“My hands are like leather, they’re covered in blisters,” Louis Smith boasts, holding out his hands, which are covered in chalk and appropriately chafed. “I’m still in the game – I know what it takes. Their hands will be shredded, their arms sore, their bodies in pieces – if not, they’re not working hard enough.”
The Olympic medallist and Strictly Come Dancing champion has very high expectations of the inaugural Tumble contestants and can’t wait to judge them as they take to the floor in their leotards, alongside their professional partners, in an attempt to turn themselves into gymnastics. And why shouldn’t he? Fresh from winning a team gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, if he is willing to push his body to the limit, then they should too.
“I know exactly what they’re going through. I wake up in the morning aching. I have treatment twice a week. But if you don’t put in the hours, it’s going to show and all the Tumble judges are experienced enough to pick up on that.”
There was a time, following the London Games in 2012, when Smith questioned whether he was willing to carry on putting in those hours. He was getting older (he’s now 25), he was riddled with injuries and mentally exhausted.
“In the year leading up to the Olympics, it was relentless. On my half day on Wednesday I’d have photo shoots and then on Saturdays I’d be in London working. I had ten sponsors each of which required a minimum of four appearances. It was madness.
“After 2012 it was a breath of fresh air. I went into Strictly, I did the tour, I did a book launch and tour, I collected an MBE from the Queen, I slept until noon, went on lads’ holidays… There was a huge weight lifted from my shoulders.”
That time off changed him. During Strictly he moaned about training, complained about being tired, lacked concentration. He was the product of a life-long training regime, which left him incapable of making his own decisions. But his return to gymnastics a year and seven months later was his choice and on his own terms.
“After London 2012 I was able to be a bit more independent, live a normal life, so I did change. I’m training again because I love what I’m doing and there’s a lot less pressure and risk involved. I also don’t need ten sponsors to fund my training, travel and medical expenses. I can cover it all myself and that has relieved the pressure a lot. The concept of going to competitions is fun now.”
A year out of the gym, eating and drinking whatever he liked and partying till the early hours, meant his body was somewhat different, however. The tabloids ran pictures of him in swimming trunks looking in less-than-perfect shape. For someone who’d flaunted his six-pack on Twitter, that must have been hard to read?
“I was slowly turning into a normal human being! But it took me less than a month to shed it all in the end. I was weighing my food, cut my calories in half and did high-intensity interval training for three weeks, four days a week and it just dropped off. That got me into the right state to go back into proper training.”
But a place on the England squad for the Commonwealth Games was still not guaranteed. There were some who resented the poster boy of gymnastics expecting his spot back automatically.
“I think maybe the selectors felt that the other guys deserved it more because they hadn’t had that break. But I let my results do the talking for me. I am listening to my body and I feel I’m still capable of beating the best. 2015 will be a gymnastics- focused year. I’m going to try to get to the World championships and European championships and then I’m certainly not writing Rio off.”
And in the meantime there is the small thing of a primetime BBC1 television show. What kind of judge is he planning to be?
“Well, none of that ‘Disaaaasssterrrr, daarrrling’. It’s going to be constructive criticism. And at the same time I’m going to have a laugh and show people the Louis Smith they haven’t seen before.”