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Man of lightning, man of the hour

Derek Ramsay talks about the ease of fitness, playing a superhero, and the art of really living in the moment.

By Karl De Mesa

JULY 2013

You’ll lend your eyes to Derek Ramsay. You can’t help it. This man’s physique is the envy of men and the joy of women.

Filipino-British features round up the sum with a laundry list of job titles: VJ, actor, host, model and athlete. The tall, brown prince with sharp looks, and a non-stop desire to excel.

Right now, it’s coffee and steroids that are up for discussion. The latter he hates and derides as “shortcuts. Everybody wants shortcuts. Look at Lance Armstrong.” As for the siren call of caffeine from the bean, he reluctantly admits having grown fond of it: “I [drink] up to two or three cups per day. I’ve become a big coffee drinker ever since my sched went haywire. If you drink too much it’s bad, but in moderation it’s a pretty good antioxidant. But anything you take too much of is bad.”

Six years in a big network, and now a plum starring role as a superhero on TV5—everybody and their grandmothers know Derek. Just like other celebrities who’ve shot to fame with the help of their good genes, Ramsay’s torso has taken on a career of its own. Specifically, his abdominals. Women play guessing games as to the number of abs he actually has. Is that a six-pack or an eight-pack? It’s a particularly ripped torso, no doubt, but his longevity under the limelight can’t just be attributed to his handsome face and penny-bouncing tummy. He’d have been vanilla long ago if it was.

Got scars?

“Real men have scars, I’m not a pretty boy,” he admits, almost proudly. And up close you can see that Ramsay’s well-documented, well-photographed torso and limbs do come with scars. It’s muscle definition that is a measure of his injuries playing sports and just living the way he wants. These scars dissuade people of the impression of the gym rat Ramsay, and emphasize the reality of his grit and willingness to court injury in pursuit of excellence.

He shows me his left forearm that has a thick, nasty scar that runs from his wrist to just below the inner crook of his elbow. When he makes a fist, the blood courses through it and the scar reddens, becomes an angry welt. This is an injury from Frisbee. Ramsay has competed in the highest form of the sport but it sure has taken its toll.

“This [arm] snapped cleanly,” he explains about the scar. “Complete break! The bone was peeking out through the skin. Played in Boracay this year and I played in the world championships last year. It doesn’t hurt [now] but it doesn’t feel quite as strong.”

He does have other injuries and they, too, are adding up. Like Dennis Quaid’s aging, tragic American footballer Jack Rooney in Any Given Sunday Ramsay opines that his body has taken just too many serious hits. It may be time to quit. Get out while the going’s good and drink beer on the beach reminiscing about good times. He doesn’t need to prove he’s hardcore to anyone. Not anymore.

He shrugs, “I’ve already completed the highest form of Frisbee and I think it’s time to hang up my jersey. Every athlete knows this: It’s hard to step away from the game that you love. Now I’m into golf and I play a lot on my breaks. I’d play it with my dad even if I’m puyat.”

Then there’s his love of football which might, just might, motivate him to step out of the limelight: “I’ve done basketball and soccer, they were even trying to get me into the UFL [United Football League]. I’d love to, my first passion is football, but I don’t want to half-ass it. Give it one last go? I’d have to quit showbiz and give it 100 percent. Nakaka-insulto ’yun sa mga nagte-training every day.

English lad, Pinoy heart

Thirty-six years old, Ramsay was born in the U.K., but the family emigrated to the Philippines while he was a young boy. He went back to England when he turned 18 and completed an electrical engineering degree. His British father was a detective inspector in the Metropolitan Police in London and a former president of the Manila Club. His mom is Filipino. When they came back to Manila, they set up a security firm. It became quite a success, especially with expat clients.

He says his dad cooks great bulalo and sinigang na baboy.

Though he first caught media attention as an MTV VJ, he later became known for roles in soap operas. Pinoy audiences couldn’t get enough though, and soon he found himself doing movies, playing hunk roles in the likes of No Other Woman and lending physical authority to comedies like The Unkabogable Praybeyt Benjamin. Commercials, endorsements, magazine spreads, and modeling were all done in between. It’s a relationship with the limelight that the kliegs cherish as well. If you’ve never seen any of his work on celluloid or the boob tube, he lends instant physicality and a dose of testosterone, whether it’s a soap or a superhero series.

Being an athlete and a celebrity comes with its own set of dilemmas for Ramsay—mostly being how much he’d love to indulge in activity and pursue being in TV and movies. Being in both is like juggling chainsaws and knives while white water rafting downriver. Athletics may have gotten the short end of the stick for the moment—but darn, has his celebrity career gone stratospheric.

Bring the lightning

We’re talking about Kidlat, the superhero show on TV5 where Ramsay plays the titular protagonist. It’s since tripled his superstar status. It was in 2012 that he signed and transferred to TV5. His first show on the new network was The Amazing Race: Philippines, but the powers that be tailored a new program that would take advantage of his physical prowess.

He excitedly explains, “I’m on national TV and wearing a cool costume. The show’s doing so well na hindi na ko tinatawag na Derek Ramsey, Kidlat na lang. It’s great na both [Voltaire and Kidlat] ay tumatak sa isip ng mga tao. It’s not easy to play a superhero, it’s either you choke and they don’t like you or they really, really like you. Well, I didn’t bomb it, so that’s a good thing. Superhero na maangas, I think it’s been lacking in the dramas, fantaseryes, and teleseryes for quite some time.”

Ramsay being Voltaire being Kidlat is a moment of fulfilment. Every boy “dreams of becoming a superhero,” he says. Every male actor aspires to play one. Kidlat is such a personal high water mark in Ramsay’s career that he plans to take home the suit and mount it on the wall. After all, who else is going to wear it?

“There’s a really great action figure in TV5 that I want to grab,” he laughs and when he laughs the vowels are a bit elongated, like a finishing school lad’s English laugh. “It’s awesome! It’s about this big [holds hand up to approximately 12 inches]. It’s cool, I’ve got to have that one. But I’m definitely going to hang up the suit in my house. In the future, when they make another Kidlat, I can say that I was the first to play this character.”

It took the intricacies of TV artistry to make sure what Ramsay did didn’t amount to mere cosplay with a lot of cameras on. He says, “What I did was watch the Iron Man films to make sure I don’t come off like Robert Downey, Jr. Kidlat was hit by lightning in a perfect storm and it gave him this ability—which Voltaire feels is a curse—but he’s like Tony Stark in a way that he’s not super all the time. I try to keep the two characters as far apart as possible. Even the way they stand, since I didn’t grow up learning how to fight. Kidlat is a bit wild during fights, more of a brawler than a fighter. It’s not all nice lines like wushu. I do know some MMA but that’s the thing, Kidlat isn’t like that. Plus when he uses his powers, like a battery, he gets drained. Andami rin nyang weakness aside from that. He bleeds, he gets hurt.”

“You wanna get into shape? It’s actually really easy, and I don’t say this because I look this way. Everyone says I’m blessed with good genes, but more than half of it is really hard work,” says Derek. In the July issue of HealthToday, he spills his secret fitness routine to achieve those lightning moves. Grab your copy now!

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