Nigel Owens (AP)
London – If the Rugby World Cup final ends on Saturday and nobody is talking about Nigel Owens, he says he will be “a very, very, very happy man”.
And happiness has not always been easy for the 44-year-old Welshman who has reached the referee’s apogee: controlling a final at Twickenham between New Zealand and Australia.
Owens has been blowing the whistle in internationals for 10 years. He is known for keeping the game moving, his decisions are never questioned and he communicates well with players.
Owens’ quips such as “this is not soccer” to scrumhalves who complain too much are rugby legend.
Former Wales captain Eddie Butler said that in an age of improving referee standards Owens “is a pioneer”.
Referees have not had an easy time at this World Cup however and Owens, a TV personality as well as respected match official, has asked dark questions of himself in the past.
Owens says that at the age of 26 he had considered committing suicide because he had kept his homosexuality a secret.
“I’d been fighting it for years, since I was 19. I came from a small community (in Carmarthenshire) which was probably a bit old-fashioned in the way I was brought up,” he told the Daily Mail newspaper in 2008 a year after he came out.
“The dirty linen of those dark times is out there in the public domain,” Owens added in a recent BBC Wales documentary.
“Everybody knows Nigel Owens suffered from depression and tried to kill himself and that he has been bulimic and was addicted to steroids as well as how he was bullied at school.
“Everyone knows these personal things but that is okay really as it helps other people.”
He said he would regret his suicide bid for the rest of his life.
“I left a note for my mum and dad saying I couldn’t go on.
“I took a loaded shotgun, a bottle of whisky and two boxes of paracetamol.” He then went for a last walk around his village.
“Funnily enough what I took that night actually saved me as the whisky and the pills put me into a coma and had I not gone into that coma I would have pulled the trigger of the gun, of that I am certain.”
Police found him and he spent five days in hospital.
He realised the error of his ways but it still took several years to summon up the courage to tell his late mother Maya that he was gay.
“It may be only one word with three letters ‘gay’ but telling your mum you are gay is not easy. She cried and I cried.”
Owens came out publicly in the most theatrical fashion on the Welsh TV show he co-hosted with former Wales flyhalf and skipper Jonathan Davies.
“I had a text from him that he was going to come out,” Davies told the BBC.
“I said it didn’t bother me as a friend is a friend.
“I did say though you’ve got to come out of the closet literally on the show and we’ll sing ‘I am who I am’ and then we won’t mention it and see if anyone catches on.
“He was a bit dubious at first but then went for it.”
Owens is, according to those who know him, a changed man since that day. “I saw a more relaxed and happier referee,” Derek Bevan, the only other Welshman to referee a World Cup final, told the BBC.
Owens was subjected to homophobic abuse from a small group of England fans – who were exposed by disgusted fellow spectators – but on another occasion when watching a match his humour shone through.
“The referee made a decision and one of them shouted, ‘The referee is bent’, someone else a few rows further down said, ‘Oh no, that is Nigel Owens’,” he told RTE Radio.
“Then people started realising, ‘Oh he’s sitting there’. The guy apologised but I said, ‘I may be bent off the field but I’m certainly not bent on it’ and everyone started laughing.”