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Tufnell puts a positive spin on his life story; Cricket bad boy-turned-king of the jungle PhilTufnell has packed a lot into his nearly 50 years, and it's often been a rocky road at times. He tells Ella Walker how writing his autobiography was 'cathartic' and love helped him put things into perspective profile.

Byline: Ella Walker

PHIL Tufnell has a very specific quality to him. The kind that makes you believe - cricket fan or not - that if you bumped into him down the pub, you'd have a great time. The booze would swill, empty crisp packets would crinkle away on the table, and, after picking his cricketer's brain, you'd walk home gleefully shouting, "Tuffeeeeeers!".

The Barnet-born sportsmanturned-telly personality is practically public property, a borderline national treasure, defined by his team captain status on BBC panel show A Question Of Sport, and for winning I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! back in 2003.

Many would add to the mix his spin bowling skills, despite the fact he retired from cricket in 2002 following a fractious career spent precariously balancing partying with taking wickets. The papers adored him for it.

"One of the main reasons I played cricket was because, when you're out playing - a lot of sportsmen say it - that's when you can control things," Tufnell says, levelly. "You're out there on the field and you know what you're doing, it's when you get off the field there's times when you don't know what you're doing.

"If you haven't got your wits about you, you can lose the best things that have ever happened to you."

He hinges his new autobiography - Where Am I? - on this juncture: the end of his sporting career and how the transition wasn't as straightforward as taking off his cricket whites, hanging out in the jungle for two weeks and then swanning into a commentating job on Radio 5 Live.

"There was that press and media attention [that came with winning I'm A Celebrity...], and it's not as easy as people seem to think. Everyone seems to think fame is all great, and everything's all fine, and | wife you're going to openings and parties, but it's not quite as simple as that," Tufnell admits. "It was overwhelming."

Unaware his phone was being hacked and the papers filled with stories about his private life, the father-of-two was on the brink of toppling back into the type of behaviour that saw him kicked out of school and drinking excessively.

"It's only when you look back, you think, 'What was that all about?' You could have gone down so many different paths. You sit back and go, 'Whew, well, thankfully it's all turned out all right in the end', because there were so many things that might not have."

He gives credit to his wife Dawn, who he met at a six-a-side benefit match shortly before his 35th birthday. At the time, he was sleeping on a friend's sofa, recovering from his second divorce. He writes: "Do you believe in love at first sight? Well, that's me. I'm smitten."

It's clear he still is. "We're in a very nice place at the moment. That's very much in the forefront of where I am, my relationship with Dawn.

"It would be a completely different book," he adds, when asked to imagine how life might have panned out had he not met her. "I don't know whether I would have been here, to be totally honest. She's not calmed me down or anything, but just put things into perspective - and thank God, because I was wandering about a bit. I've always been a bit of a loose cannon...

"Yeah, crikey, that's a bit scary," he blurts, laughing, after going quiet for a beat. "I wouldn't have fancied that. My God, the alternative would have been - it don't bear thinking about, really."

his Dawn " Where Am I? is thoughtful, surprisingly so at times and lacking in rose-tinted retellings of former sporting heroics.

"I've thoroughly enjoyed it, it's been cathartic," he says of the writing process. "It's been great fun remembering some of the things you've been doing and also, a little bit upsetting along the way, but it's all been done with a smile."

Tufnell cites "coming up to a slightly more mature age" (he turns 50 next April) and his father becoming ill, as triggers for totting up his memories and committing them to paper.

"I've been honest about things, I hope people get that. I'd say I've looked at things a bit sensitively. I've focussed on why things have happened more. I've learnt a lot about myself.

"I'd like to think I'm still a bit of a cheeky-chappy - but not without somewhere to go, if you know what I mean. I was always a little bit without direction, every day was a bit like: 'Crikey, what do we do now? What's happening now?' I'd like to think there's a little bit more order these days.

"I don't want to sound cheesy, but it's put things into place. I got a lot of peace from writing it, mainly in the chapters about my mum and my dad."

Tufnell's mother died from leukaemia when he was a teenager, and the book's prologue opens powerfully with a sweet, witty eulogy his brother Greg read at their father's funeral last year.

"I think, if they read it, they'd be delighted," he says of his parents. "My dad, he would have laughed. He was a big character in my life, you don't realise quite how much they shape you until you sit back and have a look and a chat about them when they're not here."

What he doesn't touch too much on is perhaps one of the more intriguing and unexpected aspects of his personality: a passion for art. "I enjoy painting, I enjoy mucking about, I enjoy drawing. It's one of those things that I've always done. It's the only O-Level I've got, so when the cricket stopped, it gave me an opportunity, and some time, to have a little dabble and do something for myself. I can sit there and while away three or four hours quite comfortably, it just takes you away."

A chapter on his art would make a nice break among several lengthy ones on the stacks of quizzes and celebrity TV shows he's appeared in - from Strictly Come Dancing to Celebrity Antiques Road Trip and The Chase - but all is forgiven when he gets on to what it was like braving Channel 4 snow sports show, The Jump, earlier this year.

"I was terrified! Absolutely terrified," he confesses, laughing. "It was so completely out of my comfort zone."

The show involved tackling some extreme winter sports like the slalom and bobsleigh, along with a string of other celebs, on live TV. Mostly though, it featured a very battered Tufnell, scared for his life. "I fell off the skeleton! I'd done three days pootling down a little nursery slope in Hemel Hempstead, and then turned up in Austria and went, 'This is pretty hardcore'! I fell over three times getting from the plane to the hotel, let alone when I put my bloody skis on!" Despite injuries, constant queasiness and repeated shrieks of, "Medic!", he survived, but did get eliminated in the first round.

He can't imagine not working though, however mad the job offers. "I'm certainly not retiring!" he barks.

"I do feel like I know where I am now, though," Tufnell adds. "Everything's a little bit more, not on an even keel exactly, but things are settling down. It's just taken a little bit of time to get there."

Where | Am I?: My Autobiography by PhilTufnell is published in hardback by Headline, priced PS20. Available August 27

CAPTION(S):

Tufnell's |England career was dogged by off-field controversy

Settling down? Phil Tuffnell today and, inset, his new autobiography

With his |wife Dawn
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 29, 2015
Words:1263
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