The 'Proud Smoggy' who played Jet on ITV classic Gladiators talks being a Psychotherapist and TV Star
Middlesbrough-born Diane is the daughter of well-loved Teesside astronomer and telescope maker, Jack Youdale. She talks about her fascination with the mind and stint as Jet on classic Saturday night TV show, Gladiators
Diane was born in Middlesbrough and brought up in Billingham, describing herself as a ‘proud smoggy’. She never set out to find fame and fortune. In fact her focus was far more inward looking. From a young age, Diane was fascinated by the mind. As we settle down to chat, she immediately tells me that she always knew she wanted to study the mind one day. ‘I was fascinated by how we each process the world,’ she says. ‘I very clearly remember asking my father, “Dad, what’s consciousness?” I was 6!’
This study of the mind, and consciousness, is a recurring theme throughout my conversation with Diane. Another recurring theme is her father, who sadly passed in 2017. He was a highly respected astronomer and telescope maker, well-known and well-loved in Teesside. Jack Youdale rather impressively has both an observatory and an asteroid named after him.
Diane’s love for her father is palpable and I am moved to tears as she talks about her childhood, describing her father as ‘the most interesting, interested, genuine and humane man; quite simply the best person to walk this planet.’ It becomes clear, as we chat, that his advice and his words of wisdom have helped to shape Diane’s life. ‘My Dad always said no matter what you choose to do in life, be passionate about it and always, always, have an ace up your sleeve.’
Diane doesn’t see my tears. We couldn’t meet up in person to chat, as Diane is so busy – another recurring theme – so we chat online. For all we could have chatted face-to-face, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Diane asks if we can go ‘old school’ and turn the cameras off and just talk. I agree, but not before I have taken in what a beautiful woman she is. Because for all Diane did go on to study the mind, first she was Jet, one of the best-loved stars from the ITV Saturday night classic Gladiators. But before we get to that point in her life, we talk more about her childhood.
Her first passion was gymnastics and in her teens she became a junior gymnastic champion and member of the GB squad. She was then drawn to dance and at 16 made the move to London to attend the London Contemporary Dance School, whilst also being a member of the National Youth Theatre and The National Youth Dance Company.
However, at no point was she looking for fame and fortune. She was drawn to choreography, rather than the spotlight. ‘It was never about performing for me,’ she says. ‘I was more interested in choreography. I’m a creative, a teacher. To be honest, I kind of accidentally became a performer because people asked me to demonstrate, to show them, to perform and so I said yes. If that’s what I’d initially set out to do, I think the thought would have crippled me.’
With her father’s advice in mind, she made sure to have a backup, ‘an ace up her sleeve’ and so she studied (and began teaching) nutrition, sports science and fitness. As a result of being passionate about what she was doing, and by constantly grafting, she was extremely successful at a young age. ‘I made it very big, very young. I was a workaholic. By 21 I had bought my own home.’
It was at that point that ITV came knocking. I ask Diane how being a part of Gladiators came about. ‘I think they saw my picture somewhere and the next thing I know I’m invited to Woolwich Barracks and I’m doing a gymnastics test, and then I’m doing an assault course,’ she recalls. ‘I think they chose me because there wasn’t that much competition to be honest. I mean that assault course was incredibly hard!’
She was given the name ‘Jet’ as she was just so fast at completing the course. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Gladiators was Saturday night prime time TV in the 1990s, pulling in audiences of more than 10 million, and Jet was a firm favourite – but Diane is keen to point out it all much more under the radar than you might think. ‘There was no social media back then’ she says. ‘I wasn’t as exposed, as “out there” as you would be if it was happening now.’
Diane was Jet for four years, from the ages of 22 to 26, and she gave it her everything, taking part in four series, filming abroad, and performing at live shows. And of course all the while, under the radar, she was busy, really busy – taking on other acting roles and continuing her love of teaching by working with clients on their fitness and nutrition, using those back-up skills she had studied so hard for.
At 26 she met her husband to-be and realised she wanted to take a step back, to turn her back on it all for a while. More than anything she needed some time for herself and she had found the person to share that time with. ‘I hadn’t taken my foot off the pedal for years,’ she explains. ‘I had been a driven, workaholic for years. I wanted to be a wife. I wanted to teach a bit, go walking, have nice holidays.’
Which is exactly what she did, and I can hear the smile in her voice when she talks about it. ‘I was blissfully happy, it was a wonderful life,’ she says. Stepping back a little also gave her the opportunity to focus on her first real passion – the study of the mind. Being in the spotlight, and working the way she had worked, had put her in a financial position to be able to afford to look inwards, to focus on the mind, and at the age of 29 she became a mature student, studying Psychotherapy and Counselling at university. ‘I had worked my entire adult life so I could pay my way through university, I could support myself. I could follow my passion.’
This eventually led to Diane becoming a successful Psychotherapist, a Master Practitioner and a NLP Trainer. What’s more, not only did she work as a counsellor and coach, she also taught and lectured on Counselling and Psychotherapy courses. As you might expect, she also kept up her fitness and nutrition clients, appearances on television and work as a choreographer. Which to me feels like her foot was very much still on the pedal!
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Unfortunately, Diane’s marriage eventually came to an end. ‘When I was 36 my marriage dissolved and what followed was definitely a dark time. A time that wasn’t exactly great for my own mental health and a time which I feel lucky to have escaped.’
When the Covid pandemic and lockdown hit in 2020 and her mother asked her to move in, Diane was more than happy to say yes. ‘We both needed each other. It worked both ways. We looked after each other. My Mum is 87 and she is absolutely the centre of my life.’
She was also more than happy to return to her roots, as she proudly states: ‘The North East? What’s not to love? We’ve got everything. Everything. We’ve got beautiful countryside, fabulous beaches, forests, hills and dales. Everything! I love it.’
Diane also feels she is more able to get the work life balance right living here. After lockdown her Mum asked her to stay, so that’s what she has done. Happily. ‘For the last five years I had been a lecturer and for all I loved it, I most certainly do not miss the marking. I have a job up here now that means I can properly clock on and clock off, I don’t bring my work home with me. I can spend quality time with Mum and with my friends.’
She describes her job now as ‘hard work’, but sublime and moving at the same time. Diane provides care to those in the community who need support to enhance their lives. ‘People who for one reason or another, as a result of whatever life has dealt them, whatever trauma or acute trauma they have experienced, means that they need this care and help and support to manage their lives,’ she explains. And she feels she is doing what she was always meant to do. ‘I am very proud of what I do now. More than anything else. My second act is most definitely my best moment.’
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And of course that’s not all she is doing. She also works one-to-one with clients offering coaching and counselling, and fitness and nutrition. She has not, however, completely turned her back on Jet, and still takes part in Comic Cons with some of her past co-stars. ‘It’s surreal but wonderful. It’s just meeting up with your Gladiator mates again. Catching up with Hunter and Wolf and Zodiac. Like a school or work reunion, but with Jedis and Ewochs pottering past in front of you!’
I ask if she finds it difficult to align these two worlds. Does she ever get recognised? She admits that it doesn’t take long for word to get around, but as she so eloquently puts it: ‘It is me, just me. I’m deep, I’m considerate, I’m compassionate and I am passionately interested in the human condition.’
I already knew Diane Youdale was beautiful, what I came to realise as we chatted about her second act is that she is beautiful both inside and out. She is interesting, interested, genuine and humane. And busy. Always busy. Always with that ace up her sleeve.