Why we will always love Jonny

As we prepare for the rugby world cup without the world’s greatest living Englishman, I thought I would bring back some fond memories of the 2007 tournament. I covered it for the Sunday Times from deep in the heart of French rugby-playing territory. Here is a piece about Jonny Wilkinson, whom I will always consider one of our greatest ever sporting heroes. I am so happy Leo watched him kick that drop goal in 2003. OK so he was only four months old, but he swears he remembers it…

This time last week I had a terrible hangover. I woke up at 6am wondering why my head was throbbing. Then I remembered.
“We won,” I said to my husband.
“I want to read the French papers,” he replied.
“I want to marry Jonny Wilkinson,” I said.
“I do too,” he said.
That’s the thing about Jonny. Everyone adores him. My husband doesn’t even mind me having a crush on him. He is Jonny. He is the greatest living Englishman.
Never mind his girlfriend and his mum cheering him on, the rest of the nation is behind him too. And most of the female population would like to be on top of him.
I have noticed a change in my friends over the past few weeks. These are professional women of a certain age. But they are acting like teenagers. A freelance writer and mother in her 40s who shall remain nameless, spends most of her days sending me links to gay sporting websites where, once you get past the more obscene items, there are pictures of Jonny without his shirt on.
What does she love about him so much? “It’s the facial expression, although the bottom is lovely, it’s that come hither look and we’ll have some fun that I adore,” she says. “He is so incredibly private and low-key and this gives him an air of mystery and thus obviously more sex appeal. The exact opposite of those talent-less celebrity seekers, Jordan and Posh types.”
A doctor friend of mine has five children, so plenty of choice for screensavers there. What picture does she have on her computer? Jonny taking a penalty kick. Why I asked her? “Don’t ask stupid questions,” was her response.Marry me
But it’s not only sad middle-aged women like me who adore him. A friend of mine’s fourteen-year-old daughter loves him, as does her grandmother. Jonny’s appeal is cross-generational and universal.
Although I wouldn’t mind taking him home myself, he is the kind of boy I would be delighted if one of my daughter’s came home with. He would be a model son-in-law, polite and helpful around the house. He’s a nice boy with good manners and sense of fair play. When he wins he is as gracious as he is when he loses. When he lies on the ground it is not because he thinks he can convince the ref to give him a penalty but because someone has tried to take him out.
Some say he’s boring, that he’s too obsessed. “How do I meet him?” panted one friend during the England/France game. “By disguising yourself as a rugby ball,” responded another. People say he’s a rugby-playing anorak and deeply dull due to his focus and single-mindedness. I don’t agree. I love that ambition and determination. It makes him even more attractive. This is a man who wants to be the best in the world at kicking a ball over a post. Trivial? Dull? Maybe to some, but not to me and most of the female population of England.
In fact to us he is a super-hero. Jonny comes in at the last minute and scores the drop-goal to win the World Cup. Jonny tackles men four times his size and stops them dead in their tracks. But unlike most super-heroes he doesn’t wear his tights outside his trousers or a cape. Instead he wears an English rose and looks divine. And he takes the pressure so well. “Poor lad,” said a lady I met from Yorkshire recently. “He’s got the whole world on his shoulders.”Jonny
He is as brave as a super-hero. What must it feel like to walk onto a rugby pitch and know that the opposing team has only one strategy: Get Jonny. Obviously this is a strategy the female population of England can relate to, even if it is a tad unsporting.
It is true to say that he wouldn’t be such a hero if he wasn’t so, well, pretty. And pretty is not a word you would normally use to describe rugby players. But he is not poofy. He is no Percy Montgomery, constantly flicking his locks around, he is no Ginola, posing in L’Oreal advertisements. With Jonny you get a no-nonsense lad who looks like a model. What’s not to like? He is not using rugby to get his own TV show. That doesn’t interest him. He’s unlikely to have his own range of foul-smelling fragrance. Jonny has no sarongs, no celebrity girlfriends, no stupid hairstyles, no tattoos. He’s just a proper bloke with drive, ambition and determination to win for himself, his team and his country. That and a cute butt, obviously.


