Ben Volavola: Rugby and the Woman he Loves
RUGBY AND THE WOMAN HE LOVES
The movie, Adrift, will always hold a special place in Fiji Airways Flying Fijian Ben Volavola’s heart. Not only was the movie shot in Fiji, it also sparked a tropical romance that has kept the world captivated. Hollywood actress, Shailene Woodley, who starred in the Divergent trilogy, was reportedly in Fiji filming Adrift in late 2017 when she met the rugby international. But it was not until January this year when she decided to officially announce their relationship with a post on Instagram saying - “damn I love him” which attracted close to 500,000 likes and more than 2000 comments from followers. As they say, the rest is history. Today Volavola finds himself as one of the most talked about international rugby stars. In this issue of maiLife he breaks his silence on his romance and talks openly about his rugby, his love and his future!
BREAKING HIS SILENCE
When asked about their relationship, the humble Bordeaux rugger was quick to reply, “it’s been great!” and “she ‘s definitely a woman that I can see myself being with for the rest of my life. “She’s great and amazing. From the first day I met her I sensed she was different from anyone I knew. I’ve been really blessed to get to know her, to see her part of the world, to be able to learn from her and for inviting me to know her world better. “The two met during the filming of Adrift, the true story of a woman who sails into the eye of a hurricane to save her love, played by Sam Claflin. Since then, their blossoming relationship has been the centre of media speculation and attention. Volavola chose his recent trip to help the Flying Fijians defend the Pacific Nations Cup to open up about his romance with Woodley, one of Hollywood’s rising young stars. He said over the past few years coming to Fiji and joining camp was something he looked forward to around June. “I’ve come to love this group (Flying Fijians) and also coming home is such a special thing. “It’s always great to meet in familiar surroundings, taste food you grew up on and just relax at home because there’s nowhere else like home, which is such a cliché but is so true.” Volavola previously played for Super Rugby clubs such as the Waratahs, Crusaders and
Rebels before moving to Europe to play for French Top 14 team Bordeaux Bègles.
GETTING USED TO BORDEAUX
While he finds the language barrier a challenge in his new home of six months, he believes Bordeaux City is a nice place to live in. “France is such a great and beautiful place and I’m really blessed to spend the last five to six months there learning a hole new different culture, living on the other side of the world and trying to speak a different language. “All of these have broadened my experiences in general and I’m really looking forward to learning more.” One of the things the 27-year-old likes about Bordeaux is its buildings and architecture. “Definitely my favourite is the landscape. Living in a beautiful city like Bordeaux, you can drive into the city and all you see are well-groomed buildings that have been around for hundreds of years. The food, the atmosphere and the people are also so different.” As far as rugby goes, his sports highlight for 2018 is moving far away from home. “My major highlight would be wrapping my mind around the thought of having France as my home for the next couple of years,” he said. “I’m grateful for this sport because it has allowed me to immerse myself in different cultures, taken me to places I’ve never dreamed of going to before and broadened my horizon.” Like any newcomer to a foreign place, he says living in France has its mountains, chief among them the inability to speak and understand the language well. “The language is definitely a challenge but I think once I get my head around it things will be a lot easier. “He pointed out the style of rugby the French played was also new to him. “Being able to adapt to that style has been a challenge but it’s also an opportunity to learn more as well. “Over here we are so used to a quicker game and we try and move the ball around. Over there it’s more structured, a bit slower and kicking is big. “
MAJOR PLANS IN 2019
Volavola just recently signed up with another French Top 14 club, Racing 92, and will say goodbye to Bordeaux and move to Nanterre City where he is expected to play in 2019. “I’m looking forward to joining my new club, learning more about its culture and meeting my new teammates.” French rugby aside, his latest focus was his national duties with the Flying Fijians and sharing as much rugby knowledge and skills with young local players as possible. “Players like me who come from abroad have been blessed with being able to play with and learn from world class coaches. I think we bring knowledge about our game that we’ve learned from abroad and are willing to share with local and young guys who will join us in representing our country. “We also want to build a culture that is open floor so to speak. We want local and young guys coming into the programme to have a voice and to speak out so we can learn from one another and grow as a collective.”
SUPPORT FROM WOODLEY
Though Volavola’s stints with Super Rugby and the Flying Fijians have made him a household name in this part of the world, he is still very much new to audiences in Europe and America. Many media stories have portrayed him as Woodley’s rugby beau, an athlete and boyfriend, - terms that place him in the shadow of his actress girlfriend. But Volavola is a star in his own right. He says Woodley gives the moral support he needs to focus on his rugby, adjust to new lifestyle changes and face harassment from papparazi. “She is the most supportive person in the whole world…doesn’t matter where she is or what she’s doing she’s always wanting to watch our games (rugby) and hoping the best for me. We are so blessed to have met the way we did and be able to grow in our relationship.”
MAINTAINING HIS FIJIAN VALUES AND CHARACTER
Volavola grew up on strong family values that continue to guide him today. And despite his career achievements and association with Hollywood, he remains humble, soft spoken and respectful - values that have caught the admiration of his Big Little Lies star girlfriend. “I think family holds a massive influence within my life and it has been able to keep me grounded in that way. “I also think I’m blessed to have Shailene, who continues to keep me grounded and allows me to understand that yeah, her life is different professionally but when it comes to the real world regarding the two of us, it is just life as usual. “She finds it really cool that she’s with someone from the islands, that comes from such a different culture, she’s always keen to learn more about our people, our country and my family which is such a positive thing.” While Woodley never got to fully experience Fijian culture and way of life, her short time spent here shooting Adrift has nevertheless made her a big fan of Fiji. “She loved the relaxed and loving nature of our people, our tradition and our food. Family holds a massive part in her life so the fact that family is top priority in our culture, as well as spirituality and faith, is something she can really relate to,” Volavola says.
