Gary Lineker on football, golf and his Surrey goals
Former England striker and Match of the Day mainstay, Gary Lineker has long called our county home – but could the BBC’s move to the north-west see Elmbridge lose one of its best known stars? Stephen Milton chats exclusively to the Surrey adoptee to get a flavour for his life away from the TV lens in Esher
Considering he was once granted the title ‘freeman of the City of Leicester’ – which permits the bestowed with the liberty of grazing a flock of sheep in the town square (a freedom, we should add, he’s yet to exercise) – football star Gary Lineker admits that his love for Surrey could even rival that of his Midlands roots.
“Home is home and it will always be first in my heart, but Surrey is pretty perfect,” he tells Surrey Life, as we begin our exclusive interview. “After all, wasn’t it recently voted the most desirable county in the UK? That says it all; right?”
The former England striker and his new bride of two years, Danielle, decided to set up home yards away from the smart high street in Esher. The town itself represents a quaint, opulent corner of the Elmbridge borough, making it the perfect base for the glamorous pair to tend to their respective commitments in London, whilst also retaining the privacy and space that so many famous people seek in the county.
However, with the imminent BBC exodus to the north-west as part of ‘Auntie’s’ restructuring, where does that leave Lineker’s future prospects, particularly in terms of Match of the Day, the show he has anchored since Des Lynam’s departure 12 years ago? Could the 450-mile commute lead him to contemplate a move from his Surrey base?
Or, as several national news outlets have suggested, will developments lead the father of four to seize the opportunity of abandoning the flagship Beeb series in favour of new projects? The truth, it seems, is neither...
“Abandoning the ship? It’s the first I’ve heard of it!” he says, chuckling at the notion. “Nobody’s talked to me about it. And really, it’s not like I can’t find a bit of transport to take me to the new studio on weekends! It’s not Australia, is it?
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“Obviously, the BBC moving up to Salford is a big thing, and we’ll hear about it more and more over the coming months. It’s one of those things we have no control over, so we just have to get on with it, but in terms of parity for the broadcaster, it’s probably the right thing to do. I think the north needs a dedicated base.
“I can appreciate how much of a change this will be for so many people working at the BBC, but for me, it’s not going to make a huge difference. It makes it a longer Saturday, yes, but I’m blessed with having a great job on Match of the Day, and if it means spending a little more time on the motorway, I’m happy to do that. There’s no way I’m giving it up; I love it too much. The show is a real part of me now.”
With his broadcasting career echoing his illustrious playing exploits (in which he starred for Leicester, Everton, Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur without ever once being booked), Lineker remains one of the UK’s most recognisable and well-regarded personalities.
And of equal longevity to his life in sport appears to be his allegiance to Walkers crisps – even if some probably do associate his pronounced ears and self-deprecating wit more with a flavoured snack than with one of England’s best all-time goalscorers!
What began, some 17 years ago, as a tongue-in-cheek subversion of his ‘nice guy’ reputation, has grown to the extent that Lineker has fronted nearly 90 television commercials for the brand (including a shoot in Kingston earlier this year for Red Nose Day, which also featured comedians Al Murray and Jimmy Carr).
“I just thought it’d be a one-off when I did the first one back in 1994, but it’s just kept going!” he says. “You sign a three-year contract, then a five-year contract, and it continues. I must say though, it has been great fun, and of course a real success for Walkers. I reckon I must be their longest-serving employee!”
Maybe this should, by now, signal a move into the silver screen?
“The fact that I’ve done the ads for nearly two decades and never once been offered a significant part in any films or series suggests to me that I’m not very good at acting!” he laughs. “So I think I might leave that side of things to my wife!”
At least those lucrative campaigns have allowed Lineker and his family to enjoy the nicer side of Surrey life, but why the move to Esher in the first place?
“It just came at a time when I moved away from my previous life and was looking for somewhere that wasn’t too great a distance from the boys or from London. And Esher seemed to fit the bill perfectly. We just stumbled upon it and fell in love immediately. It’s a stunning part of not just the UK, but the world – gorgeous, lush countryside and picturesque little towns and villages with character all of their own that you don’t find anywhere else.
“We’re not to know what will develop over the coming years, but I think we’ll always have a home here, because I’ve not seen anywhere more perfect.”
My Favourite Surrey
Pub/Restaurant: There’s always a good Sunday lunch at the Prince of Wales in Esher. We tend to go there most Sundays. There are a whole host of great eateries on the High Street – a couple of which do really great breakfasts, too.
Place to visit: Even though it may technically be Berkshire (although I think it’s right on the border), Sunningdale Golf Course. It’s a place of many, many happy memories for me. It’s where I broke 70 for the first time under the watchful eye of Ernie Els. A great day, so I love heading back there – it brings it all back.
View: View from the 18th hole at Sunningdale – pretty majestic. Shop: Oh God, that’ll be Danielle’s department. She can talk to you about that one!
Place to relax: It’s definitely home for me.