New Gazette columnist and former television Gladiator Helen O'Reilly - better known as Panther - will be offering readers tips to kick start a healthy new year. In an introductory interview she talks to LIBBY JONES about her journey from avoiding PE classes to becoming a TV legend.

How did you first get into fitness training?

I decided to try a gym advertised in the local paper. I was a bit petrified because it was all new but it was something that I took to quite quickly. That was when I was 27. Within a year I'd started to do figure fitness competitions. When I was made redundant I wanted to take my destiny into my own hands. I did a small business course and borrowed money from my dad and started Work Out World. It was so successful, within months I'd paid him back.

How did you get the part of Panther and what was Gladiators like?

I won an award for business women one year and was spotted in a magazine by Noel Edmonds. He asked me to go on his show and talk about nutrition and health. Then Nigel Lythgoe spotted me on that, so by 30, I was on Gladiators. We all had body building backgrounds so it made it easier to gel and we lived together for six weeks during filming. We didn't expect it to carry on any longer than that; we never thought 80 per cent of kids under 16 would be watching it.

What was your return to the show like?

It was as if I was doing it last week but doing the eliminator with four in a team. I felt so much pressure because I didn't want to let the other girls down, but when I spoke to them after, they said they all felt the same.

Did you always enjoy sport?

As a child I didn't like sport and used to get notes from my parents excusing me from PE. But I'm a strong believer that there's a sport out there for every person. It could be golf or the gym. If kids are given an opportunity to try something, and something different, then they'll find something they enjoy.

What should people look out for when joining a gym?

You have to do your research and set short-term and long-term goals. If you're trying to lose weight, you need to do it slowly, because if you lose it too quickly it can come back on as quickly. What you do has to fit in with your routine. Concentrate on performance. If you think, Monday through Friday I'm going to eat health-ily and exercise but on the weekend I'm going to relax a bit, then it's not so restrictive.

For those looking to start a new fitness regime,what advice would you give?

You've got to realise it's about a commitment. If you think you're going to go to a gym twice a week but a third time would be a bonus, then you're setting yourself up to achieve something, rather than saying 'I'll go five times a week' where you are going to fail. Trying to get out of a contract is going to be very difficult. If you are not sure, take out a short-term membership to see if you can commit. It may cost you more in the short-term but it's best to find out whether it's something you want to do.

What should a good gym offer?

You see people going on machines the wrong way. A good gym should talk you through how to do things. That's why we start everyone off with four free personal training sessions. People should ask for a free go at the gym and they should try at a time they think they would go so they can see how busy it is, where they can park and what the people are like. The myth that gyms are only for fit people needs to be erased.

* Panthers are waiving the membership fee with no payment due until March to new members who join online before January 15. Visit

Panther's trail to success

1988: Started training at the gym aged 27 while working as a secretary for a quantity surveyor.

1989-94: Opened up first gym, Workout World, in North Shields.

1991-92: Began competing and won the Miss Britain, Miss Europe and Miss International figure and fitness competitions.

1992: Spotted by Nigel Lythgoe and asked to be Panther in hit 90s TV show Gladiators.

1994: Opens Panther's gym in Rockingham Road, Uxbridge, which moves to Packet Boat Lane, Cowley,in 2001.

2008: Invited back on Gladiators to take part in special episode.