York-born Hunter from Gladiators on gong baths, yoga classes and his fitness evolution

York-born James Crossley – aka Hunter from Gladiators– tells Abi Jackson why these days it’s about ‘nourishing rather than annihilating’ his body.

Jason Crossley, AKA Hunter, now. Picture: SNH FOTO/PA.
Jason Crossley, AKA Hunter, now. Picture: SNH FOTO/PA.

If you went to high school in the Nineties, there’s a good chance Gladiators was one of the highlights of your weekend, or at least your Saturday night telly viewing.

“It’s a shame how television has changed,” says James Crossley – aka Hunter, one of the beefy athletes on the iconic ITV series. “Gladiators was such a great competitive show. If you think back to a Saturday night: Gladiators, Blind Date, Baywatch – what a great night of viewing that was.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

As for being part of the series – which saw contestants battle it out against Hunter, Wolf, Jet, Lightning and co. in a range of crazy challenges, like bashing each other off podiums with giant pugil sticks, racing up walls and trying to out-swing each other in the dreaded ‘Hang Tough’ – Crossley says: “It was an incredible time. It’s strange because at the time, you’re just loving it and lapping it up, and I was 19 – you don’t look forward and think, ‘One day I’ll be this age and looking back on this’.”

Crosley as Hunter in 1997 with fellow Gladiator Rhino. Picture: PA Archive.

The past year-and-a-half has perhaps given us all a few moments of nostalgia and reflection, though. York-born Crossley, now 47, still feels grateful for the “many opportunities” Gladiators gave him and more than two decades on, his life still revolves around fitness.

The bodybuilder physique hasn’t exactly vanished. However, Crossley is now mainly focussed on helping people aged 40-plus with their fitness and wellbeing and runs online coaching as well as a range of training packages. He says there’s a lot more balance to his own training these days, and the journey hasn’t just been a physical one. “The spiritual strength is kind of growing now more so, rather than the biceps,” adds Crossley, who has also taken up gong baths (where people mediate while ‘bathed’ in sound) after being inspired by them on a trip to Bali.

Two things that have played a part in this body-mind evolution lately are the didgeridoo (“I’ve been playing for about seven months”) and yoga. Crossley decided to qualify as an instructor when lockdown hit – although yoga is something he’s dipped in and out of since Gladiators.

“Because I was very unathletic and really struggled with the events, as I was basically going from being a bodybuilder to being an athlete, I had to massively change my training,” recalls the fitness pro, who got into bodybuilding while still at school and was Teenage Mr England by 16, qualifying for Junior Mr Universe by 19.

Bulging biceps alone weren’t going to cut it. If Crossley wanted to win something like Gladiators (which he did) then he needed agility and mobility too. Yoga helped, and in more recent years he started getting even more into it.

“My girlfriend is a yoga teacher as well, so that’s another reason I edged into it, we like to travel and do retreats when we can. And when lockdown came, work came to a halt and I just needed to keep busy,” he says.

‘Nourishing rather than annihilating’ is a core part of Crossley’s ethos these days.

He says his motivation for doing the yoga instructor training was mostly for himself originally, but it’s an ideal fit alongside the other packages he offers clients.

He’s especially keen to highlight the benefits of yoga for people who might not think it’s for them – like middle-aged men who don’t think they’re bendy enough, and perhaps don’t have much variety in their regimes.

“I’m not flexible, and I know a lot of men are massively intimidated (by yoga) and they’re the people who need it most, especially men my age, over 40s,” says Crossley. “Certain moves just won’t suit our bodies. But the great thing about yoga is that it’s your practice, it’s not about what the person next to you is doing.

“It’s about finding your practice and what works for you. I use a lot of props, bricks and bands.”