Famous Fathers

Tango Man – Gavin Henson

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Gavin Henson tells FQ why his kids have inspired him to resume his rugby career and reveals that his time on strictly come dancing will have improved his game

Talented but temperamental Welsh rugby star Gavin Henson says that it was his children, Ruby and Dexter, who provided the spark for him to return to rugby after his 18-month sabbatical, which left many wondering if he would ever grace the pitch again.

“I want my kids to see me playing rugby again, I want them to be proud of me,” he says. The 29-year-old

split with their mother, singer, actress and TV presenter Charlotte Church earlier this year but he insists he just wants to be a good Dad to them. “I don’t want people feeling sorry for me, it goes on. I’ve got to deal with it and I am dealing with it. I’m trying to be the best father I can be when I do see my kids.”

Gavin Henson

Gavin Henson – Wales

“When I finished with rugby I had problems with my relationship,” he says. “I wanted it to work. I felt maybe rugby was getting in the way. So I took on a full-time, stay-at home dad role to help Charlotte with her career. Parting with Charlotte was traumatic, that cut me to pieces.” His only comfort is he had a year with his kids: “No one can take that year away from me. It was a high every day, something new every day.”

His first enterprise away from the rugby field was to join the TV reality show 71 Degrees North, an adventure show, set amongst the icy glaciers and snowy landscape of Norway, and leaving Ruby and Dexter was the hardest part. “Throughout my career I’ve been used to being away from home for six and seven weeks at a time, for rugby,” he says. “But I’d never been away from my kids for so long, so that’s what made it different now”

However, the physical challenges of the show did create the first spark, which eventually led to his return to rugby. “I had not trained for a year. Being a full-time dad, I would eat anything I could get my hands on, more conscious of feeding the kids and waking up with them through the night,” he says.

“71 Degrees North was so physical and demanding that I actually got fitter as it went on. The ankle ligaments injuries had disappeared and I did not have pains. I began to feel stronger. I carried on training and that is when the positive feelings for rugby came out. I began dreaming about playing rugby again and getting my body back in shape. I realised I really missed it.”

First, though, there was the small matter of a high-profile appearance on another television show, this time the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, which saw him strutting his stuff on Saturday evenings throughout the autumn months and up to Christmas. “Strictly Come Dancing was not something I was looking to do,” he insists. “When I was first approached, I said ‘no’ straight away. I was looking to get back into rugby. But no rugby club came in for me. I needed to earn. I had no money. I had not earned any money since April 2009.

“One of the reasons I went on the programme was so that people could see the real guy, have a fair idea of the person I am. It was a very conscious decision. Now when rubbish is written about me, at least they will have their own perception of me.”

Daughter Ruby was his biggest fan during his journey to the show’s semi-final. “Ruby ended every call by saying ‘keep dancing’. She was twirling round and dancing every time I saw her. “She has just turned three but she watched the show last year and loved it – and even more so now seeing me on it. It made it even more special.” And Henson thinks that his time in the spotlight on the programme will actually have benefited his game in more ways than one. “From Strictly, I could bring maybe balance and memorising moves, ” he says. “To memorise so many dance steps was hard. Now learning rugby moves is a lot easier.”

He was included in the Welsh squad for the RBS 6 Nations, which runs from February through March and has the aim of winning a place on the plane to the World Cup, which takes place in New Zealand this September and October. “I’ve never been to the World Cup, I’ve always missed out through non-selection,” he says. “It is a tough one to bear. I will do everything I can to make the World Cup squad.”