I don’t drink – it can turn me into an id­iot

For­mer Eng­land cricket cap­tain Fred­die Flintoff talks to ROSIE HOPEGOOD about his TV show Can­non­ball, why drink turned him into an id­iot, and keep­ing his kids grounded

Coventry Telegraph - - CELEBRITY WELLBEING -

FRED­DIE Flintoff is chilled. So chilled, in fact, that he’s prac­ti­cally hor­i­zon­tal on the sofa, one arm prop­ping up a head of tou­sled, straw­coloured hair, the other draped over the side of the couch. De­spite his 39 years and the lines etched on his fore­head from his days of play­ing cricket in the sun, he looks very much like an over­grown school boy. Un­til he stands up to shake hands, that is, and the room seems to shrink due to the hulk of his 6ft 4in frame.

He is cur­rently host­ing Can­non­ball on ITV which sees con­tes­tants splash­ing and crash­ing their way through a giant wa­ter­park, and launch­ing them­selves can­non­ball-style from a huge water slide. It is a far cry from his glory days on the cricket pitch.

“I never imag­ined I’d be do­ing stuff like this,” he says, settling back in his chilled po­si­tion on the sofa. “I was pretty closed-minded – cricket was all I wanted to do. But I re­tired at 31 and I’ve had a new lease of life. I’ve done all sorts of things that were never in the plan.” As re­tire­ments go, it’s been a busy one.

Fred­die, whose real name is An­drew (the Fred­die moniker stems from his sur­name’s pass­ing sim­i­lar­ity to Mr Flint­stone’s), has starred in A League Of Their Own, turned his hand to darts com­men­tary, had a brief stint as a pro­fes­sional boxer, launched a cloth­ing range and pre­sented a Ra­dio 5 Live show.

Oh, and he won the Aus­tralian ver­sion of I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! with­out break­ing a sweat.

“It was the eas­i­est month of my life,” he laughs. “I slept for 12 hours a night and lost some weight. They asked what I was fright­ened of be­fore­hand, and I lied and said frogs. The first thing they did was put a load of frogs on my head and I was like, ‘Oh no, not frogs. How did you know?”’

It’s not just how he earns his bread and but­ter that’s dif­fer­ent th­ese days, Fred­die’s also swapped nights on the ale with his team­mates for nights in with the fam­ily. It’s been three years since the for­mer party boy last had a drink – back in his cricket-play­ing days his boozing got him into trou­ble on more than one oc­ca­sion – the most fa­mous saw him stripped of his vice cap­taincy af­ter a boozy night out dur­ing the 2007 World Cup, in which he al­most drowned at­tempt­ing to ‘sail’ a ped­alo home.

“I don’t touch drink for lots of rea­sons. First, it can turn me into an id­iot,” he says. “Sec­ond, I get re­ally fat when I drink and I don’t want to get re­ally fat. Above all, I don’t drink now be­cause I’ve used drink in the past to change my feel­ings,” he says.

“I’m still around it quite a lot, as all my mates are mas­sive drinkers, and I’ll go out with them, but I’ll drive. If I get ir­ri­tated I’ll just go home early.’

Quit­ting booze has had a marked ef­fect on his life – Fred­die is look­ing much more chis­elled and healthy than he was in his 20s, and it’s also had a huge im­pact on his men­tal well­be­ing. He re­cently opened up about his strug­gles with al­co­hol, de­pres­sion and bu­limia in a short film with rap­per Pro­fes­sor Green as part of the Heads To­gether cam­paign. “It’s some­thing I don’t mind talk­ing about nowa­days, but 10 years ago it was a dif­fer­ent story,” he says slowly. “I re­mem­ber talk­ing to peo­ple about it for the first time and get­ting a com­pletely dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion than I ex­pected. I don’t like the word stigma, be­cause you cre­ate a prob­lem by us­ing that word, but men in par­tic­u­lar can find it dif­fi­cult.”

The son of a plumber, Fred­die’s work­ing-class back­ground meant it was un­usual for blokes to talk about their feel­ings. “There was a ‘pull your­self to­gether’ at­ti­tude, but if only it was as easy as that,” he says thought­fully. “But now I have a tight group of mates at the gym, we all re­alise we’re not go­ing to have six packs when we train, but we talk about how we feel and look out for each other.”

Fred­die has the sup­port of his wife of 12 years, Rachael, and his kids Holly, 13, Corey, 11, and Rocky, nine. “I hope I’m a good dad,” he says. “The strange thing is, some­times I look at them and think, ‘How are you my kids? Look at the size of you!’ I see them more as my mates, we have a laugh. “But I’m strict with cer­tain things, like ba­sic manners. I want them to find some­thing they’re pas­sion­ate about and pur­sue it. I don’t mind what they do – the crime is not try­ing.”

The fam­ily live a quiet, stag­ger­ingly nor­mal life in Cheshire. Fred­die does the school run and heads to the gym to work out with his mates. Evenings are spent watch­ing TV on the sofa.

It’s a com­fort­able life, but one that’s a far cry from his child­hood, grow­ing up in Pre­ston. “My kids’ life is ridicu­lously dif­fer­ent from my child­hood,” he says. “I had a hum­ble start, but we never went with­out any­thing. I try to in­still the same work­ing-class, north­ern val­ues in my kids. They live in a nicer house than I did and go to a nicer school and prob­a­bly have nicer things, but I hope their val­ues are the same.”

Through­out our chat he’s been loung­ing on the sofa like a lion bask­ing in the sun. Could he be any more re­laxed? “I could fall asleep any­where – in fact, I did this morn­ing, on the train,” he laughs. “I have to be care­ful be­cause some­times I shout in my sleep. I did it once on a busy train, where there was a busi­ness­man across from me who had his lap­top up and I had a bot­tle of water. I’d fallen asleep and, bang! just drenched his com­puter. He wasn’t very im­pressed.”

Fred­die on the set of Can­non­ball and with his wife of 12 years, Rachael. Be­low, cel­e­brat­ing af­ter Eng­land re­tained the ashes in 2005

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