An interview with Caroline Pearce
by Jon Harris

From Gladiator to TV presenter, athlete to model, British sporting success Caroline Pearce has added many strings to her bow, both on and off the playing field. Portrayed as the 'Ice Queen' by Sky One's Gladiators, Natural Muscle set out to defrost the cold pantomime persona bestowed on her by television and find out what lies beneath!

Hello Caroline, and many thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. Of course, many of our readers will instantly recognise you as 'Ice' from the new series of Gladiators. But before we start, can you just give us a little background on yourself. So, where are you from, what's your educational background, and what do you do for a living?

Iím from Cambridgeshire, but have been living in North London for the last 3 years. I studied at Loughborough University for 4 years achieving a First Class Honours Degree in Sport Science and a Masters Degree in Physiology and Nutrition. I then trained as a full time athlete at the University whilst modelling and promoting fitness products to support this role. Now Iím a sports and fitness presenter, model, and International trainer for Power Plate. And of course Iíve been a Gladiator!

So, can you tell us why you initially decided to audition as a Gladiator?

A good friend of mine, and work colleague, heard they were re-launching the show and said I should apply to be a contender. My response was that I wouldnít want to be a contender; Iíd always wanted to be a Gladiator. We laughed and started making up Gladiator names for me. A week later the production contacted me inviting me for an auditionÖ My friend had been in touch and applied for me!

What was the experience like? Was it as physically demanding as it looks on the TV, and did you have to do any kind of special training for the show?

It was an amazing experience, so much fun and unlike anything Iíve done before. Every day on set felt like a day at a giant playground for big kids! The event training was the most physically demanding. Spending hours hanging from rings and climbing walls certainly stresses parts of your body in ways that theyíve not been used before. We all had ice packs attached to our shoulders and wrists to reduce the inflammation!

The filming itself was long and tiring but weíd only do one or two events per show that lasted one minute each! But being TV you have to wait around to record links, intros and be ready to go when needed. We sat in the Green Room mainly just chilling out and watching the male Gladiators eat whole chicken breasts to avoid losing muscle!

Training for the show was very specific and compacted into two weeks before filming. Weíd proven our general level of fitness was high so we just had to learn the events. There was a huge workshop where weíd spend all day doing different events. The set was only ready a couple of days before filming started so we had to improvise mostly. We all got quite competitive during that time but equally didnít want to hurt or injure each other!

What about the fame that came with it? Did that change your life in any way, or indeed people's perception of you? Did people start stopping you in the street for autographs?

The glamorous side of being a Gladiator has been the appearances and premiers weíve been invited to. We attended the Hancock Premier in Leicester Square dressed in our costumes. On set the costumes, which are quite skimpy, seem appropriate, but in the middle of Leicester Square it felt like a bad dream where Iíd lost all my clothes in public! Luckily we then changed before the film began and walked the red carpet a second time!

I also got ringside seats to Ricky Hattonís comeback fight in Manchester where I was sat behind Mike Tyson. I seemed to be recognised in Manchester more than anywhere else and was even stopped in the Trafford Centre by several fans to sign autographs. Mainly though Iíve not been stopped too much as luckily I donít walk around looking like my character ĎIceí!

The only problem Iíve found is that people that donít know me think that I am actually like my characterÖ cold, frosty and steely. Some of the forums have been critical that I havenít smiled or been nice to the contenders. I would have much preferred to have played a Ďniceí character that was a good sportswoman, as Iím naturally a smiley person, but I was cast as an ice queen. Mostly people are just excited to hear about the show though. And for me, the role has opened up many other exciting opportunities in the TV industry.

Inevitably, there have been comparisons made between the original series on ITV and the new Sky 1 series. Do you think Sky has changed the format in any way to perhaps try and appeal to a different audience? Also, how successful do you think the new series has been by comparison? After all, the original show ran for many years and was a huge hit, and some might say those were very deep boots to fill.

They were certainly big boots to fill and we all have great admiration of the original Gladiators who continued to keep the original show a success for many years. As the new series is on Sky 1 it is never going to have the same viewing figures that ITV had, and nowadays there are more channels for people to choose between. However, there are still many similarities between the original and the new, but I think Sky 1 have followed more closely the format and style of the new American Gladiators. It has a greater pantomime element, the addition of water and some new games. However, personally, as I said, I would have liked to have been able to play myself more and not to have acted a character. It felt quite limiting for me and prevented me from showing my true persona.

What were your favourite and worst events as a Gladiator?

