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Phil Tufnell on cricket, the Children's Trust and Strictly

PUBLISHED: 10:54 15 September 2010 | UPDATED: 12:32 14 April 2015

Finding out how to spend his next day off Photo by Andy Newbold

Finding out how to spend his next day off Photo by Andy Newbold

Five years ago, Phil Tufnell emerged from the depths of the jungle crowned king, after winning over the hearts of the nation. Now a TV star in his own right, MATTHEW WILLIAMS went to meet the former cricket icon, who lives in Kingswood, to see how life has changed

I'm a celebrity... get me out of here! Chas and James take aim Photo by Andy NewboldI'm a celebrity... get me out of here! Chas and James take aim Photo by Andy Newbold

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine, August 2008

***

Only two days before I meet Phil Tufnell, I watched him play in a charity cricket match at Cranleigh School with the likes of Eric Clapton, Piers Morgan and Mark Ramprakash.

While Tuffers, 42, may be something of a star himself these days, he certainly doesn't act it as he joins Surrey Life at The Children's Trust in Tadworth, where he has recently become a high profile supporter. Sitting down, clad in a leather jacket and jeans, he's as relaxed as ever. Tuffers has always seemed to have a bit of the man of the people about him and there certainly isn't a hint of pretension from him today.

"Would you like a coffee?" offers Michelle Baillie, the communications and media officer at the charity, as Phil walks through the door. "Yup, lovely job," he replies. "Are you happy for us to leave you lot to it for a bit?" she inquires. "Yeah, I'm sure I'll be safe enough. You can come and rescue me later," he quips, settling down with a coffee and an apple juice.

Michelle reminds us that we are to meet two young cricket fans after the interview, both of whom are on intensive rehabilitation programmes at the Trust having sustained brain injuries. "Yup, sure, we'll definitely be there on time for the boys," he says, with a glance in my direction to reinforce the importance of this. You really get the feeling that he doesn't like to disappoint.

In the limelight
A former Middlesex and England cricketer, it seems that since retiring from the game, when he decided to enter I'm a Celebrity, Tuffers has barely stopped. After being crowned king of the jungle, he went on to become a captain on A Question of Sport, a roving reporter on the BBC's The One Show and was the winner of the £30,000 top prize on All Star Mr & Mrs with his wife Dawn, which they donated to The Children's Trust - and then there's all his charity work on top of that.

So, what happened to the man they called 'The Cat' - a nickname he picked up during his days as a cricketer due to his propensity for being found napping in the changing rooms?

"What happened?" laughs Phil. "Erm, I don't know to be honest." Then, composing himself a little, he continues: "It was a very busy life in cricket. People would say, 'yeah, he'd have a little snooze in the changing room' and that becomes your nickname - although it was true!" he smiles.

"But you do get about when you play cricket; you're still doing a lot of things. With touring, you're meeting loads of people all the time and doing a lot of charity work as well. I guess I wanted to carry that on after I finished. The whole 'king of the jungle' thing was all good because it opened up quite a few doors."

So, will he be showing off his steps and joining the recent spate of cricketers to appear on Strictly Come Dancing?

"I don't know about the dancing. You haven't seen me in Lycra! Anyway, how can I follow Ramps and Goughie? No, I think one reality show is enough for me. I had a great time in the jungle. People used to say that it must have been really tough but you're in a beautiful Australian rainforest, sitting round the campfire. It's great - just like camping."

Entering the jungle signalled the end of a career that had seen him become something of an English cricketing icon. Was this a conscious decision or just a coincidence?

"I think it was just one of those moments in your life when you think to yourself that this just might be the right time," he says. "It can be very difficult for a sportsman at that time of their life, to, erm... to choose the right moment.

"Everyone says that you'll know it when it happens but, for a while, I had been sitting there thinking 'well I'm not getting that feeling yet'. But then, when the show came about, it somehow did feel like the right time."

A roving reporter
His appearance in the jungle saw the nation take the cheeky chappie from Barnet to heart, but I wonder if it ever feels strange, that many people probably don't know anything about his cricket career beforehand.

"Well, yeah, very much so. I mean the boys have always known me down the pub for my cricket, but now lots of little kids and old ladies come up and they say, 'Are you the bloke that ate all them bugs?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I am, but don't you remember me bowling out Viv Richards?' And they go, 'Who's Viv Richards?'" (Ed's note to non-cricketers: Richards is one of the greatest batsmen of all time).

