Sir Ian Botham reveals all to Piers Morgan
- His two year affair and how it felt when he had to confront his wife
- How he and his wife Kath have grown stronger, despite the highs and lows
- His devastation when his wife Kath lost their unborn baby 24 weeks into her pregnancy
- Winning the Ashes in 1981 and how it changed his life
- His determination to play cricket for a living from a very young age
- The discovery of cannabis in his home and his wife’s reaction
- How meeting sick children in hospital drove him to walk miles and miles for charity
- His pride at being knighted by the Queen
Cricketer Sir Ian Botham has had an unpredictable life both on and off the field. During an interview for Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, which will be screened on ITV at 9pm tomorrow (Friday), Ian told Piers all about his career and personal life.
Piers began the interview by asking, “What do you like being called?”
Ian said: “Most people call me Beefy. That’s walking down the high street.”
Ian is clearly passionate about cricket, but Piers asked: “If I could give you a choice of the best sex of your life, or a brilliant hundred at Lords, what would you take?”
Ian said: “Hundred at Lords. Every day of the week.”
Piers asked: “When you look at your whole life, in totality, what’s your overview about it?”
Ian said: “I think the best way to describe it is that I’ll never go to my grave asking the question, if?”
Ian had a 20 year career and he played cricket for England nearly 200 times. He broke world records in batting and bowling. He was also credited with winning the 1981 Ashes almost single handedly.
As well as causing a stir on the pitch, he also kept people talking off the field as well and his antics meant he was no stranger to sensational headlines.
Piers asked: “Did you see yourself as a rebel?”
Ian said: “Probably, yeah. I think I did. There was a stigma with cricket and there was always an ‘us and them’ situation.”
Ian had a working class upbringing. He dropped out of his local state school at the age of 15, without any qualifications.
Ian said: “I didn’t actually see what good an O’Level in whatever, Chemistry or History, was going to do me when I’m playing cricket.”
He continued: “I think I had the first run in with a careers officer at school when I was about twelve or thirteen. She sat there behind a desk and she said, ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’ I said, ‘I haven’t quite made my mind up between cricket and soccer but I’ll play sport for a living.’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that would be very nice. What are you really going to do?’”
Ian added: “When you get a god given talent like that, you’re an idiot if you waste it and don’t enjoy it, because it’s there for a reason and sport was always in my blood.”
Ian enjoyed drinking and he admitted that after one particularly heavy night, he struggled to play cricket the following day.
Ian explained: “I had to go out and bat. I went out and I thought I was getting some strange looks from people. Anyway, I got to about the middle and twelfth man tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘You might need this.’ I’d forgotten to take the bat. Bit of a giveaway really, wasn’t it?”
Ian was lucky enough to be a natural when it came to cricket, despite the fact that everything seemed to go against him. Ian is chronically colour-blind and can’t actually distinguish between red and green – tough as the grass is green and the cricket ball is red.
Ian said: “Once it blends in I’ve got no chance.”
Piers said: “This must have made it so much more difficult for you?”
Ian said: “It’s reaction time and I think you can differentiate. You’re trained because you’ve played cricket all your life with the red ball so you know what you’re looking for. I suppose if I could’ve seen it I might have been even better.”
Piers said: “You also discovered you had an allergy. What is your allergy to?”
Ian said: “Hayfever. Grass. It was also a bit confusing because I have exercise-induced asthma as well. So I didn’t have a lot going for me really.”
At the age of just 18 Ian met his wife Kath Waller. She had a boyfriend at the time so Ian wooed her.
Ian said: “Flowers. Loads of flowers. Everyday. Flowers. Phone calls.”
After just three months, Ian proposed and they married when they were both just 20 years old. They started a family quickly afterwards and had a son Liam, followed by a daughter Sarah.
Piers said: “One of the reasons you decided to get married so young was because of your motto. The Beefy Botham motto, which is?”
Ian side: “Ride the torpedo to the end of the tube. In other words, if you start something, your momentum is going that way, sport, whatever, never look back.”
