VIDEO: WEIGH FORWARD - Weigh to go for champion Philip!

LIFE-changing – that is how most of the contestants in the Mail-backed Weigh Forward challenge summed up their experiences after the final weigh-in on Saturday.

During an at-times emotional ceremony held at the Grand Hotel, in Swainson Street, eight of the finalists were each called up to the stage, where they were presented with certificates as their final weight was revealed by personal trainer Steven Smith.

Philip Bentham with his trophy and (below) with Jean Leonard (left) and Gemma Horsley

Philip Bentham with his trophy and (below) with Jean Leonard (left) and Gemma Horsley

The winner – having lost a staggering 3st since the start of the 10-week challenge – was dad-of-two Philip Bentham, who slimmed from 16st 8lbs to 13st 8lb, which is 18 per cent of his starting weight.

Philip, who lives with partner Marc and children Keaton, 11, and four-year-old JJ on a farm off Catcote Road, said: “I feel fab.

“But it wasn’t about winning.

“Everyone has worked together – without everyone else I probably wouldn’t have gone as far as I have.”

The 33-year-old office worker paid tribute to Steven and Steven’s mother, Dawn Smith, as well as the personal trainer’s fiancée Amanda Hockborn and his cousin Edika Ward, who helped to run the fitness sessions.

“They have all been immense,” he said.

The feat is even more remarkable for Philip, who has put in extra training on his own and with fellow contestant Gemma Horsley, 30, who came second after shedding 1st 10lb, as he is battling Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel condition.

But he said he never once felt like giving up and added: “If you smile and laugh you can get through anything.”

Philip is now enjoying being able to fit into smaller clothes, having gone from a size 38 waist to 32, and he said he now has more energy and confidence.

His son JJ said: “On Saturday morning Dad was saying ‘I don’t think I’ve won’. But I knew he would.”

Trainer Steven, who during the awards ceremony described Philip as “everybody’s friend and a friend for life to me”, said: “I’m so pleased for Philip, he was a favourite with everybody.

“Hats off to everyone, they have made me really proud.”

Philip won a hotel stay and two months of one-to-one personal training, while runner-up Gemma receives a month’s personal training.

Philip said he will continue with his fitness drive and members of his family have also signed up to Steven’s sessions.

The Hartlepool Mail launched the Weigh Forward competition in conjunction with Tavistock Leisure and Steven.

The competition began in August and our contestants got off to a flying start – losing 106lb in the first week.

Since then, every one of them has improved their health dramatically, started running and taken up training on their own as well as in the competition.

Each of them has also said they plan to continue training sessions with Steven now that the challenge is over.

Anyone interested in getting fit can call Steven on 07861 520717.

● To find out how the other contestants did, see Tuesday’s Mail.