James Simpson-Daniel: Gloucester Rugby Player
PUBLISHED: 18:23 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:56 20 February 2013
Gloucester rugby star James Simpson-Daniel has no doubts about his favourite leisure activity - spending a day at the races - although 'hiding' in the chip shop queue comes a close second!
GLOUCESTER rugby favourite and England International James Simpson-Daniel has recently signed another contract with the club he loves. But as a raw 17-year-old, Gloucester was one of the last places he thought he'd settle. "I'm a Northerner and I didn't know anything about them!" he admits. "It was the friendliness of the club that convinced me. I was being shown round when Phil Vickery came over to talk to me like I was already one of the guys. I couldn't believe it - I was straight out of school, and he was an England legend. But that's Vicks all over: I respect him a huge amount."
James is one of four sporty brothers - all with the nickname 'Sinbad' - who hail from Yorkshire. It was as a youngster that he was introduced to his other great love in life - horse racing. He's now entering his third year as Honorary President of Cheltenham Racecourse's Club 16-24, which aims to get more young people interested in the sport.
Where do you live and why?
In the village of Southam with my girlfriend, Lucy Marriott. It's perfect: five minutes from the town centre, and close to the racecourse, which I can see from my bedroom window. Before that, I lived in the centre of Cheltenham in a flat I shared with Nick Southern, who used to play at Gloucester. James Forrester and Jonny Goodridge were in the flat upstairs, so it was great fun. The downside was that we took work home with us. It sounds silly to call rugby 'work' but, at the end of the day, it is our job and you need to be able to switch off and not think about it.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
Since 2,000: I came here straight from Sedbergh, a boarding school in the North West of England. I'd been playing around the country for England Under 18s, doing quite well, and I got approached by a number of clubs. If you'd asked me back then which one I'd end up playing for, Gloucester would have been at the bottom of my list. I'm a Northerner, and I didn't know anything about them! When my old man and I had finished looking round them all, I was really nervous because I thought he'd want me to go to Bath, the bigger-name club. But when I told him I wanted to go to Gloucester, he said, "I feel exactly the same." It felt like a family.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
Lucy and I had a lovely weekend recently, staying in The Dormy House Hotel in Broadway. I loved the feel of it - all the rooms were full of character. It's important to get away. People go on about footballers' and rugby players' wives, but they can also have it very tough. If we lose, 90 percent of the guys will go home in a bad mood. It's sad it's like that because it's our partners' weekends too - but you couldn't do it if you didn't care that much. We can't just flick a switch and turn off our emotions.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
Somewhere with land. You only get a limited amount of time at the top in rugby because your body can't handle it for ever; after I finish playing, I'd love to train race horses. If I were to do that, I'd need paddocks and, ideally, my own gallops. Of course, if money were no object, that wouldn't be a problem! Lucy and I are planning to go back to Yorkshire eventually, because our families are from there.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
I wouldn't live back in the centre of a town again because I've been there and done that. I've grown old early. I'm certainly losing my hair at 25, which means I get a bit of banter from the guys! When I started with Gloucester, we had a lot of injuries and I was called into the first two squads when I was very, very young. It meant I became friendly with guys a lot older than me, and that probably rubbed off.
Where's the best pub in the area?
I love the Royal Oaks. There's one in Prestbury: Simon, who runs it, is fantastic and the food is lovely. It's somewhere I'll go after watching the racing with Mike Tindall and other close friends. The other one is the Royal Oak at Gretton. I like the fact that it's surrounded by fields.
When we're on a lads' night out, we do get people coming up to talk to us, but they're always genuinely pleasant. Unlike professional footballers, we don't get harassed. Do we envy footballers? Yes and no. You can feel envious of how much money they get paid, especially considering rugby has the highest injury levels of any team sport in the world. But I'm happy with the amount I'm paid and, at the end of the day, we can go out to dinner in peace: they can't!
And the best place to eat?
Lumire (Cheltenham) is a favourite of ours. I'm a fan of their duck, and they're excellent at recommending wines. Wesley House in Winchcombe is another good restaurant.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
It's a little baker's (North's Bakery) in Bishops Cleeve. I love having a coffee there and (occasionally) a cake. At one time, I went there with Trevor Woodman who lived round the corner from me. He's a bigger guy, and his fiance always made him eat sensibly. He used to have this little breakfast at home, before popping out 'for a coffee' with me. Typically, we'd get to the baker's and he'd order a massive fry up with all the trimmings. Then he'd go back home as if nothing had happened!
