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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ben Cohen - Rugby Superstar, Calendar Model and Equality Advocate

By Scott Holland -

Ben Cohen is an England Rugby World Cup winner who has achieved 57 caps for his country and is second in the all time try scoring record for England, topped only by Rory Underwood. After spending 18 months playing for CA Brive in France, Ben is back in the UK with Sale Sharks. In addition to his rugby fame, the handsome and open-minded Ben has become an icon to gay men for his work in four calendars and as a vocal advocate of equality for all. When he’s not on the pitch, Ben spends time with wife, Abby, and their three year old twin daughters, Harriette and Isabelle. We’re very happy Ben took time out of his busy schedule to speak with us about his position on gay rights, his gay following and, of course, his calendar.

How do your rugby team mates feel about your strong stance on gay rights?

Well firstly, to be honest, when I am at work my mind is totally focussed on the job at hand - which is my training, fitness and skills on the pitch. We chat obviously, but it’s mainly about the world of rugby, the next match, who’s doing what and perhaps what’s for lunch! I don’t tend to talk too much about what is going on elsewhere. I tend to keep my two lives pretty much separate so that I can concentrate on keeping fit and being picked for the next match.

I don’t think I have a particularly strong stance on gay rights as such. What I do know is that I am lucky enough to be able to live my life exactly how I chose, marry who I want to marry and, within reason, do what I want to do without being afraid or ashamed. I feel others should be able to do the same thing. It’s as simple as that. I feel it’s a right for people to get up each day being who they are and being true to themselves. Why should anyone have to hide their individuality? That’s what makes the human race so interesting. So my strong stance is all about respect for the individuality of each person on this planet, whoever they are.

How do you feel about having a gay following?

I am asked this question a lot. It’s a really easy question to answer. I feel privileged! It’s nice to be liked and complimented. Everyone likes that and the fact that a large group of people have chosen to follow my role as a rugby player and as a man is very flattering. I know some of the comments can get a bit close to the mark at the time, but it goes with the territory really. I have met some really nice people and have made some good friends, which is just nice.

Did you enjoy making your calendar? Tell us about it.

2011 is the fourth calendar that I have made. I did my first one in 2005 just after the World Cup, but I did that through a calendar company, so I was just involved in the shoot on the day. Then I kept getting asked again and again, mainly from my gay followers, to do another one. When Jill (my PR manager) and I started working together in 2007, we decided to do one for my testimonial year and that went well. Then we had another gap and last year, just after we had re-released my website, we asked the question that were we to make one would people buy it. We had a great response so made the decision to launch 2010 Especially for You. We managed to get it out by mid December and it has sold really well.

This year we planned things a bit more, but even then there were problems. We had planned the shoot for August, but then I had to go on my rugby coaching course with the RFU and we had to postpone. Eventually we booked two days at the beginning of September, and then I managed to get a black eye the day before. I looked awful, so we had to postpone to the second day, which was the following Sunday. I couldn’t believe it on the Friday night when I managed to split the eye again in the match. More stitches! It was a bit tense, but we decided to get some makeup sorted out and go for it. Overall I think it came out really well and I am pleased with the result.

I quite enjoy being photographed I suppose. It’s a bit different from the day job. But I often have to remind people that I am a rugby player, not a model. I like to keep things pretty light hearted, not too revealing, and I like to me be, not someone else, if that makes sense. I have a big say in how I pose for the shoots and won’t do what I am not comfortable with, unless it involves dodgy shirts and Jill says I have to!

What is something about you that your fans would be surprised by?

I’m a pretty transparent guy really, so what you see is what you get. I do have a bit of a guilty addiction which I indulge in when on the road. I travel 120 miles each way to get to training in Manchester and most journeys see me coming off the motorway and into the services for a regular latte and a tiffin slice. Naughty I know, but there it is.

I love reading my wife’s girly mags - but I think a lot of us guys are fascinated by those, and I am a bit addicted to" X Factor," but I think that’s about as bad as it gets. Sorry to be boring.

If you weren’t a rugby player, what would you want to be?

I think I would have gone for being a fireman or perhaps a policeman. My brother is a policeman on the firearms unit. I like working with my hands because I am not overly academic, but I have quick wits so may have gone into business, perhaps in building. I am interested in property and am just finishing a 6 year restoration project on my home, which was originally a set of brick built barns. I have also developed an interest in the stock market so maybe I would have ended up in the city! Who knows?


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