Julie Neville has released a new book entitled Superfoods: How To Make Them Work For You
A catalogue of health problems that plagued her a decade ago when they still lived in Manchester is a distant memory, thanks to a combination of superfoods – more of which below – and almost three years living in Spain.
“The year-round sunshine, outdoor living, abundance of great quality meat, freshly caught fish and the slower pace of life in Spain have dramatically enhanced all of our lives,” Julie enthuses.
They moved there in June 2015 with their children Harvey, 15, and Isabella, 13, when Phil took a job as coach at Valencia football club.
Although he left the club in May 2016, the family have stayed in the city they now say feels like home.
Harvey is contracted to Valencia’s football academy, they all speak fluent Spanish and weekends are spent in their villa’s outdoor pool.
Given the current grey skies and icy blasts in the UK, it sounds idyllic.
“In England I spent hours in indoor play areas with my children during rainy school holidays but here everyone is on the beach, at the pool or in the parks,” Julie adds.
“There was definitely a period of adjustment though. I spent our first month in Spain feeling frustrated that nothing happened at 110 miles an hour like it does in the UK.
The family moved to Valencia in 2015 when Phil took on a coaching role at Valencia football club
“But I quickly realised I needed to adopt the Spanish pace of life. I’ve learned now that if something doesn’t get done today, nine times out of 10 it really doesn’t matter.
“There’s a lot less heart disease in Spain and I don’t think that’s totally down to the Mediterranean diet.
“They know how to relax and enjoy life and are less stressed than we are.”
For Julie, 42, good health has long been a serious matter. Hers declined rapidly after Isabella was born prematurely in February 2004 and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy aged 18 months.
Julie Neville is now penning a second book on how to cook authentic Spanish food
With two small children and Phil away on football duties with Manchester United and England, for two years Julie suffered crippling health problems including an underactive thyroid and glaucoma, which almost destroyed her eye-sight.
When her GP then prescribed beta blockers for panic attacks, Julie had a moment of clarity. Determined to take control she binned her medication, along with any foods, toiletries and cleaning products in the house that contained chemicals.
She pored over websites and books on nutrition and enrolled on a distance learning course in the subject.
Desperate to “heal” herself, Julie became vegetarian and ate only organic produce and so-called superfoods – nutrient rich foods that are deemed especially beneficial for health and wellbeing and may even aid some medical conditions.
Phil Neville assisted brother Gary who became manager at Valencia FC in 2015
Examples include tomatoes, pomegranate, cumin and chia seeds, plus oats, quinoa and even the humble cauliflower.
“Within a month I felt like a different person,” she says. “Since then neither the children nor I have taken a single antibiotic.”
Now, Julie has distilled her experiences of over the past 12 years into a new book, Superfoods: How To Make Them Work For You. Although she initially went to extremes she long since reached an equilibrium and wants others to see how easily superfoods can be incorporated into their own diets.
“Nothing’s banned in our house and I enjoy eating meat and fish now. If I fancy a tub of ice cream or a bar of chocolate I have it. If you do everything right 80 per cent of the time you can afford to eat what you like the rest of it. If my children have eaten healthily all day I don’t mind them having sweets.
“It’s about moderation and it’s very easy to incorporate delicious fruit and veg into your diet. I pass the fruit trucks on the school run each morning and buy oranges to take home and juice.”
It may not be quite so simple in the cold of the UK though, and reports this week suggest that Phil is “close” to being appointed coach of the England women’s football team which could mean a return en masse.“I know one day he’s going to get an offer that will mean he’s based more full-time in the UK,” Julie admits.
“But for now the children and I are based in Spain while Phil works between here, England and wherever else he needs to be. We’ll reassess the situation in the summer.
Moving back to the cold and rain would be a shock, especially as the Spanish climate has been so beneficial to Isabella.
“When Harvey’s playing football she runs around at the side of the pitch. In England she’d often be wrapped in blankets with hot-water bottles and I’d have to give her physio at the side of the pitch to get her legs going again.
The Neville’s say they are already looking forward the World Cup in Russia
“Her surgeons in England have noticed a big improvement since we’ve lived in Spain. It has been very, very good for her.”
A year ago, Isabella fulfilled her ambition of becoming a model when she was signed by British agency Source Models, the first girl on their books with a disability. Julie admits Phil was initially dead against it.
“His first words were, ‘absolutely no way whatsoever’, but I pointed out that we do everything to facilitate Harvey’s dream of being a footballer so we have to support her too,” she explains.
“She was offered a part in a very well-known TV soap recently but it coincided with school exams so it wasn’t sensible and she agreed.”
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Julie is now penning a second book on how to cook authentic Spanish food, spending time in kitchens nutrition everywhere from Valencia’s Michelin-starred restaurants to its hid den backstreet gems. She can now rustle up “four or five different types of paella”.
Just don’t expect Phil, 41, to do the same. He once said he’d never made a cup of instant coffee. Julie subsequently revealed he’d never used the washing machine or vacuum either.
“He is capable,” she insists, “but I’m quite OCD about our home and love doing cooking and cleaning.”
She previously declined a publisher’s invitation to write a book about nutrition for footballers.
“I wasn’t keen and could visualise the headlines,” she says, a nod to the fact that she was one of the original WAGs – the label given to the glamorous wives and girlfriends of England’s footballers during the 2006 World Cup.
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“People’s perceptions of the wives and girlfriends are wrong anyway but I don’t mind the WAG tag, football has definitely opened doors for me.”
On the subject of World Cups, the Nevilles are already looking forward to this summer’s tournament in Russia. “Basically our whole lives are football,” Julie adds.
“Everything stops for an England game and now, Spain games too. We have friends who play for Spain and our children say they feel part Spanish. It’s very much our second team.
“Whether we leave in June or we’re here for another year or two, it has been the most enriching experience for all of us.”
With that, her lunch date with Phil beckons and they head off to eat at a restaurant on the beach in the sunshine.
To order Superfoods: How To Make Them Work For You, by Julie Neville (White Owl, £14.99) with free UK delivery, call the Express Bookshop with your card details on 01872 562310. Or send a cheque/ PO made payable to Express Bookshop to: Superfoods Offer,
PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4WJ or order at expressbookshop.co.uk