At first, the transition from Jack the Lad in the England dressing room to roving reporter on the early evening BBC programme The One Show might seem quite a leap. Until, perhaps, you meet him and realise that his natural charisma and extrovert character is made for TV. Originally, though, even Phil was slightly stumped.

"I'm really not sure why they approached me," he admits. "But I was like, 'Yeah, sounds great'. It enables me to do something a little different to sport. I like people; I like meeting people, I like talking to people, I like having a laugh with people. I think that's possibly what they saw in me."

Culture vulture
And did he ever imagine that he'd be popping into the country's art galleries and such like?

"Well no, not really. I mean, I've always liked a bit of art, yeah. I don't profess to being any kind of critic or something but I am interested in it. I think a lot of people are. But I think some people feel a little bit intimidated by it all. Whereas I just go around saying, 'I like that' or 'Ooh, I'm not sure I like that one'. You know, it is allowed. I think some people can just decide to not go to art exhibitions because they are scared of saying the wrong thing.

"And that's not just about art. I think with a lot of people, if you get talking to them, you tend to find that they are very knowledgeable and all have very good opinions about a lot of things. So why not say them? I think sometimes when people talk to me they feel that they can say these opinions knowing that I won't judge them. That's why I think I do The One Show."

Throughout his cricket career, Tuffers had always adopted the same approach that has made him such a favourable television personality. He says what he sees and is always honest with it.

Down to earth
"Perhaps it cost me a few Test matches for not saying or doing the right thing at the right time but I still did it. And, I still did it with a smile on my face." I ask him if he thinks it is this, in part, that endeared him to the fans. "I suppose people might see a little of themselves in me," he concedes. "I've had a go, I'm just a normal chap, I'm just..." He hesitates. 'Down to earth,' I suggest. "Yeah, down to earth. That'll do."

It is his extraordinary ability to make people feel at ease that makes him an ideal spokesman for charities, and the raised profile from his TV appearances certainly hasn't done any harm either.

"With the charity stuff, it's just amazing that if you turn up somewhere they can make an extra couple of grand, whereas if you don't turn up somewhere they won't. It's as simple as that in some respects.

"I live just down the road from here and, really, I wanted to get a charity where I could just sort of pop in. Somewhere close to home and somewhere that I could feel a little bit of a part of. Like today, I can just pop in to see these two young fellas and have some fun.

"The work they do here is amazing; it must be so hard for these kids. Some have gone from being perfectly fine one minute, then they might have been hit by a car, their brain has been damaged and now they have got to get back to where they were. There isn't much worse than being able to run around, fit as a fiddle one day to the next day being unable to."

Nowadays, Phil is happily settled with his wife Dawn in the Kingswood area, where they tend to 'muck about' in the local pubs or relax in the garden.

"I've lived in Surrey for about four years but my wife Dawn has always lived here," he says. "We live in a nice little village. Well, it's a bit funny saying a village when you've got the A217 running through it, but it's got that villagey atmosphere. When I first moved in, everyone was very friendly and happy to take you down the pub and show you around. I'm very happy here."

Earlier in our conversation, Phil mentioned that it can be very tough for professional sportsmen to retire. Speaking to him today, however, he seems to be thoroughly enjoying life.

"I'm certainly working harder than ever, and I am enjoying myself, very much so," he says. "I feel very lucky really. I've had a lovely career in cricket and now I've got all this other stuff going on. It's been fun."

And, what does the future hold?

"I'm just cruising along really... enjoying myself."

On that note, we head off to meet the two lads, James, eight, and Chas, 12. Tuffers is quick to mingle with parents and children, chatting about cricket and the previous night's football. Everyone is laughing, everyone is smiling and everyone is happy. I sense that is just the way that he likes it.

  • Surrey Life met Phil Tufnell at The Children's Trust in Tadworth. For more information, call 01737 365000 or visit www.thechildrenstrust.org.uk

***

My favourite Surrey...

Restaurant: "Me and the wife don't really have anywhere in particular. We tend to just muck about down the local pubs."
Shop: "Erm, nothing really comes to mind for that one. You'd have to ask the missus."
View: "I thought Cranleigh School was incredible when I played there with the Bunburys (the travelling charity cricket team) the other day."
Place to go: "I really like the horses and Surrey has some great racecourses."
Place to chill: "Sitting in the back garden with my feet up and a beer, usually."

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