The engaging innocence of Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff and his fellow Ashes heroes sets them apart from many other sports stars, but it also makes them ideal targets for tabloid journalists looking for scandalous scoops, says Mark Borkowski.
Spare a thought for Garry Richardson, the Today programme’s urbane sports correspondent.
A highlight of his career was gaining an exclusive live TV interview with Bill Clinton on a rainy afternoon at Wimbledon a few years back.
At the other end of the scale was listening to him this morning, scraping the resourcefulness barrel by collaring Veesh, duty manager of the Tower Hotel where the England team are staying, and then capping that coup with a few words from Kevin Pietersen’s mum.
But it all just reflects the engaging naivety of the victorious England squad, which not only sets it apart from the grizzled old Aussies they thrashed, but underlines the gulf between the freckled lads who’ve been out in the meadows all summer playing a game which lasts for five days, and the muscular beasts of the football world, who don’t give chance interviews, don’t blush, and definitely don’t wave at TV cameras.
Simon Jones’s “I hope I can behave myself and avoid anymore ‘kiss and tell’ stories” says it all.
The stars of the England squad have moved from nearly men to full-blown gladiators, British Sporting Heroes alongside not only the greats in their own sport – Ian Botham, Geoffrey Boycott, Fred Truman – but the current BSHs, Kelly Holmes, Ellen McArthur, Steve Redgrave, and (groan) David Beckham.
And now that Freddie and the Seamers can join Peter and Jordan in the pumpkin coach of celebrity they’d better check the euphoria gauge at regular intervals, and make sure they’re getting their advice from the right people.
The freshness and relative innocence of the team will be like a jam pot in an August garden. As Michael Levine, the American who invented the term Guerrilla PR, put it: “Truth is like ammonia on a dirty windshield.”
The press love to fall on heroes, especially new ones, and with a phenomenon such as the Ashes victors to report on, your average tabloid journalist will find himself in a veritable sweetshop, glistening with scandalous opportunities.
The boys deserve a lot of help, and the services of great minders and gatekeepers, like the legendary Lee Solters of New York, who when a sporting superstar client of his was accused by the press of lying his head off, replied: “Hey – That’s showbiz!”
It’s worth recalling what a massive star Botham was back in the early 1980s, with his quick temper (good bust-ups), taste for exotic tobaccos (good cartoons) and devil-may-care homemade politics (always good copy) he became larger than life, and a nightmare for his entourage and family, living under the microscope with his every move guaranteed coverage in the national press.
It’s been a long time since another cricketer came along with the same pulling power, but Flintoff must have a similar fate awaiting him. Botham’s fame and reputation have endured, despite his boorishness and his Shredded Wheat commercials,
Of course, in some ways it’s already begun. I noticed yesterday how the Daily Express’s photo coverage of the cricket was stressing the wild and bloodthirsty facial expression certain players, including Flintoff, adopt at the extremes of effort, while the upmarket papers tend to show them smiling or looking thoughtful.
Again Andrew Flintoff hasn’t been allowed to retain his plummy middle-class Christian name, nor simply use its diminutive, Andy. No: his name has had to evolve into the plebeian Freddie, making “Freddie Flintoff” a brand we already understand.
Get used to hearing and seeing it, and not just on cricket bats and groin protectors. I imagine everything from salad cream to sausages will eventually warm to the Flintoff testimonial, letting his face remain his fortune long after he’s bowled his final slow’un.