Rugby legend Gareth Thomas makes a song and dance for charity | Rugby | Sport

For despite a stellar rugby career – and being one of the most capped Welsh rugby players of all time – he’s sounding a bit tentative about his latest challenge. Tomorrow, TV viewers can watch him perform ball gymnastics for Sport Relief at Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games.

“I told my manager that I’d happily put my name on a reserve list for gymnastics. I never thought that they’d want a 6ft 3in, hairy but bald-on-top, ex-rugby-player, covered in tattoos, wanting to be seen in a leotard running around with a ball or ribbon. And unfortunately I landed the role that I didn’t want to land,” he laughs.

It’s Friday and he’s just had his first – and only – training session for the charity’s All Star Games, where dozens of celebrities will go head-to-head in different challenges.

Dame Kelly Holmes and five-time paralympian Ellie Simmonds OBE will be captaining the teams which also include former Love Islander Kem Cetinay, Olympic gold medalist Greg Rutherford, comedian Russell Kane and TV presenter Ferne McCann.

So far, not so good. Gareth’s German Pointer dog, Boyo, ate the gym ball he was given to practice with, two weeks ago.

“I came downstairs and Boyo was at the bottom of the stairs with the ball in his mouth, deflated. So I haven’t even had a ball,” he says in his hearty Welsh accent.

The song choice for his one-minute routine wasn’t his preference, either.

“It’s a song with Michael Buble… It’s called Feeling Good.

“But it’s more a song I’d want to strip to, than dance to,” he jokes. “Because I genuinely don’t know what I’m doing and that’s not really a song I can dance to. But if it was Britney or Madonna, I could.

“So I’m just going to have to camp it up,” he laughs.

His coach for the routine told him to just “do a forward roll”. He said: “I know this sounds pathetic but I’ve got loads of old injuries and I’m really stiff, I keep fit but I don’t stretch. I’m not agile.”

Despite the laughs, at 48 Gareth’s broken down more barriers than most do in a lifetime. He’s won four rugby caps for Wales and, after coming out as gay in 2009, he became a poster boy for anti-discrimination campaigns.

A few years ago he also became one of those rare celebrities to come out as HIV positive, helping combat stigmas around living with the disease.

He’s been happily married to Stephen Williams-Thomas since 2016 and admits lockdown has been the making of them.

He says: “Like for a lot of couples it was make or break. But I think we came out of the other side and when we did, we came out stronger.”

Ex-wife Jemma Thomas, who wholeheartedly supported his coming out, is still a best friend. “We have separate lives but we will always have that connection.”

Recently he’s been working with the deodorant brand SURE to help underprivileged children realize they can achieve anything they set their heart on in life.

So, heading towards 50, what is still left to accomplish that keeps Gareth feeling challenged? He pauses: “If I chose to, I could sit down, in my house, with my beautiful husband, dog and family, and not really do much.

“But I choose that I don’t want to be that selfish person.

“I want to continue to fight and make sure everybody globally has the opportunity to be in the position that I am in right now – not to be discriminated against and to do whatever they want in life.”

In 2019 Gareth biked 500 miles for Sport Relief. It was a reminder of why he will always support their fundraisers, as he is doing tomorrow.

He says: “I think Sports Relief goes to the people and taps into so many unheard communities, and that’s what makes it so amazing.”

After the recent success of The Lionesses, it’s unsurprising that Gareth is a huge supporter of more football and rugby for girls.

“You can’t have diversity without inclusion, or vice versa. We have to give women the same opportunities as men and we’ve seen this success because of sponsorship saying ‘you know what, we want to be associated with women’s football.’ This is also time put in by clubs and coaches. This success has changed everyone.

“It has a massive impact and gives great equality.

“I’ll never stop campaigning for greater equality.”

Sport Relief All Star Games: Birmingham 2022, 7pm tomorrow on BBC One and BBC iPlayer

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