She’s the model turned top nutritionist who’s credited with getting Prince Harry in shape for his wedding. But right now Gabriela Peacock has a bigger mission. Her revolutionary eating plan could help us all slim down – and live longer.
I’m a bit nervous that Gabriela Peacock is going to dispense loads of woo-woo advice such as cutting out all foods beginning with B, mainlining kale and only eating carbs when Venus isretrograde. After all, former model Gabriela is the nutritionist royals and A-listers have on speed-dial. A close friend of Princess Beatrice, Gabriela is rumoured to be the power behind both Prince Harry’s and Princess Eugenie’s glow at their respective weddings (she was a guest at both). Other clients include Ellie Goulding, Katherine Jenkins, Piers Morgan, James Blunt, Jodie Kidd, Donna Air and Anna Friel.
Yet, in fact, 40-year-old Czech-born Gabriela, mother of Maia, nine, and twins Iris and Caspar, three, couldn’t be more down to earth in her advice. She admits she’s partial to the odd Nando’s and is fine with clients drinking wine (in moderation) and eating (dark) chocolate. ‘Well, I do, so I can hardly tell them not to! Stress hormones can be far more damaging to your body than a couple of glasses of red wine. People need to live their lives – there’s no judgment from me!’ she says, laughing.
‘When I started studying nutrition [15 years ago] there was very little information out there. Now there’s almost too much. Everyone’s confused and feeling the pressure to eat perfectly. But how many smoothies can you make in a day? We worry, “Am I a terrible mother if I don’t cook all meals from scratch with organic ingredients?” But no one can do that. I feed my children lots of ready meals. We need to give ourselves a break.’
After months of scoffing Magnums as a ‘lockdown treat’, I’m hoping she will say it’s fine to have piled on the pounds. Yet her message is the opposite. Gabriela stresses this isn’t about looking perfect in a bikini: excess weight can shorten your life. This became abundantly clear recently when studies showed that 73 per cent of critically ill patients with Covid-19 in Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands were obese; the proportion was at least two thirds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, despite the health risks, it has become harder for health professionals to discuss weight with patients for fear of being accused of fat-shaming. Gabriela says, ‘Everybody is so scared to talk about weight, but this terrible virus has opened the discussion on how carrying extra pounds isn’t just about the way people look on their Instagram: obesity provokes inflammation, which leads to cancer and diabetes and many other chronic conditions.
‘Around 90 per cent of my patients see me for weight-loss reasons. They understand they need to be lighter to be healthy and feel good about themselves – but we can’t talk about it.’
To kick-start a programme, Gabriela favours a two-week 4:3 plan when people alternate days where they ‘fast’ – women eat 500 calories and men 600 – with days when they eat healthily. Day seven is the ‘magic’ day when they can eat anything they like (within reason). ‘Having that day to look forward to helps keep things achievable,’ she says.
Gabriela became fascinated by food and the effect it has on our bodies while working as a teenage model. ‘I saw so many food issues in the modelling world, especially in Paris – models were doing things such as eating cotton wool soaked in orange juice. It wasn’t pretty but it intrigued me. I wanted to know more about how the body worked,’ she says.
Warm, funny and self-deprecating, Gabriela is talking to me from the family’s holiday home in Ramatuelle in the South of France, where she’s spending time with her husband, hedge-fund manager David Peacock, 46, to mark their tenth wedding anniversary.
Normally based in Notting Hill in West London, Gabriela’s life now couldn’t be more different from her ‘very happy’ childhood, growing up in a flat in a town outside Prague in the dying days of Communism. Her father had a construction company, her ‘wonderful but slightly pushy’ mother was a kindergarten teacher who had her daughter modelling in catalogues from the age of four. When she was 15 she beat thousands of girls to win a modelling contract with jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels, and soon afterwards found herself alone on a plane bound for Paris. ‘It was the first time I’d ever been on a plane. I was terrified and my parents were terrified, but they had no money to travel with me.’
Paris came as a nasty shock. ‘I was very lucky to have the chance to get out of the Czech Republic so young; the girls I went to school with are still working in our village. But at first I met all these people who were awful to me. I was crying down the phone to my parents every day and sobbing myself to sleep every night.’
Even today, when Gabriela has enjoyed some fabulous trips to Paris with her husband, she says, ‘I get a shiver down my spine when I go there. My experiences were 20 years ago but I remember how miserable the girls were and how you’d go to a nightclub and you’d be surrounded by these awful men.’
