Tim Albone. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Tim Albone. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Tim Albone has been to places where angels fear to tread. But when I suggested we meet at a bar close to where we both live, he didn’t want to go.

"I poached one of their staff to work with me at the gym," he smiles. "Not sure if they would be too happy with me sitting there talking about my new venture."

The new venture is Ritual Gym in the Thrupps Centre in Illovo, Johannesburg. It compresses the workout experience into just 30 minutes, including changing clothes, exercising, showering and having a recovery smoothie.

The exercise bit is a 20-minute class, limited to 10 people, with a personal trainer. It is based on high-intensity interval training techniques.

Members can walk in wearing their work clothes and need not pack a gym bag, as clothes, towels and toiletries are provided. Classes are done barefoot on the cushioned floor.

Three worlds collided to get Albone into the gym industry. He was on a game drive in Zimbabwe with two American friends. With the splendour and beauty of the bush around them, the Americans were desperately looking for a Wi-Fi signal so they could go online to book classes at their gyms back home.

"That’s when I thought: there has to be something in this," says Albone, who had been looking to start a business of his own.

Albone’s friends in Singapore had posted pictures of the Ritual Gyms in the city-state where they were founded. Albone mailed Brad Robinson, the Ritual Gym CEO and co-founder, who was flying to Brazil from Singapore via SA. They met, and a few months later Albone moved his family from Zimbabwe to Johannesburg.

Before this, "I had a few crazy business ideas that I was throwing around", says Albone.

"I thought about a banana farm in Zambia, but as soon as the gym came up my wife decided it was the least crazy."

Albone has done crazier things in his life than opening a gym. In 2005 he went to Afghanistan as freelance correspondent for The Times and The Sunday Times of London, and stayed for two and a half years. He was bombed and shot at, and almost fell off a cliff when the car he was in lost control.

He fell in love with the madness and beauty of Afghanistan and after he had left, wanted to film a documentary that celebrated the country.

He followed the Afghanistan cricket team on their remarkable journey to qualify for the 2010 T20 World Cup in the West Indies. The film Out of the Ashes is one of the great sports stories, and is told with pathos, humour and admiration.

"We thought the team would lose their first game in Jersey, but they just kept winning," says Albone. "They became quite good, actually. When we started following them they were the worst in the world. We initially thought we would just shoot a 20-minute film of them."

As Albone has found out with his new gym, there are lots of things you can cram into 20 minutes.