Thought You'd Never Ask: Def Leppard's Phil Collen

Guitarist opens up about rock and fitness, pigging out on dairy-free ice cream, kickboxing, and Def Leppard on Broadway
  • Photo: Victor Chavez/
    Phil Collen
  • The "Health & Fitness" issue of GRAMMY magazine is available now
July 23, 2013 -- 1:34 pm PDT
By Bryan Reesman /

(The following interview was published in the "Health & Fitness Issue" of GRAMMY magazine.)

Beyond being a longtime member of multi-platinum rock icons Def Leppard, guitarist Phil Collen is famous for playing shirtless during concerts. And for good reason: The 55-year-old rocker is totally ripped. Collen credits his impressive physical appearance to his strict workout regimen, which includes rigorous cardio sessions and weight training, and his diet. He's been a vegetarian for three decades and switched to a vegan diet in recent years.

In April, Def Leppard wrapped their Viva Hysteria! residency in Las Vegas, a show that saw them play their classic 1987 album Hysteria in its entirety. With the band having completed their summer tour itinerary, Collen opened up about rock, health and Def Leppard on Broadway.

While you're known for your healthy eating habits, people can fall off the wagon. Is there ever a time when you pig out?
Absolutely. [I] do it with really simple stuff like chips. Being a vegan, [I] can still really pig out. Purely Decadent has this [dairy-free] coconut ice cream, and that always does the trick.

One of Def Leppard's biggest hits is "Pour Some Sugar On Me." How do you incorporate sugar into your diet?
I try not to, actually. I came off of one tour — and I wasn't doing this on purpose — and I stopped eating anything that had sugar in it, except for stuff like apples and oranges that I got out of my own garden and squeezed. I lost 6 pounds in a week, and I wasn't actually trying to lose weight.

How much are you benching these days?
The weight that I'm benching is ridiculous. When we were in Vegas [for our residency], I benched 380 pounds, and I only weigh 155. I could never do that before. I couldn't even dream of it. I think if you're consistent, that's the thing. You have to have a balanced diet and keep the well clean. You'd be amazed what you can do as you get older. It blows me away. I never thought I'd be able to do this stuff at this age.

What's more difficult: shredding 32nd notes at 100 beats per minute or bench-pressing 380 pounds?
It's really funny you should say that because if you're playing all the time when you're on tour, if you come off tour and leave it for a week or two, the stuff that you can do on tour all of a sudden just disappears. That goes for anything, any sport or physical activity or mental thing. You can get it back, but you just have to step outside of your comfort zone for a little while.

Your training includes Muay Thai kickboxing. Does it comfort you to know that you could kick the a** of an unruly fan who might jump onstage?
People ask me if I would go into the ring, but I just love the science and the sport. Although Jean [Carrillo], my trainer, who is a five-time world champion coach, says if I wasn't playing guitar he'd have me in the ring in no time.

One problem nonvegetarians have in considering eating healthier is the cost. For example, some people have jokingly called Whole Foods Market "Whole Paycheck."
I agree. I feel a bit stiff when I go in there because you can get gouged for sure. For the ones around [Laguna Hills, Calif.], it's all Priuses and Mercedes in the parking lot. There's a place that we go to called Growers Direct, and it's got all these organic vegetables and is cheaper than anywhere else around. We hit that all the time.

One music question: Is there a dream project that you'd like to do?
Since we did [our residency] in Vegas, I was thinking of a story that links all of Hysteria together. I think it would be great if there was a story, a movie, [or] a Broadway show. I have an idea that’s kind of Mad Max meets Prometheus, if you can imagine that, and ties in everything. It would be really cool.

(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)

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