Welsh rugby great speaks of pain at coming out
Gareth Thomas, the former Welsh rugby international, has spoken for the first time of the agonising pain of his wife leaving him after he came out as gay.
The ex-Wales captain told how he made several suicide attempts after confessing to his wife Jemma in 2006 that he had been secretly homosexual throughout their five-year marriage.
In a new book Proud, Thomas says that the night his wife left him, he dressed in his best grey suit issued by the Welsh Rugby Union and headed to the swimming pool of his home to drown himself.
He explained in an interview with The Times how he had fought to become one of the toughest players on the pitch in an attempt to hide his sexuality, which had been clear to him from the age of 16.
"It was like, 'I'm going to make it hard for you to ever imagine, because I'm going to be a beast of a man and I am going to be f------ good at rugby, which is everything that society is telling me I shouldn't be.'"
He eventually opened up to his wife eight years ago when he realised his attraction to other men was not going to disappear in the way he had hoped, despite being "so in love with her".
Thomas, who retired from rugby in October 2011 and now works for a teaching company, has detailed his journey towards being openly gay.
In the book he describes the night he returned home from playing rugby, to find his wife had finally walked out on him.
He wrote: "A form of madness gripped me that first night after Jemma left. I needed her presence, so I invented it. I climbed into her wardrobe, and sprayed her favourite perfume, Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle, around the interior.
"I pulled her clothes off the hangers and shelves, and buried myself in them. In my warped state of mind, it was my only way of getting her back. I sensed her spirit, savoured her scent. I was in her space, her sphere.
"I missed her so badly, and hated myself for what I had inflicted on her."
Thomas, 40, is now in a happy relationship with his partner Ian Baum and insists there are no lingering tensions between him and his then wife, who has since remarried.
"I hid it for so long," Thomas says, "because I was sure that some day my love for Jemma would be strong enough that I wouldn't be the person I didn't want to be, but the person Jemma wanted me to be. I was so in love with her. We had been so happy. But it wasn't enough."
Hiding his sexuality made him "like a gambler, whose first instinct on winning a large bet is to go double or quits". The act of sexual suppression was like "this vision of a cup ... sitting at the core of my being ... drop by drop, the cup began to fill. It was no problem at first; the flow was minimal. But inevitably ... the cup began to overflow."
He had his first gay encounter in Bridgend while he was working as a postman - like his father - before he and Jemma were serious.
"Nothing needed to be said. It just happened," he said adding he felt sickened and he scrubbed himself clean afterwards.
But his urges got stronger. "The nub of it was that I couldn't suppress these feelings."
By 1995, when he was playing for Wales, he would visit Old Compton Street in London during away matches. He tried to be incognito, inventing aliases, never revealing his true name and often pretending to be French so that there was no opportunity for conversation. Sometimes he thought he'd been recognised but nothing came of it.
"Whenever I walked into a gay club, I was a blank canvas," he writes. "I'd invent a name and occupation for myself instinctively. The charade depended on what he did for a living.
"And afterwards I'd always say to myself, 'Right, I've had my hit, my fix. I'm quitting'."
But he never could. He continued to tell lies and was forced to hide behind them.
"It was kind of exhausting but this was my life. This was what I'd created, so I didn't really know any other life. I didn't know what relaxing felt like."