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Pastimes: Reformer Pilates with Tulip Siddiq

4 min read

In her occasional series, Rosamund Urwin meets up with parliamentarians to discuss how they unwind away from Westminster. Here, Tulip Siddiq introduces Ros to Pilates

Tulip Siddiq is strapped into a machine which resembles a torture device. The MP for Hampstead and Kilburn is being put through her paces on a “Reformer Pilates” machine by David Higgins, a personal trainer whose clients include Margot Robbie and Samuel L Jackson. 

As Siddiq curls her spine, pulls on the ropes and stretches her legs on the machine, she concentrates on her breathing and Higgins ensures her muscles are in the correct positions. The movements are very controlled, with a focus on “activating” the core abdominal muscles, and squeezing the glutes. 

Ordinarily, Siddiq works out at a gym in her constituency three times a week, but I’ve asked Higgins, an expert in Reformer Pilates, to train her in the rather more swish exercise rooms at the Mandarin Oriental hotel near Hyde Park, as she needs to head into the Commons later. 
Afterwards, Higgins explains that Siddiq, 39, has the “typical post-pregnancy problems”, with weak abdominal and back muscles, which the exercises are designed to address. 

Exercise can be boring but I love it because there are so many moves you can do

It is not the only benefit. While pregnant with her son Raphael, three, Siddiq developed gestational diabetes. Medical staff had categorised the pregnancy as higher risk. “My mum is diabetic, I was over 35 and South Asian, so all these boxes were ticked,” she says. “And if you have gestational diabetes, you may be more likely to develop [Type 2 diabetes] later on.” 

Siddiq had to control her diet and to self-administer regular blood sugar tests, including sometimes in the voting lobby. “It made me realise that healthy eating and exercise had to be a priority,” she adds. “It’s a very unhealthy lifestyle as an MP, because you vote late, and so end up eating late, and if you’re busy all day, you have no time to exercise. It’s easy to wake up five years later and think: ‘why are my joints hurting?’”

So she rejoined the gym, taking classes “because I need someone to boss me around”. About a year ago, she tried her first Reformer Pilates class and was hooked. “Exercise can be boring but I love it because there are so many moves you can do,” she explains. “It’s also an hour without looking at my phone. And I feel so much stronger.” She now often meets constituents straight after Pilates too: “Sometimes my staff will be surprised as I’ll say: ‘can you delay that meeting because I have to shower beforehand?’”

The pandemic was another factor in her wanting to get fit: “It exposed the health inequalities for people from ethnic backgrounds. That a Bangladeshi person is about twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as a white person is really scary. That was a wake-up call.”

Siddiq volunteered at a vaccination centre next to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead and made a video trying to dispel myths about the vaccine. “I was very worried that people from ethnic minority backgrounds weren’t getting jabbed,” she says. “I thought it was good if they came to the door and saw a Bangladeshi woman standing there, handing out the hand sanitiser.”

She is an MP who likes to be known in the local community, but says that constituents tend to respect her privacy while exercising. Some, though, take any opportunity to chat. “I was doing a tricky exercise on the Reformer machine and the instructor was trying to correct me,” she recalls. “I could see a woman looking at me. There was a lull in the music, and the woman said: ‘You haven’t answered my email!’ I was hanging with my legs in straps – not very dignified! – and certainly not the easiest time to help your constituent.” 


Rosamund Urwin is a journalist with the Sunday Times.

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Read the most recent article written by Rosamund Urwin - Pastimes: To the theatre with Margaret Hodge