Author Lucy Sykes on Becoming a ‘Fitness Junkie’ and Why She Wouldn’t Want to Exercise With Gwyneth Paltrow

Lunch with the fashionista-turned-novelist and her husband, Euan Rellie

The scene at Michael's
Michael's.

So glad to be back on the beat at Michael’s today! What better way to beat the February doldrums than with a dishy ‘Lunch’ with one of my favorite Manhattan power couples, Euan Rellie and Lucy Sykes. The delightful duo are very popular on the city’s social circuit due in no small part, I’m sure, to their devastating wit and British charm. They know everyone and have the stories to prove it. Sorry, the best ones are OTR, but we still found plenty to chew on over our soups and salads.

Lucy Sykes, Diane Clehane and Euan Rellie

Euan, whom I met—where else?—in this very dining room years ago, is the co-founder and senior managing director of BDA Partners, an investment banking firm. One of the last gentlemen in the city, Euan is the kind of man who orders for his female guests and always has a handshake and a hearty hello for fellow diners. It should also be noted that he takes some of the best photos you’ll ever see on Facebook of New York City and darling shots of the couple’s two sons, Heathcliff and Titus, when the family is traveling hither and yon. So, if that banking thing doesn’t work out, he’s got something to fall back on.

Lucy had a fabulous career in fashion as a stylist, editor and fashion director (most recently at Marie Claire) before segueing into publishing. Her first book, The Knockoff, co-written with Jo Piazza, was a best-seller in 2015. Her writing career seems something of an eventuality when you consider her literary lineage: Her grandfather Christopher Sykes penned a biography on Evelyn Waugh (who just happened to be his BFF) and her sister, Plum Sykes, another fashionista-slash-writer penned the much-talked-about Bergdorf Blondes, one of the most successful novels of the chick-lit genre. When Euan suggested we get together to talk about Lucy’s upcoming book, Fitness Junkie, also co-authored with Jo Piazza and due out in July from Doubleday, I jumped at the chance.

Fresh off their family vacation to Utah, Euan arrived at high noon having endured a head-spinning informational meeting at his oldest son’s school on navigating the tricky terrain of high school admissions. Lucy arrived a bit later and after exchanging air kisses with fellow ex-pat Vicky Ward seated at a nearby table, settled in for our chat.

Five minutes in, I was dazzled. Married in 2002, Euan and Lucy are equally matched in the storytelling department—both have a penchant for finishing each other’s sentences. “When we got engaged, my friends told me about [the Sykes’ family] literary eccentricity and that they were barking mad,” said Euan. Don’t you love those British expressions?

Since the purpose of our ‘Lunch’ was to chat about Lucy’s new book, Euan helpfully steered the conversation, making sure Lucy touched on everything that inquiring minds might want to know. “I thought I would marry this cerebral woman who would fill in all the blanks on Shakespeare,” said Euan. “But Lucy has this ESP—this emotional intelligence. She’s very good at understanding people. She has a very clear sense of what she wants to write about.”

“I’m an observer—I find human nature fascinating,” said Lucy. Her years in fashion proved fertile ground for her first book, The Knockoff, about a seasoned editor who has to fend off a tech-savvy startup from taking over the glossy magazine she’s helmed for ages. We both agreed working at a fashion magazine isn’t for the faint-hearted. “When I worked at [Harper’s] Bazaar, I had my boss throw a shoe at my head and he told me, ‘Don’t ever bring me Stuart Weitzman [shoes] again!”

This time, her inspiration came closer to home. “Two years ago I started noticing that wherever I went, women were dressed in athletic wear. The women at my sons’ school were showing up at pick-up looking like J.Lo and going off to workout for two hours with their trainers. These women aren’t celebrities—what do they need to work out for two hours for?”

“Lucy woke up one morning and just said ‘Fitbitch,’” said Euan. “She gets so many ideas like that.” Lucy’s editor suggested ‘Fitness Junkie’ would sell more books. Over the course of the next year, Lucy and Jo jumped headlong into all things faddishly fitness related. “I went to Michael Jackson dance classes, sweaty yoga in underwear classes—I did it all.” She also discovered the disturbing fad that many size 0 obsessed socialites were embracing—eating clay. Yes, really. “I know someone who was hardcore about it and did it during fashion week and she lost seven pounds,” said Lucy. “She paid $1,000 to do it.”

Lucy credits (blames?) Gwyneth Paltrow and celebrity trainer (“They’re all celebrity trainers now”) Tracy Anderson for turning fitness into a religion. “They are so hardcore. I love Gwyneth. I don’t want to be her best friend, but I love her from afar.”

While researching Fitness Junkie Lucy was stunned to watch women in Tracy’s classes lap up learning to move like porn stars. “There were pregnant ladies in these classes!” she marveled. “The rest of them with their buns tied up tight on their heads in their athleisure wear were dressed like superheroes!” And the instructors are equally intimidating. “They’ve all been Rockettes or danced on a cruise ship. There are a lot of fitness Instagram experts and they’re telling clients about all this scientific evidence about fitness—and they’re not scientists but people listen to them!”

This came as quite the relevation to Lucy who told me, “Being English, this was the extent of my exercise for the last 20 years” as she raised her arm as you would to hail a cab.

All of this found its way into the book—and into her life. “What happened was I became a fitness junkie,” said Lucy. Not without the battle scars to prove it. She once fell off her bicycle in a Soul Cycle class “and my feet were still in the pedals. Not one person got off their bike to help me!”

Even so, Lucy is embracing her newfound fondness for fitness at Flybarre. “Besides looking better and being more fit, I love the way it makes me feel!” There’s also the added benefit of being part of “a tribe,” going to classes where there’s a sense of community in an increasingly isolated society helps one feel connected outside of our own little world.

Lucy told me she’s gearing up to start her third book (all the details are hush-hush) and looks to a surprising source as a role model. “Danielle Steel inspires me,” she said as she sipped her café macchiato. “Her work ethic is amazing and she does what she does so well. I don’t even know how many bestsellers she has. If I could be the Lucy Sykes of women’s fiction the way she is to mass market fiction, I’d be very happy.”

Diane Clehane is Adweek’s ‘Lunch’ columnist. Follow her on Twitter.