DEALING WITH MEDIA ATTENTION
As a professional rugby player, Volavola is familiar with the glare of camera flashes, press conferences and demanding questions from reporters. Only this time, as his relationship grows, the media attention seems to
be intensifying. Asked how he was dealing with pressure from reporters and photographers, he said “pretty well actually.” “She’s (Woodley) so supportive. I’ve learned so much of her everyday and she’s able to allow me to settle into a system where there’s a lot more attention. Despite the focus and all the external pressures, we are able to work together.” He says there have been a few instances when photos appeared without them realising they were photographed. “We were photographed while exploring Bordeaux together during one of my off days. She and I were riding bikes. That sort of shocked me.” “But she was able to explain it doesn’t really matter what others think. It is our thoughts and what we think of each other and our relationship, where it’s going and people around us who love us that matter. As long as we continue to focus on that we can continue to grow.”
GETTING WOODLEY TO LOVE RUGBY
Woodley never knew anything about rugby before meeting Volavola. In a recent television interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live she described the sport as “quite barbaric”, “hard to watch” and “confusing”. Volavola says things are slowly changing and he was working at getting her know more about the sport. “I’m grateful that she loves watching games although it is so different for her. For a person who has never watched she now loves watching rugby, especially our Flying Fijian games and she’s so keen to learn more about the sport and how it works. She finds it exciting just tuning in. “We are hoping to come here (Fiji) together once we do have time off together. I think then she’d be able to really explore and surround herself with the culture, food and music. We’ve got to see because she’s busy and right after this campaign (PNC) I start off with France.”
ON THE RED CARPET
Volavola recently attended a number of events with Woodley including the Valentino Haute Couture Spring Summer 2018 Show during Paris Fashion Week. But it was his appearance with her on the red carpet on 23 May for the premier of Adrift in L.A that he would never forget. “It was a great night. Being able to stand with her and take photos on the red carpet was such a new experience. She walked me through what was going to happen and how things were gonna work,” Volavola said. “This movie project holds such as significance for her and me. She met people that she really loves now and considers as life long friends…and it holds so much purpose for us because it was the reason why we came together in the first place. “Watching the movie and speaking to actors and producers was such a special occasion. I met Sam (Caflin) her co-star in the movie and he is such a great guy, I liked our conversation and him giving me a few pointers. He is such an easy guy to get along with.”
VOLAVOLA DEFENDS WOODLEY
During the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, Woodley made reference to Fiji, Fiji Water and kava drinking, which many locals talked about on social media. Volavola says Woodley made those references without any negative intent or malice. “I guess you can’t really blame her for what she said, what she saw and what she experienced What she expressed is just based on the experience she had. She was here for only a few months strictly to do work. She will learn more about our culture and all of that when she spends more time here,” he says.
MOVING TO THE US?
Volavola said he believes moving to the United States was a definite possibility, considering that Shailene has a busy work schedule and that he now plays in Europe. But this will most likely take place post-rugby. “We are speaking about it actually. The greatest thing about our relationship is we speak about everything and we are so open,” he said. “Obviously with her work, there’s a massive opportunity and a big chance post rugby I might move there. Yeah, we will just wait and see what happens. On buying a property in Fiji, he says, this was something worth thinking of. “Obviously I have family here. I want to look after them as well and I would really want to invest into property here in Fiji for family and for myself. It is a great opportunity now to start looking into that area.”
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR VOLAVOLA?
Volavola was frank when talking about his immediate future, admitting he was growing older and needed to seriously start thinking about moving ahead. “Speaking future-wise I guess I’m thinking about marriage and family now that I’m getting older. But I also want the best for this programme (rugby) and I’m working really hard to take Fiji Rugby and the Flying Fijians to a place they’ve never been before. “Obviously, the World Cup campaign holds top priority for us next year. I think for the near future in 2019, it’s just doing the best I can for my club in France and helping this group (Flying Fijians) to reach new heights.”
SIGNS OF WEDDING BELLS SOON?
While Volavola says no for now, he believes Woodley is someone he’d want to grow old with. “No. Not too soon, but Shai (Shailene) and my relationship has come such a long way in just under a year now. Seeing a future with her and is such an exciting thing for me. “Coming from a Fijian family and all that and the culture in our country, which is built around family, it is such an exciting thing for me to think I’ve met someone who can potentially be my partner for life and build a family with her so I’m really looking forward to that part of my life. “She’s met mum in person and spoke to some members of the family over the phone. I’ve been lucky enough to go to America a couple of times now to meet her family, her parents, extended relatives and close friends. “This has been so special and has also allowed me to learn more about her life. One of the key reasons why she wants to come here to Fiji and to Sydney soon is to meet my family.” Until then, it’s a case of ‘watch this space’, as they say in Hollywood.
Volavola relaxes at the Grand Pacific Hotel, Suva
Volavola and Woodley make their red carpet debut during the premier of Adrift in LA.