Lostock Hall dad triumphed over anxiety and Crohn's Disease to relaunch food and weight loss business
He was the corporate hotshot who spent his working life dining in restaurants, going on nights out and playing golf with clients.
But behind the mask of a glamorous career was a Lostock Hall man suffering from anxiety and a long-term physical health condition.
With his luxurious lifestyle endangering his health, Graham Smith decided to switch careers in 2018 and fulfilled a long-term dream of setting up his own business that July. Now he has relaunched Real Food Co, which provides nutritious prepared meals, at Smart Fit Arena in Campbell Street, Preston.
The 36-year-old, who welcomed customers to his company's new home earlier this month, said: "On the outside my life looked great. I was eating at nice restaurants, attending sporting events and going on nights out.
"But in reality, it was hard work. I was away from family a lot, eating unhealthily and drinking heavily three or four times a week. I ended up being three stone overweight by the beginning of last year."
After dropping out of university, the dad-of-two spent six years working in finance in various sales and marketing jobs, including head of partnerships for a bank. He managed sales functions with a turnover of more than £100m and his most recent corporate role saw him trekking the globe and playing golf most weeks.
But Graham realised he needed to change his life when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease two years ago. The condition causes inflammation of the digestive system and the main symptoms are fatigue, weight loss, diarrhoea, and stomach aches.
"I also really suffered from stress and anxiety for around 18 months so I decided I needed to completely change and step out of the corporate world," he said.
And when he began educating himself about sustainable weight loss and making his own healthy meals, he rediscovered a passion for food and cooking and even made it to the final audition of BBC One TV show MasterChef a few years ago.
Gaining new motivation, he also applied for Channel 4's TV show SAS: Who Dares Wins, in which an ex-British Special Forces soldier pits contestants against harsh environments across the globe. This gruelling two-week long training course has been designed to replicate Special Air Service selection.
"I didn't get on the show but I passed the fitness test and if I hadn't gone through that change of personal fitness, my mental health would have deteriorated further.
But despite discovering a new love, he says his business was a happy accident and began with a friend asking him to cook nutritious meals for them.
"He liked them and it all spiralled up from there. He posted on Instagram about them and people began making inquiries. I've done no advertising," Graham said.
Today, he makes hundreds of meals a week and aims to reach 1,000 to 1,500.
"I find it relaxing and satisfying, even if I'm making 400 meals a week, working until 1am and my kitchen turns into a bomb site," he said.
And on top of a new passion, Graham has gained a new sense of control over his life, adding: "You have to take responsibility for yourself, whether you're unhappy, stressed or overweight. It's so easy to just accept your situation and continue in it. No-one's ever going to make the changes for you."
It's a new attitude that has impressed his wife Jenny Hollowood-Smith.
She said: "Admitting when you are struggling doesn’t come easy to any of us and it took some time for Graham to speak up and admit this to me. Battling anxiety and the side effects of Crohn's has made Graham evaluate his life and has changed his perspective. I am really proud of how he has managed to turn the negatives into positives and is doing something he absolutely loves!
"It’s also a bonus that I don’t have to do any cooking too. I love having a modern day husband!"