Lawrence Dallaglio on rugby, afternoon tea and living in Richmond

England rugby hero Lawrence Dallaglio may have retired from the game, but that doesn’t mean that life is slowing down at all. Matthew Williams meets the Richmond resident to talk about everything from charity rugby matches to cycle rides and cookery

There’s something rather surreal about taking tea out of a hotel’s finest china with a six-foot three man mountain and all-round England rugby legend.

Yet that’s the situation in which I find myself when I meet Lawrence Dallaglio, in the luxurious surroundings of The Petersham in Richmond, to chat about everything from his life in Surrey to his tireless charity work and glittering sporting career.

A member of the famous 2003 World Cup winning England team, the 37-year-old Richmond resident retired from the sport almost two years ago, but far from taking it easy, he seems busier than ever.

“For the next month or so, I’ll actually be on my bike doing a charity cycle ride to all the Six Nations venues around Europe,” says Lawrence, who freely admits that while he may have a top sportsman’s physique, he won’t be joining Chris Hoy in a velodrome any time soon. “We’ll be raising money for Sport Relief and also for the Dallaglio Foundation, which I launched last year following the death of my mother Eileen from cancer, to raise money for causes such as Cancer Research UK.”

While cycling seems unlikely to replace his passion for rugby, his charity work just might. He has also been keeping busy lately helping to promote the huge St George’s Day rugby match taking place at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday April 24 in aid of Help for Heroes. The match will see his beloved Wasps, for whom he played for 20 years and is now a director, take on Bath – and with at least �1 from every ticket sold going to the charity, they hope to raise a six-figure sum.

“It’s important for us to show our patriotism in the right way and hopefully this partnership with Help for Heroes makes it easier for a few people to do that,” says Lawrence. “In 2008, we held a game that raised �1.4million for them and it was a wonderful experience being able to get the likes of Martin Johnson, Jason Robinson and Will Greenwood on a playing field again. We want to make sure it’s a sell-out this time, too.”

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Downing Street

For the official launch of the game, Lawrence was invited to 10 Downing Street, along with ex-serviceman Derek Derenalagi, to meet Gordon Brown. Unfortunately, Derek, who lost both his legs to a landmine in Afghanistan, tripped as they all posed for photos outside the door, and the dramatic pictures of the tumble were shown around the world.

“He’s an amazing bloke, and he just got straight back up and joked about it afterwards,” says Lawrence. “It just goes to show the challenges that he and others like him have to face every day.”

While sportsmen are regularly put on a pedestal as heroes, and television commentators often build on rugby’s combative nature with military connotations, Lawrence is quick to point out that sportsmen only have to put their reputations on the line.

“Those in the military are definitely the real heroes,” he continues. “And I like to do what I can to support our troops. Once I’ve got back from cycling around Europe, and we’ve had the match at Twickenham, I hope to head over to Afghanistan and play some rugby with the guys out there, too.”


A world-class career

Celebrating its centenary this year, Twickenham Stadium has always been at the heart of rugby, and there are few who have more experience of the stadium’s magic than Dallaglio. A glittering career saw him play ten finals there, culminating in his last game – a Premiership winning performance in May 2008 for Wasps against Leicester, in front of an 82,000 crowd.

“I remember going there as a young boy and thinking that one day I’d love to return and do it properly,” he says. “It was already an iconic stadium then but it only had half of today’s capacity. It’s always going to have a special place in my heart because I’m slightly biased and very English!

“I was lucky enough to play for England for over 12 years, and although I have an Italian surname and a half Irish mother, I think that qualifies me to be a very patriotic and emotional Englishman!”

Being among the last generation to come into rugby as amateurs, Dallaglio has been perfectly placed to witness how the career path for young modern rugby players has changed. The move to the professional game came just as he left Kingston University, having studied property development, and was set to embark on a career in the industry. In the end, property was put on hold and he gave professional rugby a go, not really knowing what to expect.

Nowadays, while young players get the rewards quicker, they also face new pressures. Rising rugby star Danny Cipriani, a former pupil of Croydon’s Whitgift School, is often cited as an example of the struggles with modern celebrity status faced by professional sportsmen. Dallaglio, however, fiercely defends the young Wasps player.

