Queen of weight loss

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Over the past five decades, pioneering weight loss and life-style expert Claire Danton has helped hundreds upon hundreds of people transform their bodies and their lives at Raspberry Hill Health Farm.

And now, at the age of 76 and still fighting fit, the woman known locally as the ‘Queen Of Weight Loss’ has made the decision to retire.

Claire Danton is living proof of the benefits of sticking to the healthy lifestyle she has been advocating to those arriving to her door for the past 44 years.

“I don’t take one tablet of any sort and it’s just down to no nonsense healthy eating and keeping active. And plenty of water,” she says.

Over the years, Claire built up what was the first health farm in Northern Ireland, and while she predicted it would be a growth industry, few could have foreseen the way the industry has exploded in more recent times.

And in her 44 years at the helm of Raspberry Farm, Claire never missed a single class despite more and more people arriving, sometimes by the busload, from as far away as Belfast, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine, Dungannon, Cookstown , Letterkenny, Ballybofey and Milford.

Claire closing the door on the former business at Raspberry Hill Farm.

Claire closing the door on the former business at Raspberry Hill Farm.

To assess the positive impact Claire has made on the lives of others, you only have to look to the warm messages penned inside the more than 100 cards from former clients wishing her well in her retirement.

Claire arrived at Raspberry Hill Farm in the Killaloo area 55 years ago as a young bride, and has lived there ever since with husband Alfie Danton, whose family have resided there for four generations.

The couple’s two sons, Mark and Christopher were born later and the decision to open the health farm was made by Claire after the boys went to boarding school in Coleraine during the Troubles.

“I started then, and built it up from a very small way in my own home. I was always interested in health. I knew it would become more popular, people looking after their weight and their health.

Claire Danton at her home on Raspberry Hill Farm.

Claire Danton at her home on Raspberry Hill Farm.

“I took classes on weight management and they just increased over the years until I decided I would go residential.

“My husband retired from active farming and I decided this was the way forward. He used to call it my ‘Big Idea’!,” she laughs.

The business expanded over the years to include a bootcamp- a precursor to the many bootcamps that are now operating across Northern Ireland today.

Over the years, Claire has helped many do what they thought impossible, with no challenge too big- literally.

“”Twelve stone has been lost here,” she said.

“I ran courses of five weeks, once a week for five weeks. Health and happiness, like everything has to be worked for.

“You don’t waken up slim,” Claire says in one of her trademark frank, fair and wise nuggets of advice. “You don’t get fit without effort. Everything of value has to be worked for.”

She adds: “Weight is a curable condition. It’s simple- eat less and burn more. I think the problem today is people make it too complicated. These complicated diets are too hard to follow. There’s all sorts of empty promises.

“There’s no magic cures, or easy answers. I tell them to change the things you can in your life. Everybody can - look forward to what you can become. Excuses are for non-achievers.”

The residential end of the business at Raspberry Hill ran for over 20 years and proved very successful. For Claire it was demanding but rewarding work.

Claire outside the sign to Raspberry Hill, which is nestled in the foothills of the Sperrins.

Claire outside the sign to Raspberry Hill, which is nestled in the foothills of the Sperrins.

This aspect of the business closed down after tragedy struck the family in the early 90’s. The couple’s son Christopher was diagnosed with a brain tumour and just made his 30th birthday before he passed away in 1994. “It was very hard to deal with,” Claire said.

The weight management end of the clinic and the motivational classes have continued.

In retirement, Claire will have more time to spend with husband Alfie, as well as maintaining the beautiful gardens surrounding her home, while also keeping up her involvement in a range of community activities.

She is also looking forward to spending time with son Mark, who has gone on to become a paediatric cardiac surgeon based in Scotland, and his family.

A very special little bundle of joy arrived three years ago in the form of Mark’s daughter Martha.

Claire describes becoming a grandmother as “delightful”.

“I’m looking forward to going over and seeing them,” she said.

Glancing back over a long and distinguished career, she recalls: “It was a privileged life and I met so many people through it that I would never otherwise have met.

“I really enjoyed it and the best decision I ever made was to start the business.”

And Clare has this parting advice for anyone trying to navigate weight loss and get fit in today’s world:

“The big challenges today are busy life-style, handier, instant food and lack of exercise. It is an emotional problem- people over-eat because they are stressed, unhappy, to celebrate. Sugar is the main enemy of weight loss. It is a poison for your system.

“Over-indulgence is the shortest lived pleasure you can have that will give the longest displeasure.

“With losing weight you have to put your heart and soul into it. Doing it affects people from brains to toes. Every aspect of their personal life is improved with weight loss.

“Health and happiness, and in today’s world it’s incalculably priceless. It’s free to everybody. No matter who you are you just have to eat less to get it off, and burn more. Nobody can do it for you or give it to you and you can’t buy it with money. People do look for magic cures, but it all adds up to the same thing: eat less, burn more and drink plenty of water.”

Ten of Claire’s top motivational sayings and tips:

* “What you eat in private shows in public.”

* “There’s only one way to do it and that’s do it.”

* “The best way to produce the effect is to create it.”

* “Don’t believe in defeat.

* “Being slim is not a gift, it’s a habit.

* “Whatever the mind can believe, it can achieve.”

* “Pickers wear big knickers.”

* “She that indulges bulges.”

* “What goes in goes on.”

* “We who eat sweets get big seats.”