The former England prop on cooking, claustrophobia and losing his cool at the wicket
Downtime with… World Cup winner Phil Vickery
What’s the funniest thing you’ve heard on the pitch?
Wasps were playing Newcastle at Adams Park, just after the 2007 World Cup. This young lad, a back-rower, was calling me fat this and fat that, all the usual stuff. He kept on and on.
It got to the point, we were stood at a lineout and he was still going on. I said, “For f**k’s sake, if I knew your name I’d give you some banter back!” His team wet themselves. But I genuinely didn’t know who he was!
Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
I’d love to meet Billy Connolly, I really would. Yes, he’s a comedian but he’s a story teller. I’ve pretty much watched everything he’s done. You connect with him. He doesn’t look for the magic, it’s just there. He finds normal people magic.
Do you have any phobias?
I wouldn’t say I freak out but I’m a bit claustrophobic. Like getting in a lift with a lot of people or getting on the Tube when it’s busy.
How did you get your Raging Bull nickname?
In 1997 I played for an ERP (English Rugby Partnership) XV against the All Blacks at Ashton Gate. I was up against Bull Allen and someone asked Clive Woodward, “How do you think the young guy got on against the Bull?”
He said, “We’ve got our own bull, the Raging Bull.” And it stuck from that.
What’s your most embarrassing moment?
I don’t actually get really embarrassed. I don’t mind making myself look silly or doing anything crazy, it doesn’t particularly bother me.
But there was a charity cricket match a couple of years ago, I was playing for Lady Bathurst at Cirencester. I opened the batting and said to the opposition, “Go steady, I’ve not played cricket for years.”
This long-haired supermodel comes running down and whacks one at me. Next ball, he does it again. I walked down the wicket and said, “Do that again and I’ll snap your neck.”
He started laughing, then he put one down again. I chased him with a cricket bat. A bit of the Raging Bull coming out of me! But I had warned him. He overstepped the mark.
What really annoys you?
Bad manners. Not responding. It costs nothing to say hello or good morning or thank you.
If your house was on fire, what one item would you save?
Family pictures. Of my grandparents, Kate and the kids.
What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?
Cattle artificial insemination. Bet they’ve never had that on the show before. I’m a qualified cattle inseminator, though I’d have do a refresher course now.
What’s the silliest thing you’ve bought?
When I was about 20, I bought a Jag XK convertible. I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing’. But it was useless, you couldn’t fit anything in it. I was a 125kg front-row forward. If I had a bad time with my back, it took me longer to get in and out the car than it did to get to where I was going. That and the fuel bill.
What’s the best thing you’ve won in a raffle?
I never win anything! Actually, I won a necklace at a charity event.
Who’d be your three dream dinner party guests?
Clint Eastwood is a hero of mine. I watched all his spaghetti westerns as a kid. I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I’d love to meet Barack Obama. I’d love to have a brew with him.
And if you talk about people you could have proper conversations with, you could talk honestly and openly, I’d love to know what was going on in Maggie Thatcher’s brain.
What’s the most memorable headline you’ve seen about yourself?
I think it was in The Times. There was a picture of me holding two pigs on the family farm with the headline The Dude from Bude. Dude? I’m the most unsurfy person! I saw that recently, I was looking through some scrapbooks that Mum kept.
Who in your career would you love to have seen get a chance at Test level?
Mark Cornwell (Gloucester second-row) deserved a cap, although I’d never tell him that! Centre Joe Ewens as well. At Wasps, John Hart and Richard Birkett were unbelievable players.
What’s the best book you’ve read?
It’s a bit controversial because of what’s happened to him since but It’s Not About The Bike by Lance Armstrong. I know the guy used drugs and everything about it is wrong, but he still had to peddle the thing. Drugs or no drugs, it’s wow.
How has the pandemic impacted on your leisurewear business Raging Bull?
Online we’re actually trading really well. Covid has made us all reassess how we do things. The spirit and resilience of the people around me has blown me away.
And you have a new venture…
Yeah, since winning MasterChef in 2011 I’ve done cooking demos, shows, a lot of promotional work. I love food, it’s the farmer in me. A friend and I decided to open a restaurant in Cheltenham. Covid put that on hold but we recently launched a ‘click and collect’ service (no3restaurants.com), taking what we can from the menu. Good British food.
Do you have any future goals?
I’m bloody ambitious and anything’s possible. I did a fantastic business course last year on leadership and mindset and a can-do attitude. It’s also being a better husband, a better dad, a better guy. At the same time it’s about being me. Being me is alright!
This article originally appeared in the July 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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