Now I really have gone wild! As renowned for his hell-raising as he was for his cricket, Freddie Flintoff lives up to his reputation in a thrilling new show
22:20 GMT, 11 May 2012
The last time Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff set foot on Australian soil, in 2007, things couldn’t have gone worse for him.
He was captain of an England cricket team that was battered and humiliated. His men lost the Ashes in a 5-0 whitewash – the first time this had happened for 86 years.
Meanwhile, off the pitch, his mental health was suffering. He recalled ‘crying my eyes out’ with his father at the time. ‘I told him I’d tried my best. But I couldn’t do it any more, I couldn’t keep playing… I didn’t want to get out of bed, never mind face people.’
Flintoff with a Masai warrior in Tanzania
Yet here he is again in Australia. And this time he’s facing not the might of the Aussie bowlers but a far deadlier enemy. In Freddie Flintoff Goes Wild, we see Flintoff doing battle with a vicious crocodile in the remote Australian bush.
He pins the beast down by its neck while an Aborigine guide finishes it off with a hunting spear. Roast crocodile is on the menu for lunch in the Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory – 8,500 miles away from home, and ‘a million miles from what I used to do’.
Flintoff’s career has certainly changed direction. Alongside his legendary status as a cricketer, his fondness for a party – he famously stayed up all night drinking before a reception at No 10 after England won the Ashes in 2005 and had to be rescued from a pedalo after a drinking session in the Caribbean at the cricket World Cup in 2007 – had him labelled as an altogether different kind of wild man.
Freddie talks with his guide Joseph and
his family in Australia
But now he’s made four Freddie Flintoff Goes Wild programmes for the Discovery channel. He goes to Tanzania, where he witnesses lions, hyenas and the annual wildebeest migration. In Canada he meets cougars, wolves and killer whales. Then, in the dense jungle of Borneo, he goes in search of the pygmy elephant, one of the rarest mammals on earth.
Unfortunately, while in Borneo he also meets black spitting cobras, vipers that carry enough poison to kill an elephant, and all manner of beastly critters and bugs. ‘There was everything there that I absolutely hate,’ he smiles, ‘apart from mustard. And the cast of The Only Way Is Essex.’
But back to his battle with the Australian crocodile. ‘I’d never hunted before this trip – and my feelings were mixed. There was some guilt. But this is how the Aboriginal people get their food.’ There must have been fear, too ‘No,’ says Freddie. ‘Originally, maybe, but then you just get wrapped up in the situation.’
I’d never hunted before this trip – and
my feelings were mixed. There was some guilt. But this is how the
Aboriginal people get their food…
If these were the words of some chest-thumping macho man, you’d suspect bravado, doubt his sincerity. But what makes Flintoff so interesting to watch is that, despite the fact he’s an internationally famous millionaire sportsman, he still exudes an endearing sense of ordinariness. Born into a working-class family (‘My dad worked for 25 years at British Aerospace on the machines’), he says he still enjoys meeting up with his old mates for a pint back home in Preston, and you believe him.
On screen, this is no Ray Mears or Steve Irwin, it’s an everyman thrust out of his comfort zone and into some bizarre and fascinating situations. Like when he’s fed baked wallaby – which he’s helped cook – by his guide Joseph and his wife Connie, who’ve hunted the animal down for lunch and then cooked it in a hole in the ground covered in stones and leaves.
‘They eat wallaby – that’s what they live on and you don’t want to offend, so you’ve just got to get on with it. It was nice – it tasted like lamb,’ he recalls. Nice That was until he was encouraged to tuck into some of the offal. The grimace on his face as he chews a piece of cooked wallaby intestine says everything. Well, not quite everything. As soon as he’s managed to swallow it, he turns to his host and puts his feelings into words.
Alongside his legendary status as a cricketer, Freddie was known for his party antics
‘Don’t get me wrong, Connie,’ he says, ‘But this is the best way I can describe it. It takes like s***.’ Later he confesses, ‘I still don’t know if she was taking the mickey out of me or whether they really do eat the guts, because it seems to have amused her a great deal.’
Interestingly it wasn’t the food choices or the lack of creature comforts that made life tough for Flintoff, but the knowledge that he was away from his family – wife Rachael, 33, and children Holly, seven, Corey, six, and Rocky, four. ‘Since I retired from cricket in 2010, and the four years before that when I was injured a lot, I’ve spent a lot of time at home. I’ve got used to that and got into a routine – like taking the kids to school. So going away is really tough.’
It was made all the tougher by the playful and tender relationship – clearly visible on screen – that he built up in Australia with Connie and Joseph’s little boy, Moses. ‘I was missing my kids. In one way, having Moses around was brilliant. I’d play with him and have such a laugh. But then I’d think, “Actually, my son’s the same age, what’s he doing today I should be with him, not in the middle of the bush with someone else’s child.”’
Was he worried that his depression – which he has, in the past, talked about so honestly – might return while he was far from home, away from his loved ones No, he says. ‘For my sake and the show’s sake, I had to really immerse myself in it and just give it everything – and that’s what I felt I did. And I really enjoyed it.’
Crucially, his adventures in some of the world’s most remote regions have taught him to put things in perspective. ‘In cricket, you’re chasing something all the time. You get too single-minded. Actually the simplest things in life are the best: family, kids. Every now and then, you just need to stop and be happy with what you’ve got.’
Freddie Flintoff Goes Wild begins on Thursday 24 May at 9pm on the Discovery Channel.