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James Haskell Talks Fitness and Rugby on 13th December 2016

| Special Events, Sport | 09/12/2016

Haskell speaks his mind at Wasps (Richard Lane Photography)
Haskell speaks his mind at Wasps (Richard Lane Photography)

On Tuesday night, England rugby star and charismatic presenter James Haskell hosts his latest rugby and fitness evening at The Gridiron Building in Kings Cross.  It’s a chance for sports fans and fitness enthusiasts to hear stories from one of rugby’s most travelled and interesting characters on what drives him to succeed and – timely as we approach Christmas – push his body to the very limit.

Ahead of the talk, Ian Cater caught up with him to discuss Christmas temptations, Eddie Jones’ unbeaten England team and a potential future in light entertainment.

James Haskell is an interesting contradiction.

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Haskell on Haskell

Off the pitch, the 31-year-old personifies the term ‘larger than life’, dominating social media and dressing room ‘bantz’ as willingly as he throws himself into rucks and mauls for Wasps and England.  He’s often in a television studio and, even when at home or on tour, shares videos sending up his girlfriend, Chloe Madeley (daughter of Richard and Judy), or England teammate Owen Farrell – the latter interactions exaggerating the ‘outgoing southerner’ and ‘dour northerner’ stereotypes to great effect.

Haskell has a knack for self-promotion, ranging from an extremely slick website to less serious selfies in a pair of budgie smugglers for the many admirers of his 6 foot 4 physique.  He also has his own health and fitness brand, selling training books, clothing and officially approved supplements as he makes inroads into the corporate world.

He tweets daily, DJs regularly and dresses to impress.  In other words, Haskell’s an extrovert, entertainer and entrepreneur, although he’s also been called a lot worse.

On the pitch, it’s a different story.  He’s a worker, a tough tackler, a winner.  He puts his body on the line, bleeding for the team.  And – unlike certain colleagues who buzz around referees, offering constant ‘advice’ – Haskell lets his performances do the talking.

Once one of the young stars of English rugby – making his debut for Wasps at 18 and England at 21 – Haskell’s known for taking the path less trodden and repeatedly proving doubters wrong.

Photo by David Rogers - The RFU Collection via Getty Images

Grand Slam Winner (David Rogers / The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

In 2009, he decided to ply his trade in France, before joining Ricoh Black Rams in Japan and New Zealand’s Highlanders.  Since 2013, he’s been back playing for Wasps, but remains the only player from the British Isles to play rugby in the world’s top four leagues.

Despite intense competition, Haskell’s repeatedly worked his way back into national selection, most recently under Eddie Jones’ all-conquering tenure.  This summer the flanker was ‘Player of the Series’ for dominant displays in England’s first two victories over Australia.  And although England won all four of their recent tests, the team – perhaps even Farrell – missed Haskell’s all-action performances as he recovers from a broken toe.

It’s this dichotomy between Cavalier and Roundhead that makes Haskell such an interesting character; no wonder fans have flocked to his recent talks.  “I get a fairly broad demographic,” he says.  “There are guys between 17 and 35 who are mainly interested in health and fitness, and want to know how to look after yourself in a professional environment.

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Calling it how he sees

“I also get those who just want to hear a good rugby story.  I do about 40 minutes on my journey in the sport, living all around the world and telling after-dinner anecdotes about the people I’ve come across.  And there’s plenty of time at the end to ask me questions and have me sign a copy of the book, which is included with the ticket.”

Haskell’s new book – Introduction to Becoming and Remaining Rugbyfit – has proved popular largely because its teachings are transferable.  “It’s for anyone really,” he says.  “You don’t have to be into rugby to appreciate the lessons it covers.  It should help anybody who wants to get a bit fitter, as well as people who want to train for a marathon or something similar.  I’m a big believer that you should always look to improve, whatever your level.  There are loads of distractions, so you need to dedicate time to yourself and this book helps with that.”

Although his fitness means a lot to him, Haskell recognises how hard it is to stay in shape at this time of the year – even for professional athletes.  “You always have temptations over Christmas but we don’t have the luxury to eat and drink ourselves into oblivion, which can be frustrating.  We train on Christmas Eve and only have a couple of days off.”

But presumably with a partner as health-focused as Chloe – who owns the website Fitness Fondue – it’s easy to turn down a second mince pie?  “It does help, because she loves her exercise,” he says.  “But Chloe’s also a bit of a feeder, so I have to show a lot of willpower to avoid her fattening me up!”

There’s little chance of Haskell piling on the pounds this Christmas as he seeks a return to club action by the end of the month.  It’ll be interesting to see how quickly he gets up to speed and meets Eddie Jones’ expectations.  “England are in a good place but everyone in this squad appreciates the importance of improving in any way possible.  Eddie and the coaches demand that from us and that’s what we need to become the number one side.”

It’ll be equally interesting to see how Haskell ploughs his furrow in the world of entertainment.  He’s performed well in the Sky Sports studio and sees his future in TV and radio.  “However, I always envisaged it’d be broader than just rugby or sport.  I’m interested in the sort of thing James Corden does – general entertainment’s my cup of tea.  Certainly, if I had the same amount of success and money he has, I’d be very happy.”

All that’s to come.  For now, Haskell will happily settle for Kings Cross and a night dishing out fitness inspiration, great stories and signed stocking-fillers.

James Haskell is talking at The Gridiron Building in Kings Cross on 13th December 2016 from 19.00.  For tickets, costing £35, head to James’s official website, where you can also find details of his health and fitness brand (JHH&F) and merchandise.  Alternatively, to keep tabs on his entertaining career on and off the pitch, follow James on Twitter @JamesHaskell.

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