Unacustomed as I am to public speaking…

Tomorrow I have a terrifying task to perform. At 2pm I am to stand up in front of the WHOLE of Leo’s year at school and give a speech about what it’s like being a journalist. Nothing, not even my first appearance on Richard & Judy, or walking up the aisle, or watching Chelsea against Bayern in a penalty shoot-out has filled me with such fear.
I am terrified of letting him down. And I get the impression he is terrified too. “Two pm on Wednesday,” he keeps telling me. “Don’t forget.” This morning he even asked me what I’m going to wear. Good question. Do I go glam (trying too hard?), dressed down (slob mother), trendy (mutton mother) or sexy (slut mother)? It’s an utter no-win situation. And what to talk about?
Rupert’s idea was that I talk about the story I covered in 2005 about the world’s first face transplant performed on a woman who had her face mauled off by her pet dog while she was asleep. Methinks it might be just a tad too gory for 100 nine year olds. Can you imagine the questions? What happened to the dog being the first obvious one….
Anyway, here is my draft speech, advise and comments on this and outfit gratefully received:


In 2003, the year a lot of you were born, I was in Beziers, covering the rugby world cup for the Sunday Times. Beziers is the heart of French rugby country, and I spent a lot of time sneaking into bars undercover to watch the games.

This wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind when I decided aged around 10 that I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. I had envisaged myself in war zones, heroically rushing from battlefield to battlefield in a flak jacket and helmet.

Actually a flak jacket and helmet almost came in handy when I inadvertently shrieked GO JONNY as our hero Jonny Wilkinson scored yet another try against the French and the whole bar went silent.

I managed to survive the wrath of the French rugby crowd, filed the story to London and the next day it was on the front page, my first ever front page story and a defining moment for me because I felt I had achieved what I set out to do.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A GOOD NEWS REPORTER? So what it does it take to be a good news reporter. It’s been said that the attributes required by a Fleet Street reporter are: a plausible manner, a little literary ambition and rat-like cunning. In old films journalists were always portrayed with trenchcoats and hats, but I always found a pen and notebook a bit more useful.

WHY I WANTED TO BE A JOURNALIST As I said I decided I wanted to be a journalist when I was a little girl. I was inspired by the Tintin books, the brave little blond man and his dog setting the world to rights. Like many journalists I did have a little literary ambition, I always wanted to write, and journalism seemed like a natural path towards that. I kept diaries, wrote short stories and read lots. When I went to university I worked on the student newspaper, eventually becoming editor of it. When I left university I looked around for that glamorous job in journalism.

EARLY CAREER My early career was not illustrious. It is a very competitive industry, and despite interviews for the Sunday Times and BBC graduate trainee schemes I found the only way in was through financial journalism.

I started my career at a dreary magazine called Trade Finance magazine. You may well ask what trade finance is; to this day I have no idea, and certainly no interest in it. But I learnt to report, to write, to meet deadlines and I also picked up that invaluable journalist’s tool of pretending to understand what’s going on when you really haven’t the foggiest.

GOOD ADVICE One of my first news editors said that you should treat every story you cover as if you’re a police investigator. Try to amass as much information as possible from as many sources as you can, and don’t always believe that everyone is telling you the truth.

I gather you have been learning about the five Ws: who, where, what, when, why. And of course my daughter’s favourite: whatever. They are a great tool for writing an intro. Make it powerful; get their attention, especially in the first paragraph. Keep it simple and to the point, tabloid press are often criticized but they are brilliant at conveying the maximum information in the minimum  amount of words in the clearest manner.

