You cannot miss Maro Itoje when he walks into a room. The sheer scale of him – standing 6ft 5in, 18 and-a-half stone, with size 14 feet and an arm span of a Titan – the 22-year-old rugby star would be intimidating were it not for his calm, cool but big-smiled demeanour.
The Saracens player and England forward is not called "the Pearl" for nothing, this gem is potentially hours away from another career high – helping the British & Irish Lions make history by sealing a series victory against the All Blacks in New Zealand.
It’s already been quite some 2017 for Maro. It has not only seen him win the RBS 6 Nations Championship for a second-successive season and do likewise domestically with Saracens by retaining the European Champions Cup but he’s also made his Lions debut, helping them to victory in Wellington last weekend. There is more to come though, it also be the year he'll graduate with a degree in politics.
"It's definitely been an exciting year but I’m just taking it one step at the time," he explains. Here he reveals what being a Vitality Ambassador means to him.
MY SPORT/MY LIFE
Describe your attitude to sport?
I am utterly committed but I really actually enjoy it. Before each match I get myself in the correct mindset – you need to be strong mentally as well as physically.
How did you get your nickname "the Pearl"?
It was one of my teammates actually. At the Christmas social I wore a cream turtleneck and he said I looked like a black pearl and the name has stuck.
You have always been sporty (Maro got a rugby scholarship to London Harrow school when he was 11) why did you decide to concentrate on rugby?
I had always loved athletics and basketball too, but the social aspect of rugby won me over. It's hugely enjoyable, highly interactive, massively social.
How do you feel about your current sporting life?
It's only just begun! I'm in my early 20s now and, in rugby, you hit your zenith in your late 20s and by 35 usually your career is over. So you have to make the most of your window of opportunity.
How hard do you work?
At the moment, more than ever – I hope to graduate in May and political studies is full on. Rugby satisfies a different part of me.
Is being a winner equally about mental and physical strength?
Yes I have to make sure I am 100% prepared before each match – yes you need to be aggressive but you have to decide how hard you are going to go into each tackle.
What's the best part of playing rugby?
The feeling in the changing room after a big win – the camaraderie, the joy.
How has your life changed since you made your England debut?
Day to day it's exactly the same but I get recognised quite a bit now which is quite cool. The only time it's a bit overwhelming is when you're tired.
Who is your mentor?
Richard Hill MBE – he is a former rugby union footballer who played flanker for Saracens and England and is the England team manager – he's inspirational.
Do you have a hero who isn’t a sportsman?
Well my hero is Muhammed Ali for not only his athleticism, but mainly for his work outside the ring for the civil rights movement. But my political hero would be Barack Obama – he's quite a cool and ultra capable guy – but personally I have no plans to be a politician!
Did being at boarding school help prepare you for the nomadic but group led life of an international rugby player?
I loved boarding - I went to Harrow at 11 – the social aspect was great and it was a quirky school where there's only one way to do things, it literally has its own language and I have great mates from my schooldays still. I do travel a lot now but I enjoy it.
Do you come from a sporty family?
No not at all – in my family I am the anomaly. But mum, dad, my brothers and sisters – they all come and support.
What does Vitality mean to you?
It means a life of moderation, a love of fitness and being committed to leading a healthy life
What does your role as a Vitality Ambassador allow you to do?
I love helping people and encouraging them to lead a healthy life – hopefully by example
How would you describe an Everyday Athlete?
Normal people leading normal lives that know it's the simple things you do each day that are incremental and lead to a life lived in good health
How often do you train?
I train five days a week with two full rest days – sometimes consecutive. I do weight sessions at the gym and cardio work.
When you train what do you think about?
I really push myself constantly to be better, I think I'm tougher on myself than anyone
What's your soundtrack?
I like Nineties R'nb, early 2000s hip hop and Afro beats – Boyz II Men is my favourite group. You gotta love "End of the Road"
What's in your kit bag?
Boots, gum shield, head guard – my essentials
MY 'ME' TIME
What's your ultimate stress reliever?
Watching period dramas – Downton Abbey, Mr Selfridge, The Crown – love them all
Most used gadget and emoji?
Phone and fist pump!
Go to website?
Google or ASOS for great turtlenecks.
Failure is: A chance to learn
Success is: Learning from failure
EAT LIKE AN ATHLETE:
"I am a total sucker for great cheesecake and I also love freshly baked bread and butter, so I have to be careful. Being an athlete you have to take a measured approach – I go to bed at 10.30 and get up at 6.30 so I'm disciplined most of the time. I live alone so I cook my own food and I like to dabble a bit – get some Bake off tips!"
24 hour food diary:
7am Breakfast: Brown bread with scrambled eggs, spinach or broccoli, baked beans and some salmon or – on a good day – bacon
12 30 Lunch: proteins and carbs so chicken or fish with brown rice or sweet potato and lots of greens
6 30 Dinner: I go lighter on the carbs a night so fish like salmon and lots of salad and vegetables
Drink: water please, I don't like wine but I'll have the occasional drink
Upgrade your plate: Supercharge a cuppa with a small spoon of powdered Matcha green tea, Maca Root and Guarana, for a delicious lunch bowl use grains like brown rice, faro, spelt, buckwheat, oats, quinoa or oats and add salmon and greens and salad dressing; for dinner add super greens (in powder form) to salads or soups.
1994: Maro Itoje born in Hampstead, London
2005-2011: Harpenden RFC, Saracens Academy
2013-2014: Senior debut for Saracens against Cardiff; Aviva Premiership debut against Leicester Tigers
2013-2014: Captained the England U20 team – he scored a try in every 2014 Under 20 Six Nations game and named England's Man of the Tournament
2015: Maro called up to the England Saxons squad and selected for the England 2015 Rugby World cup training squad
2016: Led Saracens to European Champions Cup final against racing Metro 92 which they won with Maro picking up man of the match award
2016: Maro's first call up to the senior England squad for the Six National Championship. Named man of the match for the win against Wales March 2016.
2016: Named European Player of the Year by European Rugby
2017: Retains RBS 6 Nations title with England and retains European Champions Cup with Saracens
2017: Makes Lions debut and also starts in historic second Test victory over All Blacks
Maro Itoje was speaking as a Vitality ambassador. To set your own summer goal with Vitality head to www.mysummergoal.co.uk