gareth thomas

The openly gay ex-rugby player  talks homophobia, bullying, and his upcoming Beauty and the Beast panto gig.

Since retiring from playing rugby you’ve proven yourself an able and natural interviewer – how hard was it to adapt to that aspect of your career?

I don’t think it’s been that hard. I like spending time with people, so even in my rugby days I was always part of that banter and I’ve just taken those elements of my personality and been able to take it down a different route. I’ve been really lucky getting to work with and speak to some amazing people.

Is LGBT visibility in UK sport progressing at a rate we as a country can be proud of?

I think it’s getting there but I think until homophobia is stamped out within the sporting world it will still be a huge factor preventing athletes from coming out. I admire so many sportsmen and women who have, but I really feel for people who haven’t or who feel they can’t. I’ve been where they are and I know how hard that can be. I saw a lot of homophobia in sport first-hand when I played, but even more so during the filming of my Hate in the Beautiful Game documentary for the BBC. I was appalled by what went on and what the bosses were letting happen. Once that is stamped out, hopefully our visibility will increase.

12-16 November is Anti-Bullying Week – do you have any message for LGBT people currently being bullied?

Speak out about it, whether it is to a friend, a family member, schools, helplines, online communities, wherever. Speaking about bullying is always the hardest part, but it needs to be done to be dealt with. There are far too many statistics, especially within our community, of young people who feel they don’t have a voice and can’t speak to people and they must remember that they can and should.

Do victims of bullying often tell you that you’ve helped them purely by being an openly gay high-profile figure?

In this day of social media and events I do often get people talking to me and it’s something I take very seriously, it’s very humbling. I guess because I’m out of the closet and people have appreciated what it took to come out, my story maybe resonates with theirs.

© Paul Sampson

© Paul Sampson

You’ve got a fair bit of experience performing in pantomime now – how does it feel to be part of a lot of people’s Christmas in such a way?

This is my fifth now and I love it. When I got the call from our producers years ago I thought it was a joke, but I’ve got the bug now and it’s part of my Christmas as much as it is for audiences seeing me. We just have a real laugh, working really hard rehearsing for two weeks to make the show work, then performing twice a day and spreading some festive cheer in a big team effort.

How does preparing for a panto run compare to preparing for a big rugby match?

You need stamina, definitely, we’re doing 12 performances a week and you need to stay fit and focussed and make sure you don’t come down with any bugs or colds. That’s the hardest part.

Have any pantomime veterans helped you in your panto career?

I’ve worked with quite a few actually, I’ve worked with our dame Mike Doyle a few times now and he’s the best in the business, he’s hysterical. This year I’m with Lisa Riley, Ben Richards, I’m back with Mike again and we’ve got Stephanie Webber who did my panto last year too. It’s going to be huge.

Can you see yourself ever writing or directing a pantomime?

I think I’ll leave that to our producers, Qdos Entertainment. They’re the best in the business.

 

Gareth Thomas stars in Beauty and the Beast at New Theatre Cardiff 8 December-13 January newtheatrecardiff.co.uk

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