MOVE TO FRANCE Happily I moved to France and left the world of financial journalism behind. I’m not sure who was more relieved, they or I. Traditionally this would have been a very poor career move. Historically newspapers were based in Fleet Street on the edge of London’s financial district. The journalists were all based there and the printing presses were underneath and offices. CHANGES But then the newspapers moved out to cheaper locations and because of new technology you no longer had to be physically there with a typewriter and a piece of paper. Now in the world of skype, mobile phones and emails you can be anywhere you want to. Just last week I wrote a piece for the Daily Mail about a political scandal in France, from here.

The world of newspapers has changed in other ways too. As a business they are in decline with people preferring to read their news on-screen. At one time everyone in Britain bought a daily paper, nowadays few people bother. However this doesn’t mean there are no avenues for those of you who want to become reporters. The medium may have changed but the message remains the same. The need and desire to tell or to hear a story will never go away. Our ancestors sat around camp-fires telling tales of their hunting expeditions, today we tend to go on twitter or facebook to see what everyone’s up to. We’re all journalists now.

BEST JOB EVER Being a journalist is, I think, one of the best jobs you can have. You are constantly learning new things; you meet fascinating people, along with extremely famous and less fascinating ones such as Prince Andrew and Dannii Minogue, both of whom I have interviewed.

I think one of the most incredible women I ever met was the daughter of an author called Irene Nemirovsky who shot to fame a few years ago when her book became a global bestseller almost 50 years after her death. Her daughter, the woman I interviewed, had carried the unpublished manuscript with her in a suitcase along with her teddy bear as a child while escaping from the Nazis in occupied France. They had arrested her mother and sent her to Auschwitz, where she died. I was also lucky enough to meet such sporting superstars as Tom Daley, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Nowadays I do much more writing of books, features and opinion pieces than pure reporting, although I would be happy to go back to it if someone needed me to. Maybe for the next rugby world cup?

Meanwhile, I would love to hear your questions about journalism, news reporting or anything at all…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

Thank God for Jonny

I rarely need an excuse to post a pic of my favourite sporting heroes, and a lucky win over Scotland is more than enough reason to….so here he is again, Jonny Wilkinson, the greatest living Englishman….(not to mention one of the cutest).

PS Could anyone who has read (and liked) Love in a Warm Climate please post a review on Amazon? I only have two and it looks very empty…by the way there was a gossip column piece in the Independent on Sunday yesterday, funny story actually, I will blog it this week.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

Sporting hero

Ever since I heard the message on my answer machine back in 2003 telling me that the baby I was carrying was a boy, I have had day dreams of Leo becoming a sporting hero. At times when I can’t sleep I imagine myself at Wimbledon on a sunny day watching him lead the final set, about to become the first Englishman to take the title in decades.

I do not limit myself to tennis. Now that he plays football three times a week I have also imagined him signing a multi-million pound contract with Chelsea and being the only man to help us beat Germany in a penalty shoot-out.
Despite the fact that it is an undeniably rough game I have also seen him as the next Jonny Wilkinson, helping England to glory in the rugby world cup. In this scene I am standing beside the original Jonny Wilkinson singing ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and swapping tips on basic skills.
Little did I imagine though that Leo would show an incredible and quite startling aptitude for the one sport I can’t really get excited about……golf.  Can you believe it? Rupert gave him a putter and a golf ball and he holed a twelve-foot putt. Could have been luck, thought Rupert. So he handed him another golf ball. Yep, he holed it again. Then he had a lesson and even Craig the young Scottish coach was impressed. He told Leo he could be better than Tiger Woods one day.


So now I have two golfers to deal with at weekends. Actually four, as the girls have taken it up as well, and very elegant they look too. Pics to follow. But for now you’ll have to make do with the Tiger. The best golfer the world has ever known…..until Leo hits the course.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Pink nail varnish and other routes to happiness

JonnyDuring the rugby world cup last year I had an idea for a book called ‘How to seduce Jonny Wilkinson and other routes to happiness’. It was a book looking at what makes women happy, how we can be happier and so on.

