When former England rugby captain Will Carling stopped playing he went to ground for a year in a rented flat in Covent Garden in a bid to avoid the media and stay out of the limelight. He didn’t give his number to his parents. He didn’t open the blinds for a year. And part of the reason he chose the flat was that it had an underground car park which meant his car wouldn’t be spotted by members of the paparazzi.
Carling made these revelations when he appeared on this week’s episode of BBC Radio 4 podcast Don’t Tell Me the Score, which is available now on BBC Sounds.
Carling was the first England rugby captain to take the country to a Rugby World Cup final in 1991 (which ended in defeat 12-6 against the Wallabies) so it seems entirely appropriate to hear from him as the team prepares to play in the 2019 version of the tournament tomorrow in Japan.
On the BBC podcast he spoke candidly to sports presenter Simon Mundie about relationships, how they’ve affected his life and sporting career and how he reacted when he stopped playing.
When asked about his relationship with the Celtic nations, whose fans have previously taken issue with his confidence, Will says: “My issue, to a certain extent, with the Celtic nations or any other nation was (that) they’re all allowed to be passionate – the Welsh are, and the Scots – whereas the English, we aren’t.
“That used to frustrate the hell out of me because this was my dream since I was seven – playing for England, I never thought I would. But you’re thinking ‘it’s my dream – I’m incredibly passionate about that.’ And it is the case that if the English ever talk passionately, they’re being ‘arrogant’ – and it’s quite bizarre. You think ‘but I want to be passionate about playing for England’.
“I listen to the Scots, the Irish, the Welsh and the French… why can’t we be passionate? But we’re not allowed to be because we’re England, and we’re meant to be the big brother and all that, and I don’t buy into any of that stuff. This is my dream and I want to be passionate about it.”
Will also discusses how the end of his rugby career affected his life. He says: “Rugby had been my focus since I was seven – it consumed me. And therefore, when it suddenly goes, it’s bizarre how you just… you’re rudderless. I had three years of just chaos, a lot of it self-inflicted. You’re not intentionally trying to get things wrong; you just get lots of things wrong. You make bad decisions.
“I remember I rented a flat in Covent Garden, which had underground parking so the press couldn’t see my car out on the road, and I lived there for a year and didn’t open the blinds once. My parents didn’t even have the number. They didn’t know where I lived, no one knew where I lived. That’s quite weird. You basically got followed almost every day for a long, long period of your life and that is horrible.
“There are different bits that people don’t see, in terms of the media. I remember when Lisa and I got together, and she was pregnant and we were walking towards a court session and there were about four or five paparazzi and they were trying to trip her up. They were going: ‘come on Will, you’re a man, what are you going to do?’ And that’s the bit where you look at them and you think: ‘Jesus, one day…’
“I had had smoke blown up my arse for 10 years. You are this comic book hero and then you are absolutely flawed, and you are rock bottom, and it makes you reassess your values and everything else and what’s important, and it’s a really good kick in the… you know.”
The World Cup final kicks off at 9 tomorrow morning UK time. We at London Inspire wish England all the best. A repeat of 2003 would be very welcome, but let’s not say too much to risk jinxing anything. We note how many people have emerged as rugby fans in recent weeks, many of whom couldn’t tell the difference between a ruck and a maul. Come to think of it …