Gay rugby referee Nigel Owens has opened up about struggling to come to terms with his sexuality

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Rugby referee Nigel Owens has opened up about struggling with bulimia and depression when coming to terms with his sexuality.

The 45-year-old referee is the first openly gay man to officiate at the highest level of the game, but it was a difficult path to where he is today.

Speaking to Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs Owens explained that his first reaction to realising he was gay was to go to a doctor and say: “I do not want to be gay. Can I get chemically castrated?”

The star came out in 2007 at the age of 35, but revealed that as a young adult he struggled with bulimia and attempted suicide because his sexuality was “totally alien” to him.

Speaking about the suicide attempt he told Kirsty Young: “I cried that night and realised I need to grow up.

“Accepting who I was then, saved my life.”

At one point, Owens said he “would have done anything to be ‘normal’ in people’s eyes.

He began to change his life for the better, and the first hurdle was coming out to his mother.”I was brought up to be honest, and here I was lying to the most important person in my life. It was affecting my life.

“Here I am, healthy but making myself ill and suffering from bulimia when my mum and millions of other people across the world are fighting every day just for an extra few hours with their loved ones – that is when the bulimia stopped and, touch wood, I haven’t suffered since then,” he added.

Owens said that even refereeing his largest game was nothing on coming to terms with his sexuality.

“Refereeing that World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand in front of 85,000 people and the millions of people watching at home, scrutinising every single decision you make under a huge amount of pressure, was nothing compared to the challenge of accepting who I was.”

Since initially coming out, Owens has been appointed an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2016 and named ‘Gay Sports Personality of the Decade’ by Stonewall in 2015.

“Unless you are happy with who you are, you cannot excel and be the best you can be at whatever you are doing. You cannot enjoy life if you are not happy within yourself.”