Hugh Laurie – the Super Fit Athlete and Actor

Hugh Laurie at the Paley Center for Media, June 17, 2009
Hugh Laurie at the Paley Center for Media, June 17, 2009

Hugh Laurie, the British actor who plays Dr. Gregory House, is certainly a fine figure of a man. At 52 years of age he stands at around 6 foot 2 1/2 (189 cm). He has always played somewhat feeble looking people, from the “nice but dim” Bertie Wooster or his various roles in the Blackadder television series, he has never been a guy to take on an action role. However, in his past he was a superfit individual, and that athletic streak is certainly something that has helped him to stay in great shape all his life.

“I rowed for Cambridge. I was pretty good at that.” – Hugh Laurie

Hugh Laurie, like his father before him, went to Cambridge University with the main aim of rowing. Many talented athletes pick a university not for its amazing academic record (although Cambridge is of course one of the best) but to be able to pursue their athletic or artistic goals.

“I went there to row. I’ll be blunt with it. It’s been ten years, and I think the admissions tutor can take it now . . . but that’s really what I went for, and anthropology was the most convenient subject to read while spending eight hours a day on the river.” – Hugh Laurie, on why he went to Cambridge.

Little is written about High Laurie’s days as a rower, however, while reading The Fry Chronicles, I came across some fascinating information on Hugh Laurie. Stephen Fry has a wonderful memory and detailed some of Hugh’s exploits from their Cambridge days.

His father, Ran Laurie, was an avid rower and won a gold medal in the 1948 Olympic Games in the coxless pairs. He was also a medical doctor. Hugh followed in his father’s footsteps and took up rowing while at school and then went on to Cambridge to row. He won a British title in 1977 and then in 1980 he rowed for Cambridge in the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. To Hugh’s great disappointment Cambridge lost by a whisker.

Hugh Laurie rowing for Cambridge in 1980
Hugh Laurie, 5th oar, rowing for Cambridge in 1980

But all this does not teach us anything about Hugh that we cannot learn from a brief biography. Where we see some great insights into his character and determination is from what Stephen Fry kindly shares with us.

Rowing, Roadwork, Gymwork, Rowing

Stephen Fry was amazed by the sheer effort that High, like all athletes of his calibre, put into his sport. Every day Hugh would start the day with rowing practice, then do some road work (go running), then later he would head to the gym to lift weights, and finally end the day with more rowing. That is 4 workouts a day, every day.

For anyone trying to lose weight that feels that a daily 45 minute workout is too much, maybe this will help you to understand why some people are in such brilliant physical shape, and others are not.

Hugh Laurie, when training to be an Olympic rower (I assume that his aspirations were still to follow his fathers footsteps and represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games) was no less athletic than the likes of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.

Hugh Laurie even gave boxing a go once. However, it seems that even this was too much for him. He once said

“I swank around during the week thinking I’m the big cheese but you don’t feel like that when you are in the ring with a chap who knows what he’s doing.” – Hugh Laurie.

Hugh Laurie trained (exercise) for around 8 hours a day in total. A staggering amount of exercise. I defy anyone to be overweight and exercise that much! For some ideas on how to incorporate rowing into your daily routine see our article on rowing workouts.

Burgers, Cottage Pie and Eggs

What was also mentioned in the Fry Chronicles is Hugh’s diet. It did not seem particularly healthy from Stephen’s perspective. Apparently after a new burger bar opened close to their colleges Hugh would routinely devour 3 hamburgers with 2 portions of large fries, and then finish off what the others had not eaten. His girlfriend also used to cook family sized cottage pies (according the Stephen Fry), large enough to feed a family of 6, and then crack a few eggs on top, and Hugh would eat this all by himself. His daily calorie requirements were probably somewhere between 6000 and 10000 Calories a day, depending on how much training he actually did.

For those of you not familiar with cottage pies, it is a dish that consists of a layer of meat and vegetables cooked with tomatoes (essentially a meat stew) with a generous helping of mashed potatoes on top. Hugh’s cottages pies also had added egg for more protein. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s young athletes did not follow any specific diet, there were not sports hydration drinks or protein shakes to be had. People just “pulled boats through water”, ate and larked about a lot.

Unfortunately for rowing, Hugh decided to pursue a career in acting and comedy. As well as being a member of the Leander Club (an old English rowing club) he also joined Footlights, the Cambridge drama club that is responsible for so many comedy legends, after illness prevented him from rowing for a while. It is funny to think that Hugh Laurie only joined Footlights as something to do while recovering from a bout of glandular fever – it was never meant to be a permanent career move.

Further reading

Portrait by watchwithkristin
Boat Race photo from Hugh Laurie’s Facebook page

3 Comments on “Hugh Laurie – the Super Fit Athlete and Actor”

  1. Richard W says:

    I have been a big fan of House since it started back in 2005, but I never for a moment imaged Hugh Laurie being an athletic rower. Mind you, I was shocked to the core to hear his British accent on the Dave Letterman, I cannot believe he is not American!

  2. MotleyHealth says:

    I just looked up that Dave Letterman show, he talks about rowing. He is funny, Hugh says “you are facing the wrong way in rowing … there are a small number of psychiatrically disturbed people who do row for fun …. ”

    Hugh says that he took rowing as far he could go, although it is not clear if he could not go further due to physical or career reasons.

    This was also the time he took up boxing! Hugh talks about how he had got into the whole Eastern thing, and then decided that it was time to start learning some western skills.

  3. He is a funny guy, but this means that it is impossible to know when he is being serious. He is very casual about the fact that he used to row, I bet he really wanted to follow in his fathers footsteps and row for England!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *