Mark Ramprakash on Strictly, Surrey and cricket
PUBLISHED: 15:34 11 October 2010 | UPDATED: 21:39 23 May 2014
When Mark Ramprakash appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, which he went on to win, half the female population fell in love with him. MATTHEW WILLIAMS spoke to the shy Surrey cricketer to find out how life has changed since the show
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine, February 2008
Arguably the most talented batsman of his generation, Surrey cricketer Mark Ramprakash has been on fire for the past two seasons - but it was his appearance on a certain TV show that was undoubtedly responsible for him becoming a household name.
As a professional sportsman at the top level of his game, the charismatic North Londoner was used to facing intense pressure. Nothing, however, could have prepared him for being thrust into the spotlight of the nation's favourite Saturday night pastime, Strictly Come Dancing.
"Whereas cricket is my natural environment, dancing took me out of my comfort zone and out of my bubble," admits Mark, who blew judges and audiences away with his mix of charisma, grace and good looks.
"When you're being beamed into people's living rooms across the country, there's a live studio audience and you're doing something that a few months back you would never imagined yourself doing, it's certainly a challenge."
Regarded as a fairly introverted sort of character, his self-assured appearances on the show stunned team mates and fans alike. In fact, some have said that since then, there has been a marked change in his confidence.
Certainly, on meeting him at The Oval, Surrey County Cricket Club's London ground, it's hard to imagine him anything other than calm, relaxed and composed.
"Apart from the fun aspect, you also get paid as well," continues Mark, who won the 2006 show with his dance partner Karen Hardy. "Cricket is slightly different to football. Players are only contracted for part of the year and so, in-between, players tend to find other things to do.
"I still find it a little hard to believe, though, that there are so many times I end up talking about the paso doble or salsa rather than cricket! Mind you, the posture, balance and flexibility gained through dancing certainly didn't harm my cricket."
A year on, Ramprakash says he still sits down with his two daughters, Cara, 10, and Anya, five, to watch the programme when he can. "Cara is already a keen dancer," he says. "It's a bit too early to say whether Anya will be too. They are certainly more interested in that than the cricket!"
One of the more negative aspects of the show, however, was the spotlight it cast across his marriage and the digging into his private life that ensued after it was revealed he had just ended a two-year affair. Though he and wife Vandana attempted to work through their problems for the sake of their two young daughters, the strain of the unwanted publicity eventually took its toll and Mark moved out of the family home in December.
Understandably, this is still a sore subject and, when I ask him about it, he politely declines to comment, saying: "Sorry mate, I don't want to talk about it..." In February, Mark and Vandana decided to give it another go and Mark has returned to their £1 million North London home.
A glittering career...
While he may have been catapulted into the public eye largely through Strictly Come Dancing, there is no getting away from Mark's impressive cricket credentials. Now 38, he started in the game as a fresh faced 17-year-old wonderkid at Middlesex, and captained the England U-19s. He joined Surrey County Cricket Club in 2001, which he also went on to captain, and last year he became the first cricketer in history to score over 2,000 runs, at an average of over 100 runs an innings, for two consecutive seasons.
The enigmatic batsman says that while not ruling out a return to the England fold it will take a better offer than the one recently dropped onto his doorstep.
"Their approach was ambiguous and I felt they were playing politics," says Mark. "I feel it should be as simple as having a list of the best batsman in the country and then as someone gets injured you chalk them off and call up the next person down the list. If England want to pick me for the New Zealand tour in March, or for this summer's tests, I am available. But it would not be the be all and end all to me."
After seven years at the club, he has now got two years left in his contract, which will take him beyond his 40th birthday.What does he see on the horizon when he eventually draws a line under his innings?
"At my age, you can't really look too far to the future and I'm just concentrating on enjoying the years in the game I've got left," he says. "You certainly start feeling different strains and the physicality of the game, but the experience I have gained over the years has been invaluable.
"I didn't really have any major links to Surrey before I joined the club, but I have felt at home here ever since joining. I guess I just looked over the river when I was at Middlesex and liked the look of the place. I immediately felt at home in the changing room and the Surrey crowd are great. I'd certainly be looking to stay here when my career is over and like the idea of professional coaching."
Regarded as a technically brilliant batsman, I wonder what other sports he enjoys during those moments when cricket takes a back seat?
"I've recently taken up golf and I can see that as the sport that will replace cricket for me," says Mark. "It's just a bit of fun, though, whereas cricket, of course, is my living.
"I'm looking forward to my testimonial year, this year. As part of that, we'll be looking at a golf day at Wentworth, although nothing is confirmed yet."
Visits to Surrey...
He has spent much of his life living up in Harrow, North London, just around the corner from his parents. And though Ramprakash says that he wouldn't rule out moving to Surrey in the future, he doesn't fancy moving too far away just yet. He is, however, good mates with Alec Stewart and often visits the former Surrey stalwart and ex-England captain at his Ashtead home, near Leatherhead.
"We do have a favourite curry house down there, but for the life of me I can't remember its name!" he says. "I also play football with his team, Corinthian Casuals, and we've just played against Sutton Grammar. We go round and play against public schools and such."
Surrey's ladies will no doubt be hoping that these casual flits around the county become a more regular occurrence when he decides to hang up his bat and gloves. I ask the reluctant heart-throb how he has coped with all the extra female attention.
"To be honest, the heart-throb status hasn't really materialised as much as some people seem to think," says Mark. "At first, yeah, things changed, but I guess after a while it dies down a bit. I still get the tube down to the ground, most of the time, as I find it much more relaxing than driving.
"I do get people stopping me, but generally they're always friendly and polite. These days, though, people tend to ask me about my dancing more than they do my cricket!"
From talking to Ramprakash, you get the feeling that, although he holds no regrets about doing Strictly Come Dancing, he is now looking to move forward, enjoy the rest of his career and concentrate on his first love of cricket.
As I leave the Oval, I notice Mark walking a few metres in front of me, wrapped up in leather jacket and purple scarf. We reach the exit and I half wonder if we are both thinking the same thing: Will I get to the Tube in time to beat the rush hour crush?