Openly gay former Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas says that being closeted made him so depressed he wanted to fall off a cliff.
The ex rugby union international star was speaking at an event in London for Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), the global professional services firm, and their clients and contacts yesterday evening (5 September).
It was organized by GLEE, PwC’s ‘gay, lesbian and everyone else’ networking group.
Thomas, who came out publicly in December 2009, towards the end of his rugby career, said he had ‘all the glory I could have every wanted’ from the sporting world.
But he added: ‘So how could you go from that to be sitting on the edge of the swimming pool with a half-drunk bottle of vodka and some tablets, hoping for the bit of extra strength to put my head under the water or to the guy who walked along the cliffs hoping the wind would be a little bit stronger to blow me off, to the person who never wants his life to end?’
He explained he was lying about his sexuality, creating different personas to cover for it and living in fear people would discover his secret.
But then he decided to come out as gay, initially to his family who come from a Welsh mining community.
He said: ‘About three weeks later there were three Champagne flutes on the table in the living room. I went to the fridge and fetched the sparkling wine my mother used as Champagne and still does. And I said “what’s this in aid of?” And my father said “raise your glass because I want to toast the start of the rest of your life.”
‘I decided to tell my brothers who said “you are the same brother today to us as you were before you told us”. My nieces and nephews thought it was very cool. And I told my closest friends, rugby and non-rugby, whose reaction was the same as my brothers.’
A few years later, at the end of 2009, he came out to the rest of the world – making the public announcement on a day when his team, Cardiff Blues was playing a big match in Toulouse, France.
‘Walking into the room with my teammates was a great day,’ he said. ‘Sometimes people don’t have to say anything, it’s about the way they shake your hand, or give you a hug or just look at you and every one of my team gave me one of those things.
And he was amazed to see the Toulouse fans cheered him as he walked out onto the pitch, despite their famous hostility towards visiting teams.
‘Do you know how fast you can run when you feel 10 stone lighter? If anything, it made me a better player,’ he said.
But he was surprised by the reaction to his announcement.
‘I have 10 shoeboxes of letters, I had tens of thousands of emails and I still receive them today,’ he said.
‘When a total stranger turns round and says “I want to thank you for giving me a life”… I have a trophy cabinet I am so proud of that but the feeling I have given someone a life is greater than any trophy.’
Also speaking at the event were Suran Dickson from Diversity Role Models which goes into schools to tell kids about LGBT issues, Laura Doughty from Britain’s leading gay campaign organization Stonewall and Andy Woodfield, the partner at PwC who heads up GLEE.