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
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