The first time Neil Spooner ever saw Paul Akister was on his TV screen.
Lancaster man Neil then called the X Factor star – who lives just a few miles away from him – and the two quickly became friends.
Now the 37-year-old personal trainer from Caton is the man Paul credits with turning him into a lean, mean singing machine.
Akister has shed three and a half stone since his attempt to win The X Factor ended in tears last year and it’s all down to Neil’s workout and diet plan.
Despite being called “the best singer in the competition” by Take That star Gary Barlow, Paul was axed from the 2013 show due to concerns over his image and confidence.
The shy 25-year-old decided to get fitter to give him a better chance of winning on his return for this year’s series.
So after Neil got in touch, the two met for the first time at the Pure Leisure Gym near Carnforth.
“I knew I had the expertise to bring Paul out of his shell,” said Neil.
“He needed a better self image. For me it wasn’t about creating a pop star with a six pack, it was about creating that confidence.
“We sat down and had a chat. He was very nervous. He’d tried a few weight loss programmes before.
“I devised a 12-week plan and he followed it. He’s been very focussed and disciplined. And now he’s a different character.”
Neil put Paul on his Better Body 12 fitness and nutritional programme.
This is built around weight training to lose body fat and gain muscle tone, alongside a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Paul also attended Neil’s ‘Boot Camp’ session at Lancaster and Morecambe College, and did circuit training to get into shape.
As a former social worker, Neil also prides himself on using inter personal skills to get the most out of his clients.
“People often give up exercise because they don’t enjoy the process.
“Paul and I developed a great friendship and this made him want to turn up to work out.
“And the main reason why he’s had success, is because he had a goal at the end of it.”
Neil and Paul have become such good mates, that the fitness guru has travelled down to London to watch him perform on the live X Factor shows.
He even got to meet Louis Walsh, the music manager who axed Paul last year.
“I get the mickey taken out of me all the time that I look like Louis,” laughed Neil. “So it was nice to get a ‘selfie’ with him.
“It’s been a great experience and all very surreal. To see a good friend who has come so far and is living his dreams...it’s a massive achievement for him on a personal level.”
Neil has released an e book ‘Better Body 12’ which is available now from www.betterbody12.com
And keep supporting Paul Akister, who has now reached Week 3 of the live shows and will sing again on The X Factor on ITV1 this Saturday night.