Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff: in a league of his own
He was the most feared all-rounder of his generation during a cricketing career in which he spearheaded an England victory over Australia in the Ashes, prompting one columnist to call him “the greatest Ashes legend of all time”.
He is also a television and radio presenter, boxer and clothing designer. Now Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff is up for another challenge: a live show touring to more than 30 theatres across the UK in which he talks about anything and everything that comes to mind.
Fred took time off from the show to talk about former Derby County midfield player Robbie Savage, his fear of splitting his trousers, his lack of confidence as a cricketer, England’s chances in this summer’s Ashes series and whether there’s a chimp inside his head!
The new show is called 2nd Innings. It develops an idea that TV producer and writer Clyde Holcroft – who accompanies Fred on the tour – came up with. Flintoff and Holcroft used to do a podcast about anything that took their fancy: “it was quite raw and unprepared but people seemed to like them and we ended up doing 20 or so,” says Fred.
It was while he was working on the Sky 1 comedy sports quiz A League of Their Own with the likes of John Bishop and Jack Whitehall that Fred thought he could go on stage and do a live show.
Flintoff and Holcroft did a dry run at four small venues in and around London before taking the show to the 500-seat Melton Theatre in Melton Mowbray. Footballer-turned-pundit Robbie Savage was watching.
It’s more me talking about what goes on behind the scenes or me telling a story about when I got things wrong – there are plenty of those!
“I’ll think I’ll pay to have Robbie come and sit in the audience of every show,” says Fred. “He kept shouting stuff out every few minutes and everyone seemed to enjoy it when I put him down and shut him up. He can’t help himself though – he has to keep talking. He’s not shy of an opinion or two is Robbie.”
Fred says there is a loose plan to the shows but when he opens his mouth even he is not sure what is going to come out.
“We veer off into all manner of things. And even the cricket stuff isn’t in-depth chat. It’s more me talking about what goes on behind the scenes or me telling a story about when I got things wrong – there are plenty of those!
“I think the important thing for me – and for the audience – is to keep it fresh. The worst thing would be if it was scripted and we went over the same thing every night. That would do my head in and I’m sure it would do the audience’s in too.”
Andrew Flintoff was born on 6 December 1977. He played his first competitive cricket match at the age of eight and made his first-class debut for Lancashire in 1995. Within the Lancashire ranks he became known as “Freddie”, a nickname that accompanied him throughout his career.
He was known for hitting the ball harder than any other cricketer and – helped by his heavy, 6ft 4ins tall frame – he bowled at 90mph.
International honours came when he made his Test match debut in 1998 against South Africa.
He made his biggest impact for England in the summer of 2005 when he played a major role in England’s wrestling the Ashes from Australia. During a crucial win at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, Flintoff scored a century.
The city is one of the stops on the tour and he says he always loves returning to Nottingham: “It’s such a great city and I’ll never forget the fantastic atmosphere I experienced at Trent Bridge. Returning will bring back some great memories.”
I refuse to write one of those books where people just slag others off. I’ve got no axes to grind and no scores to settle
His performance during the Ashes’ victory led to his winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award and the following year he was appointed an MBE and given the freedom of his home city Preston.
Later Flintoff was to captain England but he was plagued by injury throughout his career and retired in 2010. However, he made a comeback last year for Lancashire in the one-day, twenty20 competition.
He is the third highest English wicket-taker in one-day international cricket; holds the record for the most sixes scored for England; and is one of only seven players to be on both the batting and bowling honours board at the home of English cricket, Lord’s.
Flintoff has always been a popular character because of his knack of attracting controversy. During the 2007 World Cup he got drunk with some of his team mates and nearly drowned when a boat carrying them capsized. That resulted in him being stripped of the England vice-captaincy.
Since retiring he has taken on all sorts of challenges. He trained to become a boxer for a Sky 1 programme Flintoff: From Lord’s to the Ring; made a documentary for the Discovery channel about living alone in the wild; and a couple of months ago won the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! – the Australian version.
He says he could not turn down the money and it was “the easiest job I’ve ever had. I got to sleep under the stars – which I love – and it’s very rare in your life to get the chance to do nothing and to just relax. That’s what I did.”
So what worries fearless Freddie? He admits he is concerned about wardrobe malfunctions on the tour.
“I’ve bought my outfit for going on stage. It fits me now – I’m quite slim at the minute – but the show is going on until November so it depends on how the summer goes and how good the hospitality is. My trousers might be in danger of splitting in a few months’ time.”
Flintoff, who is married with three children, seems a larger-than-life character but he admits that when he was playing cricket he was not the most confident person or player. Nor is he a fan of sports psychology, some of which he says is “total nonsense”.
I’d like to do a show that’s all my own, TV or radio – something I can take ownership of and develop
“I’ve worked with a few sports psychologists. One of them told me I had a chimp inside my head. I can tell you this now: I don’t have a monkey in me head! I have no idea what they meant; I just switched off.”
So do England have a chance in this summer’s Ashes series?
“Course they do. Whatever’s happened before, you forget about it – it doesn’t matter. For me England are at their most dangerous when they’ve been written off. Put the pressure on Australia. If we’re going to get beat, get beat having a proper go at them. I think we can nick it 2-1. We’ll get beat in the first one, we always do. But that’s not the end of it.”
At the moment Fred is also writing his sixth book which he says is proving enjoyable because the others were penned while he was still playing and he had to be careful what he said.
“There’s only so much you can say in that situation but now I’ve retired I can give much more of an honest opinion. But I refuse to write one of those books where people just slag others off. I’ve got no axes to grind and no scores to settle.”
Unbeaten as a boxer and with his own range of clothing with men’s retailer Jacamo, Fred has also had success as a TV and radio personality, newspaper columnist and as a charity fundraiser, holding 14 Guinness world records in aid of Sport Relief. So is there anything left that he’s yet to achieve?
“I’ve been lucky and I’m sure people will get sick of me soon, but you have to make hay while the sun shines, don’t you? I’d like to do a show that’s all my own, TV or radio – something I can take ownership of and develop. But if it doesn’t happen, that’s fine too.
“I live a pretty simple life these days. As long as my kids are happy and I can have a holiday every year, that’s all I need.”
* This article appeared in the July 2015 edition of Country Images magazine