My favourite event was Power Ball. Iíve not done any contact sports before but diving through the air and taking the contenders out was so much fun. My worst was definitely Gauntlet. I always ended up in the middle with the annoying double pads that didnít do me any favours! Also, being lighter than some of the contenders I found it difficult to keep my feet rooted to the ground and often ended up on my bumÖ very embarrassing!

Sadly, and to the disappointment to your many fans, you wonít be adorning our TV screens for the second series. What happened? Was it your decision to leave, or a decision made by management? Going by recent press releases it looks like they're having quite a shake-up for the second series.

We knew there would be some changes for series 2, and that the plan was to hype up the Ďpantomimeí element of the show. Both myself and production felt weíd developed a character in ĎIceí that was quite limited beyond the Ďicy stareí and it would have been a little inconsistent to suddenly come out all smiles. I wanted to use the opportunity to follow my presenting ambitions, and being part of this big production has definitely opened more doors.

Will you miss performing in the Gladiator arena?

Iíve missed being with the other Gladiators and the fun we had, but havenít missed the feeling that every limb is hanging on by a thread! Or that Iím wearing so much waterproof makeup that I donít recognise myself!

Ok, well let's move on to your sporting history because I know you've achieved so much there too. I believe prior to starring in Gladiators, you competed as a heptathlete for the British team. Can you tell us what events you did and give us a rough outline of the kind of training schedule you followed.

I first competed for England at 15 years old after winning the National Championships for my age group. I then worked my way up to the Senior Team and competed in the European Cup Heptathlon Super league. The heptathlon comprises the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot putt, 200m, long jump, javelin and 800m. Iíve been two times National Heptathlon Champion and Silver Medallist in the National Long Jump and British Universities Long Jump. My furthest distance was 6m 10cm.

Training for heptathlon is very intense, but has lots of variety. I did a lot of general conditioning work during the winter months with track repetitions and strength work in the gym. This was tailored towards more sprint work and explosive lifting in the summer season. Throughout I had to dedicate hours to specific technical training for each event so Iíd typically be training 6 days a week, 2 times per day.

With a sport like this with so many events, I guess you have to be careful to structure your training carefully to allow adequate time for rest and recuperation?

Yes, the training schedule had to be very well structured, and I had a great coach, Martin Green, who worked out every phase in the greatest detail. Recovery was part of that schedule with massage and the dreaded ice baths! As you can imagine, there wasnít much time for doing other things, but being at Loughborough University I was surrounded by likeminded individuals and people that inspired and motivated me. And after a big competition weíd make up for it!

What kind of diet do you follow, and which supplements do you use?

I have a very consistent diet, though Iím not as strict on myself as Iíve been in the past! I eat lots of regular small meals, every 2 to 3 hours, to satisfy my hunger and keep my energy levels high. Iím a creature of habit and so always have porridge with berries for breakfast, pumpernickel bread (my new favourite) with cottage cheese, lean turkey and salad for lunch, and a chicken stir-fry or egg white omelette or grilled meat or fish with salad or vegetables and sweet potato for dinner.

Snacks will include fresh and dried fruit, raw nuts, marmite rice cakes and raw carrot with hummus between meals. I have an LA Muscle protein bar or shake after a strength training workout to help repair and rebuild my muscle. I do have a sweet tooth I have to curb from time to time, so I believe in occasionally having a bit of a treat. Usually Iíll have some frozen yoghurt or low fat ice cream to satisfy my cravings!

I believe you have also competed in the winter bobsleigh team. So, why the change of direction, and how did the training differ from what you were used to in athletics (apart from the obvious fact you're in a bobsleigh and not on a field or track!)

In 2005, at the peak of my athletics training, I was asked by Nicola Minechello, a former heptathlete, and now World bobsleigh champion, if I wanted to try out for the British bobsleigh team, as they were looking to increase the strength in depth within the team. Athletes are often recruited into bobsleigh as they already have the physical attributes needed. It sounded fun so I tried out and secured the second fastest push time behind the current UK number one breakwoman. Within a month I found myself in Calgary, Canada training for the World Championships! The training was mainly focused around maximum explosive power and short sprints, as well as actually pushing the sled on a push track.

Where did you train for bobsleigh in Britain, and where have you competed? Is there much difference between the training environment and competition?

Due to the lack of snow in this country most training is done abroad! In Calgary there was an amazing ice push track at the Olympic Park that simulated the start of a race. I trained there with the British team for about 3 weeks before competing on the actual track. However, Bath University have a dry push track with the sled attached to a pulley cable that simulates the track to a reasonable degree. However, in a competition environment thereís no re-runÖ once that sled is moving youíre off!