What would you do for a special occasion?
We'd have a guys' night out, which tends to be loud and drunken with everyone taking the mickey out of each other. You hear about teams where players don't get on, and that can be a problem. But everyone at Gloucester is friendly, and that's one of the things that's kept me here. It's a tradition that's come from people like Phil Vickery, Trevor Woodman, Terry Fanolua... They're the kind who keep their feet on the ground and don't act bigger than anyone else. Hopefully, that's the atmosphere we'll keep on passing through Gloucester.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
The race meetings: I get so excited when one's coming up. The two big meetings are the Festival in March and the Paddy Power 'Open' in November. I love looking out my window and seeing the cars - bumper to bumper - going up Southam Lane. I love the feel of it - getting dressed up - I love the helicopters flying over. It was my old man who got me into racing. Four or five years ago, I had a share in a horse, but I never got a good run for my money.
... and the worst?
The Cotswolds aren't the North! To be serious, I think they're nice they way they are now, though it did take me at least nine months to understand the locals. When I first joined Gloucester, I couldn't follow what Andrew Deacon and Chris Fortey were saying when they spoke fast to each other. They had their own slang and banter. Now I'm learning new words and taking them back North with me.
What shop could you not live without?
My butchers'. There are two I use, both in Bishops Cleeve. I go to the one by the post office (David's Of Cleeve) for all my meat, apart from sausages. I get those from the butcher round the corner (J & R Pilkington) who's won awards for his pork and leek variety. (Not that I eat much sausage, obviously, in case my fitness coach is reading).
What's the most under-rated thing about the Cotswolds?
Gloucester itself - and I'm not saying that to keep people on-side. It's changed for the better even since I've been here, and I love the villages around the city.
What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
From the top of Cleeve Hill, looking out over the racecourse, or from the beer garden of The Rising Sun, looking out over the whole of the countryside.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds
Gloucester's rugby club and the cathedral
And the Cotswold stone.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
Sudeley Castle: I've been to Winchcombe so many times without realizing there was this massive castle out the back. But you take a right turn, and there it is: a really pleasant surprise.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Stand in the queue for fish and chips if my trainer Mike Anthony was running past.
Starter homes or executive properties?
I approve of what they've done at Bishops Cleeve. There are a load of new places being built there, which is great for the area. They've used nice stone, and they've tried to fit in with the buildings round about. What I wouldn't want to see is new-builds popping up in every direction.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
A lump of Cotswold stone. It really stands out to me, and I love the colours, which are so different from the stone in Yorkshire. Actually, I travel a huge amount and I deliberately don't take too many things from home in case they make me homesick.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Go a race meeting because there's such a good atmosphere!
And which book should they read?
The best book I've read recently was Gordon Ramsay's autobiography.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
Walking over Cleeve Hill with Winnie, our bull mastiff.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Racing! I took over the honorary presidency of Club 16-24 from Zara Phillips who I met through Mike Tindall. It can be hard to get young people into racing, which is something we're working on. At the moment, younger race-goers tend to get involved through their school or because their family is interested in the sport. We want to widen that out, and one of the ways we're doing it is by trying to get a bit of a relationship going between the racecourse and Gloucester Rugby.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I'd buy fish and chips without worrying about anyone seeing me.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
To Terry Fanolua, especially in Gloucester, as he was fantastic for us. He's a Samoan who came over with strict customs, but he was almost a local by the time he left. He's a good friend, who led me astray on certain nights out!
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
Either the trainer Paul Nicholls: I'd ask him the secret of his success, as well as when the next winner's coming. Or it would have to be Muhammad Ali. I respect a huge number of people in sport, and he is one of the greats. He was strong, he was clever, but he has also stuck to his views all the way through. I could never be like that - I'm a different character - but I'd love to talk to him.
- Club 16-24 at Cheltenham Racecourse is aimed race-goers aged under 25. Membership includes discounted entry to races, as well as the chance to attend special events such as a behind-the-scenes visit to Paul Nicholls's stables (January 5); and a chance to meet the players and tour the stadium when Gloucester Rugby play Newcastle Falcons in February. For more details call 01242 513014, email Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.cheltenham.co.uk
- 'The Open' race meetings take place at Cheltenham Racecourse from Friday, November 16 to Sunday, November 18. Ring 01242 513014 for more details.
- For information about fixtures at Gloucester Rugby, phone 0871 871 87 81 or visit www.gloucesterrugbyclub.com