they put the head clamp on, I just go, 'no, I can't', and then I feel unreasonable fear and panic and I have to get out. So it's not like it's triggered in lifts or airplanes, but I would have to have a lift-threatening condition now to want to go into a brain scanner ever again." 

Mosley nearly died as a baby

Mosley was born in Calcutta, India in March 1957. When he was four months old he contracted a new deadly strain of influenza known as Asian flu which nearly killed him.

"My mother tells me that I was extremely ill and that for a while it was touch and go," Dr Mosley tells the BBC.

"My blood ... still shows traces of antibodies, proof that young though I was, I was able to fight it off. But to this day I have slightly weakened lungs, and chest infections tend to linger."

He was diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic

Five years ago Dr Mosley discovered he had become a type 2 diabetic.

His father also suffered from type 2 diabetes, and died at 72 from complications of diabetes including heart failure and dementia.

Desperate not to suffer the same fate as his father, he started researching ways to improve his blood-sugar levels and read about intermittent fasting and their potential beneficial effects on insulin levels.

He tried out various intermittent fasting diets, then made the documentary Eat, Fast and Live Longer, and wrote the book The Fast Diet, which became a best-seller.

As a result of the diet, Mosley lost nine kilograms and reversed his diabetes.

"The 5:2 diet has changed my life," he says.

It's since been embraced by celebrities including Beyonce, Benedict Cumberbatch, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Jimmy Kimmel and Christie Turlington. 

Not every self-experiment goes as he expects

Mosley once took an empathy test and found out that he shared some of the same traits as psychopaths.

The scientist conducting the test did point out that there are lots of people who are not psychopaths who have these traits.

"I'm reasonably confident I'm not a psychopath," Mosley told The Guardian.

"But I knew it was a risk. There's always an element of risk that [the tests] tell you something you don't want to know."

He enjoys meeting his fans

Whether it's bumping into people on the street or engaging in conversations online, Mosley says he likes the interactions he has with people who know his work.

"I like talking to people, I like having conversations with people, and people are really nice and respectful," Mosley tells SBS. 

"People come up and say, 'You absolutely transformed my life'. A lot of former diabetic people want to tell me about how much weight they've lost.

"I also have a couple of websites, and it's a great way of communicating with people, and it's a great way of forming communities. I think we are social animals and in the end that is also a hugely important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, is having support from other people.

"I've been really, really warmed on these websites by the sort of love and affection that people demonstrate towards each other. That really does make you feel good about humanity."

Michael Mosley's Meet The Humans is a five-part series that puts human behaviour under the microscope. Watch the first episode tonight at 7.30pm (AEST) on SBS, then on SBS ON Demand.

 

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