‘I don’t know how long it took me to decide that I was now a runner,’ says Colson Smith. The 22-year-old soap actor, who has played Craig Tinker in Coronation Street since he was 11, has been on a weight loss journey that has fascinated the tabloids over the past year or so. But somewhere along the way, he found that his new routines were about more than dropping 10 stone. As he says in a short documentary, Bored of Being the Fat Kid, that he shared on YouTube in June: ‘I’m not on a diet. I’m changing my life.’
When the March 2020 lockdown began, Corrie stopped filming, he moved back in with his parents in Castleford and set himself the goal of covering a marathon distance in total each week. ‘Every run until at least May was for the benefit of losing weight, but then something clicked and it wasn’t about that any more. I became more interested in what running actually was,’ he explains.
Now he’s got his 5k time down to an impressive 18:25 and around the time you read this, he should have completed his first marathon, at Loch Ness. It’s not a storyline that soap fans would have seen coming when Craig Tinker first appeared on ITV as the ginger-haired, bubblegum-popping, overweight son of Beth Tinker (Lisa George) in 2011. ‘When I came in, I was definitely a comedy character, there almost for visual effect I guess,’ he says. As he has grown older his role has become more serious, including a spell when his character was suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In discussions with the show bosses, he had raised the idea of Craig losing weight as a plot element. They thought it would fit with his current role as a police officer. However, it was planned to happen on screen at the time when Corrie ended up being off screens, so Smith did it anyway. He thinks being able to make changes while out of the public eye helped his progress in the end, as he was able to take charge of the process himself. ‘Doing that morning run meant I had achieved something every day, even when work wasn’t happening,’ he says. ‘I had 40 minutes to an hour to talk to myself, go over my to-do list in my head. Then you’re on a buzz because you’ve done a run and you’re one step ahead of yourself.’
He may have had some financial advantages over others who want to travel the same path. He was a regular at the gym when it reopened, ordered three meals a day from the Manchester-based healthy meal delivery company Fit Chef, and had two stays at a residential fitness retreat, No1 Bootcamp in Norfolk. But mentally, he had plenty of reasons to struggle.
‘Being the kid who was on telly definitely put a target on my head. I got a hard time at school,’ he says. ‘I got a hard time for my job, and a hard time for the way I looked, so it was the worst of both worlds.’ He also struggled to stay away from social media, where the negative comments were the ones that tended to stick. ‘You do get people saying: “Oh my God you were amazing in Corrie tonight,” but I’m less likely to acknowledge that than the ones saying: “You are literally the worst actor I’ve ever seen.” The comments are mostly about my appearance. I would say pretty much 99.9% of anything that’s written about me, I do see.’
He understands why larger people could feel too embarrassed to start running. ‘My first runs were in the witching hour, pitch black, I had a snood and a cap on. I did not want to be seen,’ he admits. ‘But then you see other people who look like you, who are in the same position as you, and the inhibitions start to run off. Running does give you confidence. You’re not doing it for anyone else, and no one else is gonna do it for you. Once you have that idea in your head, you’re onto a winner.’
He’s progressed as far as trying trail running in Ibiza, and gets out into the Peak District whenever he can. He loves his Garmin watch but has managed to avoid Strava so far. It sounds and looks like a success story, but he makes a point not to call it that himself. ‘The tabloids were writing about me weekly as a kind of “He’s done it” story, but that doesn’t feel like me. That fat kid is the kid that I’ve looked at every day in the mirror and I still see him now. It’s a battle I’m probably going to carry with me for the rest of my life. You don’t shrug off that kind of thing so easily. But I’m not going to take a massive pay cheque to hold up a pair of my old trousers. I want to tell the story my way.’
The documentary is honest, but he rarely seems to be suffering, which might be the most inspirational part of all. ‘I do still class running as exercise, but it doesn’t feel like that, because I like it!’
Bored of Being the Fat Kid is on YouTube.