As Wales prepare to launch a new era against the Barbarians on Saturday, TV celebrity Carol Vorderman discusses the Rugby World Cup and her long-felt love of the sport
Carol Vorderman – “I wouldn’t have missed watching Wales for the world”
Wales begin a new era on Saturday when they face the Barbarians in a non-capped match at the Principality Stadium (2.45pm). It will be Wayne Pivac’s first game in charge and pits him against his predecessor Warren Gatland, who is coaching the Barbarians.
New Zealand-born wing Johnny McNicholl makes his Wales debut, and hookers Rory Best and Schalk Brits play their final professional matches, in a game that is part of a double header – the teams also meet in a women’s fixture that kicks off at 11.45am.
Carol Vorderman will follow proceedings with interest. The TV personality and former Countdown star attended two of Wales’ World Cup games and RW caught up with her to find out more about her Japan experience, her rugby roots – and her devotion to the Wales teams. A shorter version of this column by Carol appears in our December issue.
OH MAN, JAPAN, I’m going back! I’ve travelled the world many times but Japan surprised me in so many ways. The culture, the geography, the kindness and beauty are all extraordinary… Not forgetting the bars. Wild!
My friend and I went to see a couple of Wales pool games and I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. Everything was so well and happily organised, even down to where the end of the toilet queue was, there was somebody there with a sign. And the toilets… Anyone who’s been will know what I mean… lol!
Everything runs beautifully in Japan because the people respect what they have. We saw four cities and drove for hundreds of miles and there was not a single piece of litter, not one. The Japanese people seemed so friendly and calm. Japan suffered a devastating typhoon and yet still staged a wonderful World Cup.
I’m from good Welsh farming stock and grew up in North Wales, but my interest in rugby really started when I was 17 and at Cambridge University. I started going out with a big Yorkshireman when I was working underground as a junior engineer over one summer, so I moved to Leeds in the early ’80s, where Andy played second-row for Headingley and Yorkshire, and for a while I was on the social committee for the club. Peter Winterbottom was in the team and Geech (Sir Ian McGeechan) was such a huge part of it too. I adored watching rugby, including rugby league, which was much faster than union then.
A gang of us were at Twickenham on the day Erica Roe decided to display her magnificent wares (1982). At half-time Andy went off for the beers while we got the best half-time entertainment of our lives. He missed it all! The beer was good, though.
And back in 1988 I was in Australia for six months, filming a BBC travel series. The film crew and I were in a bar near Cairns and who should walk in but the Lions [rugby league] team… I discovered tequila that night. Ouch.
A couple of years ago, I started going to watch Gloucester playing at Kingsholm. I fly my plane out of Gloucester airfield, am rarely away from the (Cheltenham) racecourse, the best in the world, and know James Hanson and his lovely wife Ashley. I love ‘The Shed’. Gloucester is probably one of the few English clubs that is more like a Welsh club in that it’s properly part of the whole community. I like that, it matters to the people of Gloucester.
This year, though, I’ve gone home to Wales and I couldn’t be happier. I started to host a show on BBC Radio Wales show in Cardiff on Saturday lunchtimes and I’m not off air until 1.30pm, so I have lots of Welsh rugby to rush off to see straight afterwards now.
I’m a big Wales women’s rugby supporter and get the girls on the show quite a bit. My best girlfriend in America, Colleen, is the Head of Science at NASA (we’re both nerds) and she had never seen a rugby game, so she came over in March and we went to the Grand Slam match, Wales-Ireland at the Principality Stadium.
The women’s team had just had their captain’s run that morning and the WRU asked Colleen and I to present the girls with their shirts as a surprise. I told our team that when I was a girl in North Wales I played netball, rounders and hockey as that was all girls were allowed to do.
I desperately wanted to be a fighter pilot in the RAF but wasn’t accepted because I was a girl, so to see the opportunities they have now lifts my heart. It’s fantastic that they can play rugby in the Six Nations. However, the England women’s team are full-time and are paid to be a part of the team, and really good for them. But it concerns me that the other teams aren’t, which means it isn’t a level playing field.
Many of our girls have to drive an eight-hour round trip to Cardiff three times a week for training, as well as keep full-time jobs. I hope our team will be allowed to become professional soon because then the world will see what they can do. I can’t tell you how important it is for young girls in school to see that happen and to find their role models, it shapes our future society.
The Grand Slam game itself was golden. Ireland had chosen to have the roof off, and it was bucketing down, cold and horrible. Our tiny mascot had walked out with the team, the greatest day of his and his family’s life, and he was getting soaked.
So before the anthem, Alun Wyn (Jones) took his fleece off and put it around the little boy’s shoulders, then stood up proudly and belted out Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the best anthem in the world obviously. That feeling of protecting the weak, that’s what I love about our Welsh spirit, it’s very honest. There’s no ego there, no showboating.
We love our team deeply and our hearts broke in those final minutes in the RWC semi-final [at Japan 2019], but we will be there loving them just as much every time they play. Bring on the Barbarians, I’ll be one of the tens of thousands singing in the stands. Can’t wait.