Gay ally and England rugby star Ben Cohen bares all for ITV’s The Real Full Monty

Gay ally and rugby player Ben Cohen in a press image for ITV's The Real Full Monty: Jingle Balls

In a bid to raise money and awareness for cancer charities, a new batch of celebrities are baring it all in ITV’s The Real Full Monty – including former England rugby star and longtime gay ally Ben Cohen. 

The annual Real Full Monty: Jingle Balls returned to ITV on Monday (11 December), starring TV icon Gemma Collins, footballer Ashley Cain, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK’s Ella Vaday, former royal butler Paul Burrell, and more. 

The show took on a Christmassy spin, and saw celebrities take part in stunts like wild swimming and body casts, before a final “full monty” performance.

All of the celebs involved either had experience with cancer themselves, or had a loved one with cancer, with Cain opening up about the tragic loss of his daughter to the illness in 2021. 

One face that the LGBTQ+ community may recognise on the show is Ben Cohen, the former England rugby international player, who retired in 2011 and went on to found the now-closed Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation to combat homophobia and bullying. 

But who exactly is Ben Cohen?

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The Real Full Monty star is deaf and a former England rugby player

Ben Cohen, 45, was a professional rugby player until his retirement in 2011, and was a member of the England team that won the 2003 rugby World Cup. 

After retiring from professional rugby, he focused on charity work and activism. Cohen himself is clinically deaf and has tinnitus, and has been involved in efforts to make rugby more accessible to deaf players and the deaf community. 

As well as charity work, Cohen has also appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, with the rugby star now engaged to his dance partner on the show, Kristina Rihanoff. 

Speaking about appearing on The Real Full Monty, he explained that supporting Stand Up To Cancer had been “a very special experience” and that the show “pushed me to my limits”.

Why is Ben Cohen considered a gay icon?

While Ben Cohen is straight, he has long been admired by the gay community for his vocal allyship at a time when it remained rare for top sportsmen to speak publicly on LGBTQ+ issues.

Not only did he start the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation against bullying and homophobia in 2012, but the former England player has also supported the Rainbow Laces inclusivity campaign, encouraged women and girls to take up rugby, and has taken part in LGBTQ+ fundraising, including donating a signed jockstrap to support the charity GMFA.

Cohen has also appeared on the cover of several queer magazines, including Compete Magazine and Out, while this year he appeared in the queer British series Patterns, saying he had enjoyed the role as he is “very passionate” about “being an LGBTQ+ ally”.

Rugby player Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen is stripping off for ITV’s The Real Full Monty (David Rogers/Getty Images)

Speaking about his status as a “gay icon” to the Mirror in 2014, he said that he thought his queer fanbase was due to his work standing up against homophobia, and that it was “an exciting prospect to actually make a difference and bridge that gap between gay and straight people.”

“I was completely unaware of any gay following until about seven or eight years ago. I got a message out of the blue from a French lad, Laurence, from Paris… he had set up a fan page in honour of me on Facebook,” he explained.

“So I checked it out and there were 37,000 members. When I scrolled down, I noticed they were all men. Apparently I’d become a gay icon!”

He explained that his father had died after being fatally injured while protecting an attack victim, and that he connected with his gay Facebook fans who were “suffering the same sort of pain and anguish” due to homophobia.