When Simon Kettle and Mandie Dodsley fell in love they did what a lot of new couples do.
They enjoyed lots of romantic nights out and indulged in plenty of nice food and drink.
As they settled into their relationship Mandie would make her man tasty home-cooked meals and Simon would tuck in, happy and secure, knowing he’d found the woman he wanted to be with.
But it didn’t take too long for either of them to realise that the pounds were starting to pile on.Their cosy nights together had helped them find love – but it was also storing up health issues for them both.
Today, as they smile and share a joke, all that has changed.
They have turned their lives around by supporting each other to lose weight. And between them they’ve lost more than 11 stones.
‘Mandie met Shrek – now she’s with Prince Charming,’ laughs Simon.
The 45-year-old had struggled with his weight for many years. By the time he was 16 he weighed a hefty 20 stones.
Over time his weight would yo-yo and he’d even tried diet pills as a way to sort out his problem.
But nothing ever seemed to work. Simon says he simply didn’t know how to eat properly. He loved his food and drink and would tuck into takeaways, fried food and massive breakfasts.
At the weekends he would indulge himself with alcohol, admitting he could drink as many as 50 cans of strong lager and a litre of Bacardi over three days.
Every evening meal would be accompanied by half a loaf of bread, spread thickly with butter.
Taxi driver Simon turned 40 in 2007 and remembers weighing 23 stones. In August he met Mandie and the pair, from Gosport, fell in love.
‘We were going out and eating and drinking,’ he explains. ‘We were having fun. We had just met and we loved each other and we were just like other couples.
‘What Mandie wasn’t aware of was how bad my weight problem was. She used to make lots of lovely home-cooked meals and six months later she said “What have I done?”’
‘Me being me I loved my food and I ate it. But at the beginning of 2009 I knew my weight was a problem.’
Mandie adds: ‘We fell in love instantly. I had always said I would never look after a man again but Si is so lovely that I did everything for him.
‘It was all home cooking and I thought “I love him to bits and I’ll do anything for him” but I thought “Oh my god, I’m going to kill him”.’
‘I did say to him it didn’t matter what he looked like and that I would always love him. But I didn’t want to start a row and I found the subject hard to approach with him. ‘I’d found this lovely person, I didn’t ever want him to leave me but there was this dread that I’d wake up and he would be dead in bed.’
Simon got on the scales and discovered he weighed 23st 2lbs.
He was desperately upset but it wasn’t until his car broke down and he tried to walk to a nearby shop that his weight problem really hit home.
‘We went for a walk up the precinct to get some milk and a walk it would take a normal person five minutes to make was a real struggle,’ he remembers.
‘I stopped six times and thought I was going to have a heart attack. I decided to go it alone and went on a diet. I was eating chicken and salad, trying to eat as healthily as I could.
But when you’ve got a weight problem you eat healthily and you do lose weight but then all of a sudden you’ve put the weight back on. I fell into that trap.’
Simon needed a 58-inch waist and describes himself as ‘a monster of a man’.
One day he saw a slimming magazine as he was leaving a local shop but he was too embarrassed to buy it in case the cashier laughed at him or made a comment about his weight.
‘When we got in the car I said to Mandie, “Do us a favour, go and buy me that magazine.” I didn’t have the nerve to do it. ‘I was very embarrassed. Even though I was a big jokey man who brushed things off, deep down I knew I had a major problem.
‘When I got home I read this magazine and there was a man who’d lost 15 stones. I carried on reading and thought, “This is amazing”.
‘All of a sudden I came across a week planner of meals.
‘I decided from that day to give it a go. I was doing the best I could and after three days I could feel myself that I had lost weight. I felt that I had energy inside me, I thought I was feeding my body right.
‘I was really pleased and looked up on the internet for a group to join. I decided to join the Tuesday morning Slimming World group at Thorngate Hall and it was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done.
‘I was a great big fat man and I walked into a group of over 100 women. I more or less had to open the double doors just to get in because I was so big.
‘I felt totally embarrassed.’
Simon had already managed to lose five pounds on his own so at his first weigh-in he was 22 stone 11lbs.
And as the weight started to drop he also started exercising.
Before he’d struggle to walk five minutes without getting breathless.
Now he walks the dog for two hours and doesn’t feel tired.
At the same time Mandie, 43, had started to feel unhappy about her own weight. She’d always been a trim size 10-12 but she’d fallen into the same eating patterns as Simon.
When she found a size 14 had become too tight, she decided to follow his lead.
At her first group weigh-in she was gutted to find out she’d hit 12 stone 1lb.
But with Simon and the rest of her group’s support she’s managed to stick to a healthy eating plan to lose two stone two pounds.
Meanwhile Simon’s waist measurement has fallen to a slim fit 34 and he’s lost an incredible eight stone 12 pounds.
He’s also quit smoking and weighs the same as he did when he was 12.
All those takeaways and fried food have been replaced with fresh fruit and vegetables and he has a maximum of two slices of brown bread a day.
‘We’ve got so much confidence between us, especially when we’re out,’ says Mandie, who works at Siskin Junior School, in Rowner.
‘We tend to get dressed up even if it’s just to go to the supermarket.
‘We were happy with each other anyway. Now we’re even happier for us. We have supported each other, I am so proud of him.’
Simon adds: ‘The turning point for me was when I lost eight stone, that was back just before Christmas and Slimming World was having a ball.
‘I wore a nice designer grey suit and Mandie wore her daughter’s prom dress.
‘When I put that suit on I couldn’t believe it was the same bloke.
‘It was emotional.
‘All the times I’ve walked out of a shop crying because I can’t believe I can wear things.
‘I do feel so good now. Mandie is so proud of me it’s unreal.
‘She was 100 per cent behind me. She could see me getting smaller and smaller.
‘She still loved me when I was big but she’s amazed at how well I’ve done.
‘I feel like a lottery winner – without the money. I wish I did have the money because I love shopping now.’
Romantic Simon surprised Mandie by proposing at the ball and they now plan to get married next March.
Their fellow slimmers named them Gosport’s couple of the year and Simon and Mandie were one of just 25 couples invited to the final stages of the national competition in Derbyshire.
Losing weight has changed their lives and both hope their story can inspire others to do the same.
‘I’m not that fat guy any more,’ adds Simon.
‘My get up and go had gone.
‘Now my get up and go is here – and I’m not letting it go.
‘It’s an unbelievable feeling when you come this far.’