Of his marriage, Ian said: “I’m very happy. I think our relationship has got stronger over the years. There’s been highs and massive lows, and highs again, mostly through my doing.”
When Ian’s career took off, he was away for long periods of time and his off field reputation caught up with him, with various kiss and tell stories circulating.
In an interview for Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, Ian’s wife Kath said: “Ian would get on the phone and say, ‘Hi, there’s going to be something in the papers over the next few days and my heart would just sink.”
The press reported that Ian had a fling with former model Lindy Field. Ian denied the allegations but it put a strain on their marriage.
In an interview for Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, Ian’s son Liam said: “I don’t think he was a very good husband and I don’t think he was a particularly great father.”
In 2001 the press were about to expose Ian’s two year affair with Kylie Verrells - a waitress he met whilst working in Australia. Ian was forced to confess all to his family.
Ian said that when his affair was exposed it, “brought me back down to earth with a bump.”
He continued: “You suddenly realise what are the important things in life and at times you become very selfish. I was very selfish in that period of time. To this day, I still don’t know why that period of time happened. At times you make big mistakes and that was a massive mistake. It nearly cost me everything that’s so important to me.”
Piers asked: “Why do you think it (the affair) started?”
Ian said: “I really don’t know. I don’t know why it started. I knew that I found it very difficult to get out of it. I’d pushed myself into a very awkward corner and there was only one way I could get out, by being honest, by confronting it and moving on. The children were hurt more than I realised and it suddenly woke me up.”
Piers said: “The moment you had to tell Kath, that must have been maybe the most difficult moment of your life?”
Ian said: “It was in one way but it wasn’t in another. One, yeah, I had to sit down and tell her and I knew it would hurt her, but I actually felt so much (relief), like, thank goodness I got that out. There’s no more hiding, no more running, there’s no more lying. Now let’s do something about it. Living a lie for two years is not easy.”
Piers asked: “Did you get emotional in that time?”
Ian said: “I got angry with myself. I was very angry and I remember kicking the end of the bed, which I regretted for about three days afterwards. It was down to me, I had to repair it. I had to repair the bridges that had been pulled down, flattened, so it was almost like re-starting the relationship.”
Piers said: “Your kids were quite clearly livid with you. Did you fear you might never have a relationship with them again?”
Ian said: “When I said re-building, I wasn’t talking about just the marriage, I had to re-build the whole family. It wasn’t so much saying, it was doing, and being there, being available, going out of my way to be available. In fact doing everything a normal father probably does.”
Ian and Kath had made it through difficult times before. In 1983 they were expecting what would have been their third child and 24 weeks into the pregnancy they got some devastating news.
Ian said: “Kath said that morning she wasn’t feeling particularly well and I got the news and the baby had died. It was horrendous. It was a shock. You can’t explain the feelings to be honest, unless you’re actually there or you’re involved. From Kath’s point of view, she was lying there in the bed at the hospital, I got there and you could see that it had been a pretty traumatic experience for her.”
Piers said: “And you had to carry on playing whilst Kath was in hospital?”
Ian said: “I sprinted in and I must apologise to the batsman at the other end someday. I probably bowled the quickest ever. I just wanted to try and get the game over and get away. Nowadays of course you’d have just left the game and gone, but in those days you didn’t, you had an obligation to your team.”
Piers said: “You’ve been married for 37 years and the relationship clearly is as strong as it’s ever been. What did you do right in the end?”
Ian said: “I became a bit more human.”
Piers said: “What would you say to Kath, now that you’ve got the chance? There she is.”
Ian turned towards his wife, who was sitting in the audience with his kids, and said: “Hi.”
He then joked: “What would I say? I’d say, have a safe journey tonight Love. And Sarah, you do the driving. Your mother might be a bit emotional now, so you do the driving.”
Piers joked back: “I tried to make you human.”
Ian had loving parents Les and Marie. They were both very sporty.
Ian said: “My father used to captain Western Helicopters second team. From as young as I can remember, I would always go along and I’d have my white shorts on and white T-shirt and Woolworths daps. I’d be out there, running around and I would go and field for whichever side.”
