Jonny Wilkinson: “I Woke Up After Winning the World Cup And Could Not Have Felt More Empty”

Published in ShortList Magazine on 31 May 2018

Jonny Wilkinson tells Matt Blake about the quest for happiness

Jonny Wilkinson used to live his life like a Hollywood movie. He was the star, obviously, surrounded by a glittering cast of supporting characters. At 18, he became the England rugby team’s youngest cap for 71 years. Two years later, in 2000, he single-handedly KO’d the mighty Springboks kicking all the points in a 27-22 victory during that now-famous tour of South Africa.

Then came the World Cup final against Australia in 2003.

The final seconds of extra time, the score at 17-17. The ball pops from the ruck and into his hands. He drops, he kicks. He instantly becomes the most famous rugby player on Earth. Narrative arc complete.

And yet… “By that point I’d ticked off every goal I’d set myself,” he says. “That final was my Hollywood ending. I walked into the sunset after that game, the credits came up and the next morning I woke up and could not have felt more empty.”

He was a World Cup hero and heartthrob-in-chief of one of the greatest stories in British sporting history. Rather than bathe in his glory, he sank into depression. “You realise that the credits come up on the film and it’s not like the next film starts with the hero waking up in bed and he’s got a bad knee and no food in the fridge.”

Wilkinson’s voice drops an octave when we move onto the topic of mental health. He talks slowly and earnestly as he relives his old memories. If, that is, you can even call them his. “That lifting of the World Cup happened to another me in another time,” he says. “Although, the beauty of it is that I have access to all that information through memory. I can remember it, I can enjoy it and I can attach myself to it as much as I like. But I also know, deep down, that that didn’t happen to this me.

This story was originally published in ShortList Magazine. To Continue reading, click here.