Obviously I have no idea how to seduce Jonny Wilkinson (short of dressing up as a rugby ball and hurling myself over some posts) but that was to be what publishers call the “narrative arc”. On my quest to eternal happiness I would set out to achieve what most of the females (and some males) in England wanted to do at the time.

My agent didn’t like it. I mean she liked the idea, but she doesn’t fancy Jonny Wilkinson. So we opted for something that perhaps more women can relate to; pink nail varnish. And this morning I realised how right she was (although the book never did get written, the publisher didn’t like the idea, or pink nail varnish).

I sat on my bed after two weeks of interrupted nights due to the mosque outside my window, around me the children wailed, and fought, and argued and yelled. I reflected on the previous day when I had spent all my time trying to secure a flat that fell through at the last minute. I thought about the day ahead when I would have to find some way of keeping the children from murdering each other and all the horrible admin chores I need to get to grips with but just can’t muster up the energy to begin.

In my hand I had a bottle of pink nail varnish. ‘Violet’ it is called, from M&S since you ask. Slowly I opened the lid and began to paint my nails. The glossy, fuscia pink (more than violet) colour slid onto my toe-nails effortlessly, like a lump of melting butter on a piece of warm toast. I finished one nail and was pleased with the result. The children came and yelled at me.

“Go away please,” I said, Zen-like, without even looking up from my shiny toes. “I am painting my nails.”

Miraculously they did go away. I painted the remaining nails. At the end of it, I felt so much better. And my nails looked so much chirpier than before. Which I guess might be part of the reason why I felt better.

Whatever, I am happy, and I have not even met Jonny Wilkinson.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

A moral dilemma

DannyI promised I would never betray Jonny, but that new boy is damn good. And cute. And listen to this; his mother drives a London black cab, she used to work all day, get home and give him his tea, then go out to work again at night so she could pay to put him through prep-school. The father was long gone, back to Trinidad and Tobago.

JonnyDanny Cipriani (great name, reminds me of Danny Zuko all those years ago) is twenty and as I write is making a remarkable England debut. When he started half of me wanted him to fail so that Jonny could have his job back. But he has kicked seven out of seven and not put a foot wrong. And he says he wants to become rich enough one day so that his mum can stop working. Bless him.

Late in the game they even bought Jonny on as well. Clearly I will have to adore them both for the moment. And when Jonny eventually does go, Cipriani will make the pain that much easier to bear…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Yeah, right….

OK, so who was it? Which one of you is responsible for the following letter?

Trinny & SusannahHi Helena.

Love the column.

Any chance, I wonder, of a signed photograph of yourself?

The one (or similar) accompanying your French mistress article in yesterday’s Sunday Times/Home Section would be FAB.

It really would complement the Joanna Lumley, Doon Mackichan and Trinny & Suzannah ones’ that already adorn my office wall!

DoonIf you’re willing to respond to such a request then I’ll obviously forward you my UK postal address.


This email ranks alongside those ‘I’m a Nigerian prince and want to give you all my money’ or ‘my name is Jonny Wilkinson and I have been secretly in love with you since I spotted you in the crowd at the Marseille Velodrome’ style mails.

JoannaMy husband maintains he has never heard of Richard and that it wasn’t him. Most of my friends are too lazy or busy to pull a stunt like this. Maybe it was my step-children in revenge for my column about how spoiled their generation is? Maybe Leonardo is a precocious internet user? But the only celebs he knows are Spiderman and Peter Pan.

Whoever it was, I didn’t fall for it. As if I would be seen dead next to Trinny and Suzannah. I mean, puhleeaaase.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

The thrilling game


Some of you may think this blog is just an excuse to get yet another picture of Jonny Wilkinson up. And your problem with that is…?

Last night he proved yet again that he is the greatest living Englishman. The Six Nations match between England and France was as good as it gets. Normally only Grey’s Anatomy can make me forget I am ironing sheets. Last night I could have ironed every duvet cover in the house.

