Freddie Flintoff: Having kids changed me – it's responsibility, it's not just about me
Former sportsman and Top Gear presenter Andrew Flintoff tells Katie Wright about his work-life balance struggle and how he sometimes forgets he's not the same age as his kids
ANDREW 'Freddie' Flintoff is best known for being an England cricketer, as well as presenting Top Gear, regularly appearing on Sky comedy panel show A League of Their Own, and even trying his hand at boxing.
But although Flintoff (41) has plenty of impressive strings to his bow, three of his biggest achievements are his children – Holly (15), Corey (13) and Rocky (11) – with his wife Rachael Wools Flintoff.
We spoke to the down-to-earth Lancashire-born sportsman about his family life...
Did becoming a dad change you?
"Possibly. The bizarrest thing is that when you have a kid, even though it's a massive responsibility, and in some ways life-changing, it's almost like you've always been there and you can't remember what life was like before. But it has changed me – it's responsibility, it's not just about me.
"But in some ways it helps – it helped my cricket because you get a bit of perspective. At the end of the day, you're just trying to hit a ball or throw one, but then you've got someone whose life you're responsible for, and it's a far greater thing.
"But I still have my moments where I look at them and think, 'How's this happened?' I'm nearly 42 but I feel like I'm their age, and I've got to remind myself I'm a dad."
How do you manage to balance work and family life?
"I'd like to spend more time at home than I do at the minute – it's a constant battle getting that work-home life balance right, and I've got it right sometimes; I've got it wrong sometimes.
"When I'm at home, that's the best part of my day. The best thing I do. And it's not even the big things, it's the trivial stuff. Taking them to the bus stop, watching them at school, or going to pick them up. Just spending time with them whenever I can. I do as much as I can when I'm at home, and I want to. It's not a chore – although it has its moments.
"The kids are at the age now where you can have proper conversations with them – they've got opinions and you can chat to them about stuff, and I want to be around for as much of that as I can. But with the nature of the job, I can't always be. When I go away I'm on my own and I'm thinking about them, but they just get on with their lives, and when I come home I say, 'I'm back!' and they just say, 'Oh, all right, Dad'.
"But it could be worse, if I was still playing cricket. One of the best things about retiring young, at 31, was that as much as I missed playing, I didn't have to go away for three months at a time. When my daughter was young – from about six weeks – she wasn't really at home, she was travelling. I took the family with me. But now they're at school, it's impossible to do it. "
How much do you worry about them?
"Whatever age it is, there's always something to worry about. That's part and parcel of being a parent. But you've got to give them a bit more freedom, they've got to grow up. You just want the best for them."
Are you a strict parent?
"I can be strict – if things annoy me, they find out. But they're good kids, to be fair. You just want your children to be respectful, which they are."
What has being a dad taught you?
"Having perspective on things, and what really does matter is the biggest thing. What you think you want and what you need are two very different things. When I'm at work I just want to spend time at home. No more nights out – just driving the kids to whatever it is they want to go to. It's far better. I've not drunk for nearly five years – I'm far happier sitting around drinking mineral water and having a chat."
You've been very open about your struggles with depression. Do the kids know about it, and do you think they'd talk to you if they had similar problems?
"They know – it's not something I hide from them, but I don't force it on them – it is what it is. I hope that whether it's about depression or any other subject, they feel they can come to me about anything. I think they do know that. It's a different pressure on kids today – life's more complicated. We used to play out on the street and that was it, whereas now there's social media etc. We're just open with them – nothing's off limits.
"I don't think you ever get cured [from depression], you just learn how to cope with it. Having the kids around does help."
Freddie Flintoff is an ambassador for fashion brand Jacamo (jacamo.co.uk)