Health Club Magazine
When Geoff Whitington started to see his life unravel as a result of diabetes, his sons Anthony and Ian gave up their jobs to help him change his lifestyle. This resulted in a new lease of life for all of them. Anthony Whitington, co-creator of BBC documentary, Fixing Dad, speaks to HCM’s Kath Hudson about the journey the family has been on, their mission to inspire others to engage with their health and the launch of new initiative, Fixing Us.
We were at Chessington World of Adventures when my Dad collapsed and was later diagnosed with charcot foot, a complication of type 2 diabetes, which could lead to amputation,” explains Anthony Whitington. “It was at that point that me and my brother, Ian, realised that we needed to step in to save his life.”
And so, in 2013, the Fixing Dad mission was born. Anthony, who worked in finance, and Ian, a freelance cameraman, gave up their jobs to support their dad, Geoff, in transitioning to a healthy lifestyle, hoping to reverse his condition. Without backgrounds in health they educated themselves through googling and seeking out experts.
Working on three areas – fitness, nutrition and mindset – they set goals in each. Cycling 100 miles and cooking a meal for the family aimed to focus him on fitness and diet. But the key to changing Geoff’s mindset was convincing him that he still had a lot to live for. The tipping point for this was the family taking him on a roadtrip to France and Spain where they took part in adventures like white water rafting and sky diving.
To fund the project, they raised £25k on Kickstarter, thanks to 86 backers and the Paula Carr Diabetes Trust, in return for making a documentary of the journey. “We sent a three minute film to every media outlet we could think of which led to appearances all over the media,” says Whitington. “Thousands joined the Facebook page – which became key in motivating Dad – and the BBC commissioned the documentary, which was aired in 2016.”
More than 1.7 million people have now watched Fixing Dad. Still available on YouTube, it’s an inspirational story, which sees Geoff go from being on crutches with a number of illnesses – Type 2 diabetes, kidney cancer and atrial fibrillation – to taking part in the Prudential 100 mile RideLondon event in August 2014 in robust health, and becoming an advocate for lifestyle change, which has involved speaking at global health conferences. “We still get thousands of messages a month from people saying how the film has inspired them to change their health, or support a family member to change theirs,” says Whitington.
The Fixing Challenge
The dual success of saving Geoff and creating a popular film led to Anthony and Ian turning their passion project into a business called Fixing Us, to tell more stories and inspire more people. “It took a while to create a viable path and to find ways to do it on a large enough scale, but now we’ve evolved from content creators into a multi-facted health engagement company,” says Whitington.
Over the past few years they’ve worked with a number of major brands, including London Marathon Events, NHS England, AstraZeneca, Roche, Nestlé Health Science, Ascensia and Novartis, creating content and virtual events which help companies to engage with their clients and inspire them to take control of their health.
Their latest film, The Fixing Challenge, was aired by the BBC in September 2020 and received an even greater response than Fixing Dad. This time Geoff was a mentor. Made in association with Prudential, the sponsor of Ride London, it followed four people, all with serious health conditions, in their challenge to complete the 100 mile mass cycling event. All of them had unsuccessfully tried to lose weight in the past, but had given up and almost resigned themselves to their fates until they were inspired by Fixing Dad and applied, along with some 2,500 hopefuls, to take part in the challenge.
The films show that willpower and exercise alone is not enough to impact major lifestyle change, but rather a holistic approach is needed. It shows the importance of changing the relationship with food and using different reward systems, as well as addressing lifestyle stress and coming to terms with past traumas. Also the support of a significant other as well as the community of other fixees – who clearly bonded as a team – was paramount in keeping them accountable and motivated. The results are truly heartwarming.
The Fixing Dad initiative is all about inspiring and empowering people to engage with their health and not to give up on themselves. Whitington says that watching normal people overcoming health challenges is a powerful motivator to others in the same situation.
“People identify with the challenge. They often see themselves in the fears, barriers and pitfalls; in the family arguments, the late-night doubts – the bits we don’t see in most of the media success stories,” he says. “People tend to empathise and engage with the journey rather than the outcome. We find that it’s often less important for people to complete a challenge than it is for them to attempt that challenge in the first place. By watching the whole process viewers can relate to specific moments in the journey itself.”
Having already achieved success with a number of global brands in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, the Fixing Dad team are keen to partner with the health and fitness industry. “There are a few different ways in which we would like to collaborate,” says Whitington. “Firstly, by engaging older people to engage with their health as a way to overcome isolation. In partnership with operators, we could do this by creating content and programmes which help people with health conditions to tackle or reverse a range of conditions. Secondly, we would like to work with fitness organisations to build a complete health engagement programme encompassing fitness, diet and holistic living, via virtual content, events and forums.”
Exciting times are ahead for the Fixing Dad team, with a managing director, Rohin Malhotra, now on board to take the brand global. Projects are underway in the US, Canada, Russia and India and more is in the pipeline, including a potential television series. With lifestyle diseases becoming ever more of a problem, the world is in desperate need of more initiatives like this one.