Jonny Wilkinson Opens Up About Mental Health Problems In Extraordinary Interview

Fair play Jonny.

Former England, Lions and Toulon playmaker Jonny Wilkinson has opened up about his mental health struggles over the years.

In an incredibly honest and open interview with Neil Squires in The Express, the World Cup-winning fly-half says he has suffered with mental health problems his entire life.

He says there were many times in his career where he almost pulled out of a game, such was the state he was in.

“I had mental health stuff throughout my entire life,” he said.

“I had times when I’d be speaking to my family before England games from the team hotel where I was inches away from going to tell the coach I couldn’t play. Make up an excuse not to.

“That was the state I was in. It was pure panic. Chaos.”

“I’d be sat in the hotel room trying to watch TV but it was just a light changing colour. I was so anxious because I needed to know everything would go how I wanted it to – 95 per cent of me was trying to live in the future.”

He also recalls how he went missing on his Toulon teammates 5 minutes before kick-off, locking himself into a cubicle so he could call his kicking coach Dave Alred.

“I’d shut myself in the cubicle so no one could see what I was doing. You don’t make phone calls from the changing room just before a game. You just don’t,” recalls Wilkinson.

“The team was outside in a huddle waiting for me. I was supposed to be giving the ‘come on we can do this’ speech and I was a shivering wreck in the toilet.”

“So I was crouched down phoning Dave. And of course he wasn’t there. Why should he be? So I’m stuck in the cubicle with the phone and I can hear the team manager saying, ‘Where’s Jonny? We’ve got to go out in two minutes’.”

Wilkinson says such is the nature of sport, athletes constantly live between two pillars of judgement – “your last game and your next game.”

“The nature of sport is that you live constantly between two pillars of judgment – your last game and your next game,” says Wilkinson.

“There are thousands of people watching, people writing about you, people stopping you in the street, and it’s easy to use that to reinforce that image of who you are.”

“When I was playing rugby, I wore a rugby shirt and dissolved into what I was doing. The problem was my attachment to that idea of who I was meant I never took that shirt off. I became more and more attached to it.”

“I’d be in an amazing restaurant, with great people, eating lovely food in a nice shirt, but under it would still be this dirty, sweaty rugby shirt I clung to. I was there, but instead of exploring the infinite potential of that situation, 20 or 30 per cent of me would be drifting off to my last game or my next one, that little niggle in my leg or what the people on another table thought of me. I wasn’t really in the restaurant.”

You can read Wilkinson’s interview in full here.