Piers said: “You were also a natural football player.”
Ian said: “The manager then at Crystal Palace, who were first division side, Premiership you’d say now, he was very keen to sign me. He rang my parents and came and saw my parents. I then said to my dad, ‘What do you reckon? Am I a better cricketer or a footballer?’ He looked at me and he said, ‘You are by far a better cricketer.’ And he said, ‘If you’re thinking about what I think you are thinking, that’s the way I would go. Cricket is your game.’ I think he might have been right.”
In 1977 Ian was picked to play cricket for England. Piers asked how that felt.
Ian said: “It was strange because at 12.00 on a Sunday you’d listen to the sports news and that’s how you found out if you were playing for England.”
In 1980 at the age of 24 Ian was appointed captain of the England team, the youngest in 98 years. After a year as captain he hadn’t won a test match and his powers appeared to be fading. In the summer of 1981 Ian and his team made a disastrous start to the Ashes. Ian walked off the field to silence after scoring naught and he was forced to resign as captain of England.
Ian said: “I was fuming. I was about to explode.”
Nine days later Ian returned for the next match in the series. Everything turned around and Ian scored a remarkable 149 not out. The unwinnable match was won which led to England winning the Ashes.
“The strangest part about it all was that in 1981 my life changed after the Headingley game. It was a totally different platter. You got no guidance in those days, you got no help. You were basically thrown to the wolves. You do make mistakes and you do get above your station. Actually, you’ve got to keep on performing. You’ve set the standards, now you’ve got to keep on going. That’s when it gets tough. So it was a double-edged sword, but you’d never change it. It was a great moment. Wonderful moment in sport. Great to be part of it.”
On New Years Eve, 1984, police searched Ian’s home and found cannabis.
Piers asked: “How much and what was it doing there?”
Ian said: “0.06 of a gram.”
Piers said: “Where had it come from?”
Ian said: “Probably left in there from an evening out. I’ve never made any bones about it, that was it. I went to court, took the rap over the knuckles and that was it.”
Kath wasn’t happy and in frustration she hurled part of a glass-topped table at Ian.
Ian said: “She wasn’t happy and quite rightly. She shouldn’t be happy. To me it was no really a big deal.”
Piers said: “Had you smoked a bit of dope before?”
Ian said: “Hang on, growing up in the 70s and 80s? I think it’s inevitable it’s going to cross your path somewhere along the line.”
In 1977 Ian had an injury and went to hospital. Whilst there, he talked to kids who were being treated for leukaemia. Discovering these children had only a small chance of survival had a massive impact on him and from then on Ian wanted to raise money for charity. In 1985 he came up with a plan to do a sponsored walk – from John O’Groats to Lands End. Ian has done another 15 charity walks since then and raised millions of pounds. In recognition of his achievements Ian was knighted by the Queen in 2007.
Ian said: “It was the proudest day of my life, but certainly my mother’s. We had a great day.”
Piers said: “What did the Queen say to you?”
Ian said: “The Queen said to me, ‘Well Ian, I know all about the cricket and everything, but tell me more about the charity work. We talked and she talked for nearly two minutes. It was fantastic.”
Piers said: “Do you like being called Sir Ian?”
Ian said: “Beefy is quite good enough for me. It’s a great honour but I don’t say, ‘You’ve got to call me Sir Ian.’ I’m still Beefy and that’s what I always want to be.”
In April 2012 Ian’s mother Marie died aged 85. Ian rushed by helicopter to be at her bedside.
Piers said: “When you had those last few minutes with her, what did you say to her?
Ian said: “I just thanked her. Thanked her for everything she’d done for me over the years. The sacrifices that my mother and father had made. They’d coming from an ordinary working class background. For me to play cricket at 14 and 15 I had to be driven around the county. They sacrificed so much and I just thanked her. She squeezed my hand. We left her and she just drifted away. It was very emotional.”
Piers said: “Looking back, if you could write your own epitaph, what would you want it to say?”
Ian said: “This guy rode the torpedo to the end of the tube.”