'The Retreat': Nick Knowles Swaps His Hard Hat For A Yoga Mat And Veganism In New BBC Show

And he's never felt better.

Nick Knowles is best known for knocking around with a bunch of burly builders while they transform people’s homes on DIY SOS.

So you may be surprised to hear the 53-year-old has taken up yoga and meditation and now sticks to a vegan diet “80% of the time”.

He’s not your stereotypical wellbeing guru, but after spending a month on a remote Island in Thailand for his new show ‘The Retreat’, Knowles now believes these pastimes are for everyone.

Nick Knowles
Nick Knowles

At the start of the five-part series, Knowles is well aware that he isn’t someone you’d expect to see at a retreat.

“I don’t think anybody will be surprised to find out I am the least likely person to be taking on this challenge,” he says.

He decided to self-fund the series because he felt he was on the verge of “burning out”, and wanted to find an alternative way to recharge his life.

“My stress levels have been getting heavier and heavier, and I don’t understand why I’m so stressed and I can’t switch off,” he says at the start of the project.

“I have a one-year-old son and I’m 53 now, I’d like to be around when he grows up and there’s not a lot of chance of that if I carry on at the speed I’m going at the moment.

“I’ve got to find some way to get that under control.”

The series follows Knowles as he attends a 28-day Thailand retreat with fellow DIY SOS stars Billy Byrne and Julian Perryman, alongside a group of other visitors.

The retreat is designed to help visitors reset their lives, whether they are struggling with poor health, fitness or emotional wellbeing.

Each visitor undergoes tests in the hospital when they arrive at the retreat to monitor their general health and any underlying conditions they may have.

They then undergo a transformative 28 days packed with long hikes, canoeing, yoga, meditation and therapy.

They’re made to stick to a strict vegan diet, interspersed with days of fasting.

Nick Knowles with Billy Byrne and Julian Perryman.
Nick Knowles with Billy Byrne and Julian Perryman.

At first, all the participants are skeptical about the methods (particularly the lack of food), but they soon come round.

One participant, 47-year-old Milton, finds out his Type 2 diabetes has been reversed during a mid-stay check up.

Meanwhile DIY SOS electrician Billy Byrne feels the full benefit of the therapy sessions.

His daughter Emma died of cancer when she was just 20 and Byrne says he’s never been able to talk about her without breaking down in tears.

But after the sessions he feels able to “let her go” for the first time.

“My head feels brilliant, my heart fills open,” he says.

For Knowles, it’s the yoga and meditation sessions that have the biggest impact, leaving him feeling calmer than he has in years.

“I’ve never wanted to do meditation because I thought the moment anyone said meditation it sounded ridiculous,” he admits.

“I wish I’d done it 10 years ago, or five years ago certainly.”

By the end of the series, tests reveal Knowles has lost 10 kilos, his cholesterol has gone down and his blood pressure has returned “to that of a 25-year-old athlete”.

But most importantly, he feels he’s developed the understanding and skills to maintain a healthier work-life balance once he returns home.

Since filming ended, he’s stuck to his word and continued to practice yoga. He also sticks to a vegan diet “80% of the time”, with the odd non-vegan treat here and there.

“I was skeptical about how much effect it would have when I came here, and you’ve won me over with it,” he tells one of the trainers in the final episode.

“This isn’t just for people who want to wear baggy pants and braid their hair, it should be for everybody.”

‘The Retreat’ airs every night from 26 September to 30 September at 7pm on BBC Two.

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