It rather reminded me of the old days with Rob Andrew, Jeremy Guscott and Will Carling. I was at Durham with Carling and he is the reason I started watching rugby in the first place. I remember the excitement when he was picked for England and then became England captain. Back then of course the game was amateur and he had to combine his rugby with his studies and army career.

Football is known as the beautiful game. I think rugby can be extremely beautiful too, especially when the French play their French flair. But last night there was (thankfully) not too much French flair. “More pain-au-chocolat than panache,” said my husband.

But we saw plently of English grit and of course Jonny’s flair. It is hard to define what made the game so exciting but part of it must be that it is a sport where everyone gives their all, that is fiercely masculine and also challenging. On the rare ocassions a try is scored, it really is an event.

So I fell asleep happy; Swing Low Sweet Chariot ringing in my ears. But all the way through the match I was convinced France would win. Which just goes to show that live sport is one of the few unpredictable things left in our sanitised and ordered world. And thankfully Jonny remains predictably brilliant.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Winning isn’t everything…..?

“It has been suggested to me that it would be an awesome achievement if we win,” Jonny Wilkinson wrote in his column on the morning of the world cup final. “But I just can’t allow myself to think that way now, I can’t think beyond today. Because if we lose, all we have done so far here means nothing…..All we have achieved here is a lot of work, no tangible success.”

Sorry to keep droning on about Jonny (this really is the last time, at least for a week) but is he right? It seems to me terribly unfair that they got all the way to final but because they lost that final they see the whole campaign as a waste of time and effort.

Nowhere else but sport does that happen. If you are short-listed for the Booker Prize for example, and don’t win, you still get to stick a sticker on your book saying ‘short-listed for the Booker Prize’. But the England team won’t be wearing rugby shirts with ‘got to the World Cup final’ on them will they?

Meanwhile my thoughts have turned reluctantly from rugby to football. I am headhunting again. This time looking for a chief financial officer for Liverpool Football Club. This involves phoning up other CFOs at football clubs and hoping they would rather be in Liverpool than where they are. So far they wouldn’t, so if you have any ideas then let me know.

But back to Jonny – I am extremely proud of the England team’s massive achievement. However I think Jonny’s attitude is what makes a great sportsman; only winning is enough. As the American football coach Henry ‘Red’ Sanders said: “Sure, winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

Maybe with a middle name like Red he’d like a job at Liverpool? Except he’s dead. Oh well, nobody’s perfect. Except for Jonny, obviously.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007

Arise Sir Jonny

OK, so we lost, but it’s only a game.

You have my permission to kill anyone who says that. It’s not only a game, it’s the WORLD CUP and we lost, rather unfairly I think. I was in a bar full of French people supporting South Africa. Helllooooo??? Aren’t we all Europeans together? Apparently not. But we were gallant and Jonny was glorious. Percy Montgomerie doesn’t stand a chance. And what was that fall into the camera all about? “That’s Percy,” said a friend of mine who was watching with me. “He sees a camera and he throws himself at it.”

Sir Jonny

I propose a knighthood for Jonny and a permanent statue in Trafalgar Square. I will be designing a fountain with a vast statue of Jonny in the middle for our garden.

My scoop in today’s Sunday Times didn’t make it to the international edition but you can read it here. You can also read my seminal piece about Jonny in the news pages (since when was the fact that we all love Jonny “news”?). Someone at the paper put some stupid joke about the Aussies and All Blacks in the middle of my text which they got wrong, making me look like one of those awful women who talk about rugby but know nothing. Which of course I am. And they messed about with our scoop, making up some drivel about a lavender garden and cutting out the brilliant neighbour completely. I can see why people hate journalists. But as I have experienced this weekend, it’s often the editors or subs that make stuff up, not us.

Meanwhile I am pleased to report that Olivia is showing signs of becoming a true French woman. She sent her first text to me today. “Olivia + Quentin,” it read. “Darling,” I said. “How sweet, your first ever text. I’ll keep it forever.”

“Don’t keep it forever,” she responded. “I might get another boyfriend.”

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007