How many are there in the bobsleigh team and what was your position?

There are four-man and two-man sleds but women still only do the two-man. I was at the back of the sled, providing the push, as the breakwoman.

Sounds like a potentially dangerous sport too. Those things can pick up serious speed! Have you ever been injured?

Luckily during my experience I didnít crash. However, if the driver clips the side it feels like a road traffic accident as youíre thrown from one side of the sled to the other. I escaped mainly with bashes and bruises. Top speed can get up to 90mph. The G-force you experience is incredible!

At Natural Muscle we pride ourselves on promoting the drug-free lifestyle. As a competitive athlete, what kind of testing have you been subjected to over the years, and do you think the associations do enough on this front? Is out of season testing commonplace?

Drug testing always feels intrusive but it is essential to try and make the sport clean. And I think most athletes appreciate that this, and out of season testing is in the best interests of the sport. My most recent testing was during Gladiator auditions where Olympic testing standards were imposed to ensure a clean image for the show. Athletes must be in control of what they put in their bodies, and as such welcome the work the testers are trying to do. I do feel that they are always a step behind the drug developers and that a lot still has to be done to keep up, but progress is being made.

I know this might be a difficult question to answer, but honestly, how widespread do you think the problem of drugs is in British athletics? Do you think it's a problem for some events more than others, and does it affect the female athletes as much as the men?

Itís hard to say. During my athletics career I just got on and worked hard to achieve the best results I could. If you think about which competitors may be using drugs then it can be quite demoralising. Sometimes it can be obvious but has to be proven. I do have some fellow athletes that have been more outspoken. The sprint events get the most press over this issue but equally there are measures that distance runners can take to enhance their performance, and EPO has been detailed in the past.

I think the situation is the same for men and woman. Look at the Athens Olympics; the top Greek male and top Greek female sprinters tested positive only weeks before the Games began, putting their whole country in a shamed position after citing them as the heroes of the Games.

Ok, so what are you up to at the moment Caroline? Are you still competing in athletics and bobsleigh?

I stopped competing in 2005 after the gradual deterioration of cartilage in my left knee prevented me from training at the level I needed to. I still train hard, but differently, and this is essential for the work I do today.

Currently I have a number of projects ongoing. I present regular shows for LA Muscle TV, am about to head to Ohio to host an infomercial for a new fitness product, and then to Los Angeles to record some online teaching academies for Power Plate and shoot with a photographer in Las Vegas. Iím excited to explore the US fitness market a little more.

Aside from your sporting endeavours, I believe you also do some modelling and TV presenting. Can you tell us a little more about this, and is it a field that you are looking to move more into?

My ambition is definitely to become a more established sports presenter. Sport has always been a passion of mine, and now that Iím not competing, I still want to be involved in the live action. For me, Sue Barker has the ultimate job! On the fitness side, I want to continue to be involved in TV shows designed to keep people inspired and motivated to keep fit and healthy, whether that is through showing the latest exercises and products, exposing fitness events or through hosting competitive shows about fun fitness. I believe there is great scope in this country to bring more fitness into our lives through the TV.

Knowing what you've accomplished as an athlete, a Gladiator, and also as a model and presenter, what advice would you give to those who are aspiring to emulate the success you've achieved? Is there a certain personality trait or belief that you have that's helped you get where you are today?

You have to set goals and work hard to achieve them. Most importantly you must believe in yourself. Iíve always been very ambitious and a hard worker. I donít do things without full effort and belief. Some say I can get obsessed by things, but you get out what you put in. If you do face disappointment, reassess your goals and keep going. It can make you stronger! And donít be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.

So outside of your hectic career, do you have time for any interesting hobbies? Tell us something about you that not many people know!

Like most girls I like to shop, and have a particular soft spot for new handbags! Otherwise, Iím a bit of an action girl and found myself co-pilot for a world record breaking stunt with Terry Grant at the MCN Motor Show!

Before we end Caroline, is there anyone you would like to thank?

Iíve been lucky enough to have tremendous support from all my family and friends throughout both my athletic and working career. LA Muscle have also supported my training with great supplement provision and weíve worked together to put on some great shows for LA Muscle TV. A special thanks to my friend, and fantastic strength and conditioning coach, Phil Nourse, who firstly entered me into Gladiators and who has continued support my current projects.