“He’s a classic example of someone who is misunderstood,” says Lawrence. “He’s absolutely got the talent; he’s just been a little unfortunate because everything has happened so quickly and so soon. He has got this image as a bit of a wide boy, part of the celebrity club, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s a very hard working, dedicated young man, who happens to go out with Kelly Brook, a very high profile young woman. We can’t choose the people we fall in love with. He’s also had a terrible run of injuries. He’s only 22 years old and his time will undoubtedly come again.”


Life after rugby

Until Pennyhill Park in Bagshot supplanted it, The Petersham had acted as the England rugby team’s unofficial HQ. Today, photos of Dallaglio, taken during his playing days, still adorn the hotel’s walls. I wonder if it’s possible to replace the kind of buzz that comes with such an adrenaline fuelled, intense and physical career.

"I don’t think you can try to replace it,” he says. “You can measure success in terms of caps and trophies but what is harder to quantify is the amount of fun that you have along the way.

“It was a huge part of my life, although I do enjoy being able to step aside and support these days. I’m happy to watch other people’s successes in the England shirt.

“The team under Martin Johnson have had some tough times, but there have been some really good signs recently. One thing Martin is very good at is keeping people’s feet on the ground; he was always a very humble captain.”

Away from the game, Dallaglio says that keeping busy is what makes him tick and the Richmond life suits him perfectly.

“I’ve always had a taste for urban living,” he says. “I grew up just down the road in Barnes, went to school in Richmond and now live here. I lived on a houseboat in Twickenham during my days at Kingston Uni and spent much of my playing days at the stadium.

“I’ve got a lovely family, with my wife Alice and three kids: two girls, Ella,12, and Josie, ten, plus Enzo, who is eight. The kids are showing a bit of the sporting gene – my son plays rugby for Richmond – but they are also very creative as well. I think that it’s important when you’re young to open as many doors as possible.”


Musical pursuits

He doesn’t just talk the talk, either. As a youngster, he performed regularly in Richmond’s King’s House School choir – not perhaps what you’d expect from a future England rugby captain.

“We sang in Evita on the West End stage, at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wedding, with Tina Turner, and at a number of other things. I’m not sure how good a singer I really was but music and sport were very much parallel at one point. My music teacher foresaw that a decision would have to be made and that he could see which way my mind was going. He was right; I was obviously a bit erratic with my scales.”

Last year, the seemingly inexhaustible Dallaglio also launched a range of pasta sauces with his father, Vincenzo. With Italian blood in his veins – his full name is Lorenzo Bruno Nero Dallaglio – it’s no surprise that he has a passion for food, both for cooking and eating.

“Strangely there are not as many great restaurants in Richmond as I would have thought,” he says. “The demographic of people who live here is definitely those who like to earn money and like to spend it. Everyone has their favourite Indian; mine is Rara in Kew. We’ve also got The Good Earth, which is simply one of the best Chinese takeaways around – it’s sensational. The newly renovated Bingham hotel has just picked up a Michelin star, too.”

Given his cookery interest, is there any potential for a Dallaglio’s Italian in Richmond? “Erm, not really, no,” he laughs. “It’s not my speciality. In my eyes, great restaurants have to be very family-run operations and there are no plans for us doing that at present! I’m firmly focussed on the pasta sauces at the moment, and getting round Europe on a bike, which is the most immediate problem...”


My Favourite Surrey

Restaurant: The Good Earth, on the top of Richmond Hill, is simply one of the best Chinese takeaways around; it’s sensational!

Shop: Eden Park is a great brand; I got involved in the business side of things for a while with a franchise in Richmond.

View: Well, the view from here at The Petersham across the Thames towards Twickenham would certainly be a hard one to beat.

Place to visit: Twickenham Stadium, of course, holds a very special place in my heart. It’s the envy of much of the sporting world.

Place to chill: Cycling is a form of relaxation, I guess… I’ve also got a lovely family, with my wife and kids, so I just enjoy being at home really, going for walks in Richmond Park.