Tell us about the show?
“I’ve always enjoyed spinning a yarn and as everyone knows, rugby players all love telling stories. I do a lot of public speaking, so I’ve always thought it would be great to take what I do and put it on a stage, just to let it breathe a little bit more and give it some life. Also, I wanted to get other people that I enjoy speaking with involved too. What really made me go for it, as it’s quite a terrifying idea really, was when a few of us were contacted during the first lockdown by people asking us to record a message for their parents or grandparents who were struggling.”
Picking the guests for something like this can’t be easy, as you don’t just need legends, you need legends who can entertain a crowd too. What was your criteria for selection?
“They’ve got stories to tell. It’s as simple as that. They’re World Cup winners, they’re players who have overcome adversity, they’re players who make me laugh and will make other people laugh. They’ll inspire you, they’ll motivate you and they’re insightful. We have Benjamin Kaiser who’s hugely bright and has a great insight into what on Earth is going on in French Rugby right now, as it’s suddenly in this rich vein of form. You’ve got Lawrence Dallaglio talking about winning the World Cup and the highs and lows of his career, you’ve got Sean Fitzpatrick talking about what it’s like to be an All Black.”
How is the show going to work on the night, then?
“We’re fine-tuning how it’s going to work, but basically I’ll do my bit to start, which will be 20-30 minutes, then we’ll get the guests on stage and let them go. I’ll be interviewing them, they’ll be chatting amongst themselves and they’ll be very involved with the crowd. We’ll get people who are coming to send questions in advance over social media, then on the night they can ask them in person, kind of like a Newsnight format. It’ll be very relaxed and interactive. We want it to be reactive and off the cuff.”
Your time in rugby coincided with the era when the sport suddenly went professional and players became actual household names. What was that like?
“Nobody knew quite what was happening when rugby went professional. We just trained a lot more. Some of it worked and some didn’t, so it took a while to find it’s feet as a professional sport, though you could argue it still hasn’t quite got there even now, as a result of some decisions made at the time. There definitely were superstars in that England team when I was involved with it, for sure. I certainly wasn’t one of them, but you look at Will Carling, Jeremy Guscott, Rob Andrew, Brian Moore and people like that, they were real stars that everyone wanted to talk about, particularly Will and Jerry.”
Before turning professional, you balanced rugby with being a serving police officer. That can’t have been easy?
“I loved it, even though it was chaotic at times. It was the norm at the time. I would finish work and go straight to a game, or the other way about. You’d feel battered and bruised, thinking ‘I really can’t face night duty here’, but you’d just get on with it. I was a police officer, so I took that role incredibly seriously and wouldn’t ever let anyone down.”
You seemed like a natural on Masterchef, as many sportspeople seem to do. Is it the competitive spirit that drove you on there, or is there more to it than that?
“I loved doing that, but it’s not so much that we are being competitive, it’s more that you make sure what you do, you do right. I think that’s where sports men and women do well on Masterchef as they learn, listen and take on advice, as well as being very good at sorting themselves out, prepping themselves and getting themselves where they need to be.”
You are releasing your first book, A Very Tall Story, in September of this year. What prompted you to finally tell your story like that?
“It’s kind of the same reason for doing it as I had for the tour, to be honest. Basically I was sitting in lockdown and realised I had a story to tell. The aim of the book initially was going to be a kind of love-letter to rugby, just exploring why I love the game so much.”
Between rugby, film, tv, public speaking, writing and more, you’ve achieved a lot in your life. Is there anything you’d still want to do now?
“I’m not ready to slow down yet. The time will come when I want to do that, but I love what I do. The crucial thing is I love being part of a team, as everything I’ve succeeded in over the course of my life has been part of a team, even in Masterchef as you’ve still working together with great people, even if you are competing as an individual.”
So if anyone is on the fence about coming to the live shows, why should they take the plunge?
“You will feel the sense of belonging, love and family that rugby can engender. You’ll feel the excitement, you’ll hear stories that you won’t have heard before, you’ll get the inside track on what really went on and you’ll see and hear some of the greatest players who have ever played the game.”
Tickets for all shows are on sale now via myticket.co.uk from £30 with VIP tickets including meet & greets and more at £95.