When Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas came out as gay to his wife and teen sweetheart Jemma he feared he’d lose her forever.
Five years since he confessed his sexuality to her, and a year and a half since he came out publicly, Gareth, 37, says their relationship remains as strong as it ever was.
And last Wednesday, on the day Gareth and Jemma would have celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, she made sure the day didn’t pass unmarked.
“Jemma texted me on Wednesday and said happy anniversary,” he booms in his Welsh accent. “It was mad receiving that text and realising we would have been married for that long. So much has happened in our lives.
“We still have a good connection and I’m so happy that I’ve been through all this and still have her in my life. I genuinely thought I’d lose so much if I came out but it just hasn’t been the case. I’m so glad I was true to myself and did it.
“We’re both in good positions in our lives now. I’m happy and she’s with a new man. So it’s a happy ending.”
But it’s not just sport’s fans that have supported the British Lions legend – who captained Wales in 2005 to their first Grand Slam victory since 1978 – Hollywood has been offering him support to. Screen legend Mickey Rourke personally approached Gareth – who is appearing in the final of Born to Shine playing the harp tonight – a year ago saying he wanted to star and produce a blockbuster film of his life.
And it very nearly didn’t come to anything because Gareth kept dodging the actor’s calls. “My phone rang and I had been training and I answered it and this guy claiming to be Mickey Rourke was on the phone,” he explains. “And I thought it was somebody taking the piss and hung up. Then went back into the changing rooms and waited for one of the lads to own up. But they didn’t.
“Then he called again two weeks later and I realised it was Mickey Rourke. He invited me to go down and meet him backstage at the Jonathan Ross show. It was like a dream. I was like: ‘Shit this could be real.’
“He was quite direct in his approach and said he wanted the rights to a film of my life. I sat on it thinking for a while, it is my life after all. It was a big thing for me to give up. We sat down first and I wanted him to understand me before I said yes.
“I didn’t want my life turned into some film in Hollywood with space ships and stuff.”
Fast forward 12 months and Mickey is preparing to start filming and the star of The Wrestler says this role will change his entire career in Hollywood. “Mickey has said this is going to be the film of his life,” says Gareth. “He told me he’s going for it and he wants an Oscar for this. He’s deadly serious. I was surprised how big a deal this was for him. It’s become something bigger than I ever could have imagined.
“The script is finished and he’s coming into town in two weeks time to announce it all. He’s got to work on his Welsh accent though. He’s getting there – but he’s got to try a bit harder. He will be moving here to Wales for a long period of time while it’s shooting and I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
The rugby ace and Hollywood star have become firm friends, and regularly make up an unlikely party trio with Joe Calzaghe. “Joe is one of my best friends and we will go out with Mickey when he’s in town,” he laughs. “But I only last a little while because things go crazy and those two can party. I like to be on my own turf when Mickey’s around, he scares me a little bit on a night out. I’ve done all that s**t and partied. I prefer staying in these days. I see which way things are swaying and I run as quick as I can.”
Gareth has no regrets at all in his decision to admit his sexuality to the butch rugby fans of the world.
“It’s been the best few years of my life since I came out,” he smiles happily. “Coming out gave me a sense of relief and pride to be able to walk down the street. The kerb was my best friend when I wasn’t out. I would be ashamed and walk with my head down. I didn’t want people to see me or be recognised. Now I’m walking with pride. If people recognise me now they maybe recognise me as a rugby player or an inspiring proud gay man. I’m proud to be recognised for who I am.
“And I don’t want people to be writing and saying ‘gay rugby player’, ‘gay this’ or ‘gay that’. You don’t write ‘straight television presenter or ‘straight footballer’. People need to move on from this kind of thing. It’s not a big deal being gay.”
Gareth now has a flat in London but freely admits he doesn’t go more than a few weeks without visiting his postman father Barry, 61, or mother Yvonne, 62, in Wales. “I love going back to Wales,” he says. “If I stay at my mum’s I’m looked after. It’s comforting still for me to go home.”
The former rugby union star, who made a record 100 appearances for his country, captaining both Wales and the British and Irish Lions, switched to league with the Crusaders in 2010 and recently signed a one-year contract extension with the club. He reveals it will most likely be his last. Life after rugby is going to be hard for him, but he says he has plans to open his own foundation giving help to teens and adults struggling to deal with their sexuality issues. Gareth explains: “I’m re-signing to play for one more year. This is the beginning of the end for me. My last year in rugby. I’m going to start a foundation and do a lot of stuff that I care about and I’m passionate about. I want to help teens and people that can’t deal with their sexuality. I always want to be seen as somebody with value.
“It’s the end of my career in rugby but after the sport ends for me I’m going to be starting a new career. I want to be known as a strong person and a rugby player.”
Gareth’s friendship with shoe designer Christian Louboutin – or Louby as he refers to him – has been much talked about. He insists he’s single and nothing is going on apart from a strong friendship. The pair are preparing to release a limited edition men’s shoe together inspired by the Welsh flag. It will be named after his rugby nickname Alfie (after the eighties comedy show).
“Louby is such a great friend,” he confesses. “Our shoe will be bought by private collectors I would think. There’s 600 of them.
“He’s part of the family really. He’s always down visiting and spoils my family rotten. He stays in my family home – not in a hotel. It’s a tiny little hotel. I know I must be the envy of every girl reading this.“My mum is kitted out in Louby’s shoes and Louby handbags. My brother’s wife has some too. He looks after us all.
“He brought this amazing glass shoe with a heel and you poured champagne through the top and drink the champagne out the front. We were all taking toots on that. I loved seeing my father – a big butch postman drinking put of a Louboutin glass heel.”