A globe-trotting professional poker player has come back to the North East to take over the running of a business established by his famous bodybuilder father, a nine times winner of Mr Universe.
Carlo Citrone has sat at card tables alongside film stars such as Matt Damon and James Woods, mentored Australian cricket legend Shane Warne and has witnessed, at first hand, tennis champion Boris Becker’s foray into poker. “He’s working hard at his game and he’s certainly enthusiastic, but he’s got a long way to go,” said Carlo.
His father John is himself no stranger to super stardom. During a 50-year career he was a winner of 15 world bodybuilding titles, became a close friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger and – on the BBC’s children’s programme Blue Peter – blew up a hot water bottle which then exploded.
He has lived all his life in Chester-le-Street, where his grandfather opened an ice cream parlour in the 1900s – and Citrone’s Café and Bar in Front Street is still going strong today.
John and his twin brother Eddie were short – John is 5ft 4 inches tall – and bullied. “I would now be short, bald and fat if I hadn’t taken up bodybuilding,” he said. “My brother took the other route. He was a chain smoker and died at 63 of lung cancer. I’m fit and healthy at the age of 73.”
John developed his physique through hard work in the gym and a diet of protein. In 1995 he started his Washington-based business Peak Body, peakbody.co.uk/, using his expert knowledge of proteins to produce powders and drinks to help fellow bodybuilders.
“The business and the products are him,” said Carlo, whose own bodybuilding career was cut short when he was nearly killed in a motorbike accident. “He’s formulated and developed them and they’re all based on his experience over the years, knowing what athletes need.”
Although John will continue to oversee new products, he has handed over the day-to-day running of the business to his son who is looking to grow Peak Body – which currently employs seven people. Its range of new products, for example, are aimed at anybody interested in fitness: runners, dieters, gym members, as well as bodybuilders.
“The best advice for anybody wanting to get into physical training and nutrition and diet is to get the best advice,” said Carlo. “What sets us apart from other businesses is that nobody can offer the professional expertise that my father can.
“With the correct nutritional and training support, you can maximise your results and not have to focus on any short cuts.”
Returning home – he lives in Washington – and running Peak Body is not the end of Carlo’s poker career, who presented Sky’s Poker TV channel from its launch in 2007 and has career earnings of £1m. He plans to take part in next year’s prestigious World Series in Las Vegas.
John is planning to enjoy more Mediterranean sunshine and might even find an opportunity to catch up with old friends. In 1965 he was one of the first people in the UK to get to know Schwarzenegger, who came here as a 19-year-old from Austria. “We were competing in the Mr Universe contest. Arnold walked in – this huge guy who couldn’t speak English. Nobody had seen anybody like him before,” he said.
For the next five years the pair won most of the major bodybuilding competitions in their respective classes. The future Hollywood actor and governor of California stayed with John and his family in Chester-le-Street and one night visited the Rococo night club in Sunderland. “There had been pictures of him in the papers so people couldn’t believe it was him when we turned up,” said John.
Schwarzenegger moved to the United States to seek his fame and fortune and they did not see each other again until two years ago when John was in the audience for “An Evening with Arnold Schwarzenegger” in Leeds.
“We somehow managed to catch up after the show. It was great to see him. When we said goodbye he said ‘Hey John let’s not leave it another forty years to meet up.’