Monday, April 02, 2007

"Alfie": Wales skipper Gareth Thomas

October 17, 2006

The Sunday Times' Paul Kimmage conducts a revealing interview with Welsh captain Gareth Thomas.

October 15, 2006

The Big Interview: Gareth Thomas

The Wales star reveals the bizarre sequence of events earlier this year that left him fearing for his life

When your name is Gareth “Alfie” Thomas and you have led your country to a Grand Slam, captained the Lions in New Zealand, won the European Cup with Toulouse and been voted the most popular sports star in Wales, there are apologies you never expect to have to make at the age of 31. This was one of them.

“Oh my God, Mum, I’m so sorry,” he said.

It was a Sunday evening in February and he was travelling in a car with his parents, Barry and Yvonne, from the BBC Wales studios in Cardiff to his home in the Vale of Glamorgan. He had arrived earlier that evening on a flight from Toulouse and been driven straight to the studio for an interview on Scrum V, the Welsh rugby magazine programme.

Five days had passed since Mike Ruddock’s sudden decision to resign as national coach. Thomas, the Wales captain, had been invited on to the programme to answer suggestions that the players had played a role. It hadn’t gone well. He had lost his cool in a panel debate with Eddie Butler and Jonathan Davies, and the repercussions were haunting him.

“I’m really sorry if I’ve upset you, Mum,” he said. “I’m sorry if I made the family name look bad.”

“You’ve nothing to feel sorry about,” his mother insisted. “I’m just really upset with them. They’ve bullied you and picked on you.”

He wanted to crawl under a rock and never come out.

His wife Jemma and their friends Ian and Catherine were waiting when they got home. The programme would be airing shortly and they had arranged to watch it together with his parents. His heart was pounding and his hands were shaking with nerves. His mind was racing with doomsday thoughts.

“Maybe it wasn’t that bad?”

“It was bad, Alfie.”

“No, I need to see it again.”

“Please yourself.”

“Okay, how bad was it?”

“Like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

“That bad?”

“Like a complete raving lunatic.”

“What will people think?”

Jemma suggested tea. He thought he would throw up.

He went upstairs to retrieve Alf — a soft-toy replica of the character from the American television sitcom — from the bedroom in an effort to calm himself. He held the toy in his arm and started to pace the floor. Suddenly the Scrum V credits were rolling on the living-room television. He watched from a standing position against the wall as he was introduced with Butler and Davies by the presenter, Gareth Lewis.

The first sense he had that something was amiss was pins and needles in his left arm and a light dizziness. He slumped into the nearest chair and tried to figure it out. His head felt unbearably heavy; the pins and needles had spread to his legs; his left side felt numb and something peculiar was happening to his face. He tried to open his mouth, but couldn’t move his tongue. He thought: “I’m having a heart attack!” and tried to utter a muffled plea. “No! No!” His family were transfixed by what was happening on the screen.

He slid from the chair on to the floor. His body was numb; his eyes were facing the wall; like a goldfish tipped from a bowl, he tried to flip himself around so that he could see his family. “I’m going to die,” he thought.

[...] Read the rest.

  • The uncomfortable-bordering-on-hostile BBC Scrum V program cited above can be viewed online here (runs 20 minutes). Yeah, Alf loses it a bit. But like he says, he's a rugby player, not a politician. Oh, and bonus points for turning up on set wearing a Motorhead t-shirt.

  • Heated discussion (including yours truly) at The Silver Fern forum.

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