Feature: Gareth Thomas on rugby, coming out and the hit new play telling his story

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

An interview with former Welsh rugby captain Gareth Thomas tells us a snippet of what to expect in the play that reveals his extraordinary story of coming out as the most famous gay team sportsman.

On a night in late February, Gareth Thomas – former captain of the Welsh rugby team and the most famous gay team sportsman in the world – took his family and friends to a theatre press night. He’s no stranger, now, to shiny showbiz events but this was special. The play being premiered was Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, which tells his own extraordinary story, set against that of his hometown Bridgend, which has had its own share of the media’s attention. For a play that contains its share of darkness, it also contains a lot of humour and there was a lot of laughter in the theatre that night.

Does this mean things have changed? Would it be easier today for a young player to come out?

“I’d like to think so. The fear I had was that no-one had done it before, so I had no idea if I was going to get any support. I had no idea what the crowd’s reactions or the reaction from my teammates would be, or from the press. When you’re the first person to do something, everybody is unsure of what to do. I went through some bad times, but the majority of it was good times and I’d like to think people can look at that and think ‘he did it, he got through it, he carried on playing, he didn’t lose much from it, in fact he gained a lot from it’. I think mine is a positive story that people can look at and think ‘yeah, I can too’.”

Does he feel an obligation then to gay sports people?

“100 percent” he says, then qualifies it. “I never came out because I felt I had an obligation to a community – I had to come out because I felt I had no life left to live. But after coming out, I realised that I do have a responsibility to others, and I have to take it seriously. When you realise you could influence somebody else’s life, that’s a massive responsibility. I want to influence people. By doing positive things, and consistently giving positive messages the more people you can start to influence.”

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage was the idea of veteran theatre director Max Stafford-Clark, himself a keen former scrum-half. It’s been written by his regular collaborator Robin Soans, well known for his successful “verbatim” plays, based on extensive interviews with real people.

Book your tickets to see the play by clicking here.

Since coming out, Thomas has worked with a lot of young people in Wales and across the UK. What advice would he give to a young person struggling with the idea of coming out?

“It’s difficult to give generic advice, because coming out is such a personal thing. But the thing I would say is, I get a lot of credit for coming out but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my mum and dad and my friends. So I’d say, the best thing is to find two pillars – it could be your parents or close friends. And then you realize, the rest of the world could hate you but you’ve got someone to fall back on. And it will be alright. Find your support network, your failsafe. Your bookends. I was lucky – I had a great family and friends.”

‘The cast of Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage’ - photo by Robert Workman
‘The cast of Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage’ – photo by Robert Workman

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is touring until June, in a co-production between Out of Joint, National Theatre Wales and the Arcola Theatre with Sherman Theatre Cymru. To book tickets click here.

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