Meanwhile, all around her Gabriela saw ‘girls with eating disorders’. When she put on a few pounds, her agent told her to eat nothing but green beans with a bit of boiled fish. ‘I remember thinking, “Gosh, really?” but I ended up doing it otherwise I’d have been sent home on the bus.’
With time Gabriela gained confidence. ‘It was tough but it made me stronger,’ she says. Then, in her 20s, when her modelling career took off, she moved to London. ‘I found life much easier here; you don’t have sleazy men surrounding you, there were girls who I liked who were not bitchy. I found a flat with people who are still my best friends and felt grounded.’
But even though she was at the peak of her career by now, Gabriela began working on a get-out plan. ‘I lived with a lovely girl who, when she hit 31, saw all her jobs slow down, and that scared me. I thought, “There’s no way I’m going to become this ageing model getting less and less work.” I’d had an amazing time – getting lots of attention, doing things such as shooting a calendar in Anguilla – but I knew it wouldn’t last.’
So Gabriela did a degree in naturopathic nutrition, then – for ‘more scientific depth’ – took another in nutritional therapy. ‘When I started the second degree, having already done one, I thought, “This will be so easy.” Oh my gosh, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done! Even though my English is good I could hardly write a sentence, and we had a really tough module leader who was determined to push out all the flaky “Ooh, studying nutrition sounds nice” types.’
But Gabriela was determined to prove herself. Six years later she graduated with a 2:1. By now, she had also married David in a ceremony at Lake Como. They’d met through friends, though when he first asked her out she wasn’t sure and begged her modelling booker to come, too.
‘But alcohol helps in these situations, so we drank a lot of wine and everything was fine,’ she laughs. ‘Before, I’d always tended to analyse everything about relationships – who’d texted who, what did he say – and suddenly I was like, “I don’t need to think about this.” We spent that first weekend together and David often likes to joke that, after that, I moved into his house and never left, but, actually, it’s kind of true.’
She could have been a trophy wife, but Gabriela wanted a successful career, so she begged her friend, socialite Tamara Beckwith Veroni’s sister Clare, to introduce her to the Queen’s physician Sir Tim Evans, who was in charge of a new holistic practice at a swanky all-women’s club in London, Grace Belgravia. ‘I got myself invited to a party I knew he’d be at, and I cornered him with my one-year-old on my hip and he hired me,’ says Gabriela with a chuckle.
She was the head nutritionist there until it closed last year, then began practising privately – during lockdown doing consultations via FaceTime. ‘It’s been really busy. At the start of the pandemic people wanted to know what to eat to support their immunity, but as it went on it became more about diet plans – being stuck in has made it very easy to snack.’
As mentioned, Gabriela’s no believer in wacky or ultra-strict diets, preferring tweaks we can adopt long term. She jokes that she’s much more relaxed than some of the ‘Notting Hill mums’ she mixes with. ‘I was terrified to hear that some of my friends’ kids have never even seen apple juice – my kids have it every day. My older daughter loves all the unhealthy stuff, but what I’ve taught her is, for example, if she wants a doughnut, she can have it as a treat, so long as she has a portion of protein first. Now she negotiates with me – “If I have a yogurt and two eggs, then can I have a pastry?” I grew up on white bread rolls pretty much and I ended up being fine,’ she adds. ‘It is all about balance.’
Ever pragmatic, Gabriela also realises that many of us don’t have the time to make sure we’re getting all our daily nutrients. ‘We’re running around [going], “How much broccoli can we realistically eat in a day?”’
To aid this, four years ago she launched her GP Nutrition Supplements, with ranges such as Clean Me – sachets and pills to optimise liver function – and Slim Me, a fibre-packed powder drink to quell the appetite. The latter sparked controversy and debate as it has been criticised by the British Dietetic Association for containing glucomannan, a laxative with potential side effects of ‘diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence’ and that talk of suppressing appetites could also be ‘emotionally damaging’.
‘That made headlines because I’m friends with the royals. I was so shocked about it, I couldn’t sleep,’ she says. ‘Glucomannan is a water-soluble fibre that the European Food Safety Authority has shown supports weight loss, but it’s only one of between 20 to 30 nutrients in my supplements that help a healthy, balanced lifestyle.’
If Gabriela was upset it’s because her work is everything to her. ‘It sounds so naff but being a nutritionist fulfils me. I’d always had a bit of an issue with being just a pretty hanger for clothes. What I do now makes me so much happier.’
For more information, visit Gabriela’s website gpnutrition.com
Interview: Julia Llewellyn Smith